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Random Thoughts about Cultural Translation

For years I had not figured out why a large number of westerners went totally oblivious of Chinese history and hardly had any knowledge of specific Chinese classics until I saw a lousy writing of an inspirational story in Chinese history, which went by: A man called Zu Di, waking up with the crowing of rooster, then starting his hard work, is often to be mentioned tor encouraging people to wake up early and go to work hardly. I guess, only by the name mentioned of Zu Di, it was discussing the tale about Zu Di and one of his closest friend setting up an ambition to defend off barbarian attacks. To be frank, if I were a foreigner with no idea of this historical occurring and saw a story being told in such a way, I would think it probably had something to do with a diligent farmer who got up early everyday and set a good example for his fellow countrymen. It is unbelievable that neither the context was given nor appropriate words were chosen to compose the language, all making it pretend-sophisticated while factually childish. What kills me most is the in-between “tor”, which I think the writer was going for “for” but typed it wrong and eventually got it published without taking notice of it. This is an excerpt of an introductory article of the rooster, one of the twelve animals symbolizing years in a particular sequence, in a published stamp album featuring Chinese Zodiac paintings. As regards the tale I have heard, firstly Zu Di was not alone when he was ignited the ambition to expel the nomadic tribes from Central China; secondly they were practicing sword fencing instead of simply “working hard”. Although a brief introduction does not have to be lengthy, I believe it at least should be specific in meaning and able to give readers a gist of the story; otherwise, several lines of blurry and inaccurate depiction will only make it nonsense. So, I tried to rewrite this story based on the actual context and relevant historical recordings: In the dark age of barbarian invasion, there were two outstanding Chinese generals who exempted South China from the barbarian ravage, one of whom was Zu Di. It was the rooster right at the two to-be generals’ cottage that blazed out their self-loathing for sloth and inspired them to practice sword fencing every day starting when the crow began, even before the dawn. If we can associate the story with its actual social context, especially with the terms like barbarian and Dark Age, it could be much more appealing and gives specific reasons why Zu Di was a marvelous hero and what spirit the story is trying to endow its readers with. This very experience takes me to wonder whether it is the poorly structured translation or English rewriting of ancient Chinese tales that disgusts foreign readers and makes Chinese history valueless to them, because lame translations can be seen at both scenery spots and tourism websites here in China. It is a tragic loss to both Chinese history, because of its lack of diverse admirers, and foreigners who seek to explore different cultures worldwide.

Words translated by CCJK

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