Bouncing Cows

bouncing cow

I translate Chinese text into English. I also check other people’s translations.

Here’s a funny one.

I was reading the Chinese version of Edward O. Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winning work, The Diversity of Life.

The Chinese version says “groups of cows mercilessly browsing and bouncing because yellow sticky soil has been exposed in the green grass.”

What Wilson actually wrote is “cattle browsed in remorseless heat bouncing off the yellow clay”.

The Chinese version didn’t understand the heat was bouncing, not the cows. The translators even had a theory that the yellow soil caused the bouncing. Whoa, I want what they’re having.

The translation of the whole book was such a disaster that it was virtually unreadable.

The message is use good translators and get their work checked.

Kevin McCready


4 thoughts on “Bouncing Cows

  1. Thank you, Kevin. Wang Xiaodong, one of the authors of the Chinese nationalist screed “China is Unhappy” that is getting a lot of attention leans on another book by Wilson, “Sociobology: The New Synthesis”. I wonder how well that book was translated. The heading of pp. 23 – 25, where he mentions that book, is entitled “If They Lack External Selective Pressure, Anybody Would Get Messed Up”` 缺乏外部选择压力,大家都会完蛋

    Wang Xiaodong in Chapter three argues that historically, countries facing a lot of competition do well, but, drawing a quasi-social Darwinist parallel countries facing no competition stagnate. He blames that for China’s situation, saying that China for a very long period was a big country with little competition, leading to decline. He says that the U.S. as top dog now faces the problem of decline because of lack of selection pressure. He says that the economic slump will only be temporary, that soon 1.3 billion Chinese will be in a tough competition for resources with people in other countries. “If Chinese are unhappy now, you haven’t seen anything yet!”, he concludes.


  2. Yes, puerile analysis indeed. It is interesting to look it to see how these people think, that they want everyone to think that some “Chinese people are angry” is by itself an important fact in world affairs. Susan Shirk in her book “China the Fragile Superpower” has an analysis of the unhealthy parts of Chinese nationalism. It is used by the Party, but can also be a threat to the Party if it does not handle it carefully. Nationalism is a tough beast to ride. Not that Chinese people shouldn’t have a healthy patriotism, and many people do tend to call their own nationalism patriotism and the nationalism of people in other countries nationalism.

    There are some intriguing strains in Chinese nationalist thought… there is a lot of rage at the Chinese government and Party just below the surface and the idea that China will need to become a real democratic and rule by law country if it is to become a superpower. Probably so, but even if they do become democratic, it will take some time for the ultra nationalism poisons fed to people through the educational system and media. That might make for a rough transition, even if they do become fairly democratic some day.


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