Poor translation of C P Snow ‘The Masters’

C P Snow The Masters

It’s disappointing that bad Chinese translations of English literature continue to be published. It’s more disappointing that the translators are lauded.

‘The Masters’ by C P Snow is a much loved classic. The Chinese translation by Zhang Jian (张健), Dai Xiezhu (戴歇珠) and Zhang Limin (张立民) is akward and wrong. The translation was published by the People’s Literature Publishing House ( 人民文学出版社 ) in 2007. ISBN:9787020060771

There are some painful errors which are the result of not knowing English well enough. Other awkwardness is due to a lack of literary Chinese. Long flowing English sentences have been chopped up into small Chinese sentences – meaning is preserved, but not the beauty.

The translators interpolate their own detail when they think the reader might require it. It’s done too often; readers aren’t stupid. Interpolating translators’ guesses about the author’s meaning, particularly when those guesses are wrong, is a serious problem. Other errors are simply sloppy. An example from Chapter 1 is illustrative. Jago is speaking to Eliot:

“Somehow one’s dreadfully vulnerable through those one loves.”  Suddenly he smiled at me with great kindness. “You know that as well as anyone alive, Eliot. l felt it when you let me meet your wife. When she’s better, you must ask me to Chelsea again.You know how much I enjoyed it. She’s gone through too much, hasn’t she?”

The translation is: ”不知怎的, 一个人因为他爱的人而容易脆弱极了。“ 他忽然非常友好地对我笑了。“你我一样都是有血有肉的人任何人都知道这是怎么会事,埃利奥特,当你把我介绍给你的夫人时,我就有了这种感觉。在她身体好些的时候,你可要再请我到车尔西去啊。你知道我是多么高兴到你家做客呀!她招待我们吃得太丰富了,不是吗?“

My back-translation from the Chinese translation of “She’s gone through too much, hasn’t she?” is: “She entertained us with such sumptuous food, didn’t she?” “She’s gone through too much” is not the same as “She’s gone to so much (trouble)”. The phrase “She’s gone through too much” means that she has suffered much more than she should have in her life and/or sickness. It certainly doesn’t mean anything about presenting food to guests. It’s an understandable error, but not the work of a translator Snow deserved. Oops.

When you “let” me meet your wife, is also a stronger statement than when you “introduced” me to your wife, which the translation doesn’t capture. It fails also to capture the past tense “enjoyed”.


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