A Case Study on C-E Literature Translation (I)

In my last job, I was once assigned to translate the subtitles of a program dedicated to communicating ancient Chinese culture to the public. Though there are only approximately 500 Chinese words in the original text, I spent nearly three hours completing the translation for this document. The translation is shown as below:
book
云居寺始建于隋末唐初
The construction of YunjuTemple was started from the Sui and early Tang Dynasty.
它坐西朝东
Following the tradition of sun worship in Jin Dynasty, it was designed to be east-facing.
三面环山 一水分流
It is surrounded by mountains on three sides
沿袭了晋朝崇奉太阳的习俗
with a river running through.
云居寺初名智泉寺
YunjuTemple was initially named ZhiquanTemple.
在《帝京景物略》中有这样的记载
It is recorded in the “Outline History of Scenery of Beijing in Ming Dynasty” that
寺在云表
this temple later was renamed “YunjuTemple”
山腰常有白云萦绕
as people could often see cloud shrouding the temple and
故改名“云居寺”
dwelling around the mountainside.
好一处风水宝地
According to Chinese tradition, this scenery is deemed to be extremely auspicious.
难怪高僧静琬
Therefore, it is not difficult to understand
会选址于此刊刻石经
why the monk Jingwan selected this place where he was going to engrave stone sutras.
关于石经
The history of stone sutra can be
可以追溯到北齐时代
traced to Northern Qi Dynasty.
受北魏太武帝灭佛的刺激
Under the stimulation of Buddhism eradication by Emperor Taiwu of Northern Wei Dynasty and
以及末法观念的影响
the influence of Dharma-decline concept,
为使佛法长存于世
in order to preserve and hand down Buddhism,
佛教徒想出了
the Buddhists came up with
将佛经刊刻于石以流传的办法
the method of engraving the sutras into the stone.
石刻佛经首先出现在北齐境内
Northern Qi is the place where sutras were firstly engraved on the stones.
当时的石经已有
Then stone sutras were inscribed
山崖 地面巨石 碑版这3种形式
on the cliff, boulder on the ground and stone tablet.
大规模的石经刊刻始于隋末唐初
Mass engraving of stone sutras was started from Sui and early Tang Dynasty.
静琬禅师带着师傅慧思的遗愿
Always remembering the last wish of his teacher Huisi,
从事刻经大业
the monk Jingwan began to engage himself in sutra engraving.
他圆寂后
After his death,
数十代弟子师徒接踵
tens of generations of his students carried forward the work.
代代相传
It was handed down from generation to generation,
历经唐 辽 金 元至明末结束
going through Tang, Liao, Jin and Yuan until the end of Ming Dynasty,
时间长逾千年
which lasted for more than one thousand years.
石经多达1122部 3572卷 14278块
1122 books in 3572 volumes of stone sutras were inscribed on 14278 stone tablets,
共计3500余万字
comprising over 35 million characters in total.
后人称之为“房山石经”
The descendants call them “Fangshan Stone Sutra”.
遥想刻经之初
During the initial period,
静琬在荒山野岭中
Jingwan,
头顶日月
facing the verdant hills
面朝苍山
and backing towards the wilderness alone,
背靠茫野
commenced the engraving, which afterwards lasted for one thousand years, by every little hammering and chiselling
用一锤一錾拉开千年刻经之序幕
day and night.
Literature translation differs from the translation for common styles of documents considerably. Numerous learned words are usually used in Chinese ancient literature. These words often have their own specific cultural connotation. Consequently, it is of difficulty for translators to find the equivalent words in English. For instance, in this case, 头顶日月, 面朝苍山 and 背靠茫野 in the original text are used to create some kind of tough environment, where Jingwan initiated his engraving. If we direct translated these words in a word-to-word manner, the translation would be like this: the sun and the moon are above the head; facing the mountains; and the surrounding atmosphere is filled with wildness. Obviously, the translation is extremely strange. How can the sun and the moon be concurrent? The reader will hardly figure out what the target text is trying to deliver. However, if we translate these words from the perspective of the general meaning as the translation listed above do, the reader will have a clear understanding of what the author is trying to communicate.
In addition to this point, translation for literature subtitles has other characteristics, which will be depicted in the subsequent article.

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