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:
The construction of YunjuTemple was started from the Sui and early Tang Dynasty.
Following the tradition of sun worship in Jin Dynasty, it was designed to be east-facing.
It is surrounded by mountains on three sides
with a river running through.
YunjuTemple was initially named ZhiquanTemple.
It is recorded in the “Outline History of Scenery of Beijing in Ming Dynasty” that
this temple later was renamed “YunjuTemple”
as people could often see cloud shrouding the temple and
dwelling around the mountainside.
According to Chinese tradition, this scenery is deemed to be extremely auspicious.
Therefore, it is not difficult to understand
why the monk Jingwan selected this place where he was going to engrave stone sutras.
The history of stone sutra can be
traced to Northern Qi Dynasty.
Under the stimulation of Buddhism eradication by Emperor Taiwu of Northern Wei Dynasty and
the influence of Dharma-decline concept,
in order to preserve and hand down Buddhism,
the Buddhists came up with
the method of engraving the sutras into the stone.
Northern Qi is the place where sutras were firstly engraved on the stones.
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.
Mass engraving of stone sutras was started from Sui and early Tang Dynasty.
Always remembering the last wish of his teacher Huisi,
the monk Jingwan began to engage himself in sutra engraving.
After his death,
tens of generations of his students carried forward the work.
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,
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,
comprising over 35 million characters in total.
The descendants call them “Fangshan Stone Sutra”.
During the initial period,
facing the verdant hills
and backing towards the wilderness alone,
commenced the engraving, which afterwards lasted for one thousand years, by every little hammering and chiselling
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.