Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Lost Art of Translation

I've previously written about the quality of foreign books translated into Chinese that Jia and I have found here in Shenzhen (post 1 & post 2). I was quite pleased to find such worthwhile literature for Jia to read--I was looking forward to discussing these books with her to see how faithful the translations were. I also had the goal of learning enough Chinese to read Kerouac's On the Road.

The joy and astonishment has worn off here. I recently read an article (translated from Chinese) about the quality of translations in China. It seems that there are some severe problems with the modern works that have garnered critical acclaim. The ranks of Chinese translators are dwindling, and have been for some time. The article points out the obvious reason: the pay sucks. The average wage for Chinese translators is only 60 kuai for 1000 words (I'm not sure if that's per foreign word or per Chinese character). It is estimated that 1000 words is average for a translator to accomplish in ONE DAY. So, for a full-time translator of literature that comes to an average of 1800 kuai a month (assuming he/she works 30 days a month). Compare that to the minimum wage in Shenzhen, which is between 800 and 900 a month for unskilled labor.

Publishing companies could give a raise to the translators, but we all know that'll never happen. Translations just don't make money--it's the same as in the U.S. The real problem with the publishing industry in China is exactly the same as the problem with the publishing industry in the U.S.--people just aren't reading enough.

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