Animals in Chinese and Western Culture
Dragon is an animal in Western myths and legends, and most of the time it means evil and cruel, which distinct from the meaning of “authority, dignity and prosperity” in Chinese culture. In China, we regard ourselves as the “Descendants of the Dragon”, and also, during the old feudal society, the dragon is a symbol of emperor, as all emperors regarded themselves as “true sons of the dragon”, their clothes were called “robes”.
Today, dragon is still supreme in the hearts of Chinese. We call our country “Oriental dragon”, and dragon can be deemed as a totem of Chinese. In addition, there are many dragon-related idioms, such as “龙腾虎跃”“龙飞凤舞”, which all reflect the traditional Chinese cultural connotation.
However, in Western culture, people think dragon is the representative of evil or hideous monster. If we you want to use the world dragon, we’d better used it as Chinese Dragon. For example, when we try to translate “亚洲四小龙”, we say “Asian Tigers” rather than “ Asian Dragons”, to avoid misunderstanding.
In English-speaking coutries, lion is the monarch of all beasts，it represents “brave, violent and dignified”. British King Richard I was honoured as the “Lion-Heart” because he was bold and powerful. English people also use lion as the symbol of their country (British Lion).
There are many idoms related to lions, such as play oneself in the lion’s mouth（置身虎穴），come in like a lion and go out like a lamb（虎头蛇尾），like a key in a lion’ hide（狐假虎威）. But when translate them into Chinese, we often use “tiger” instead of dragon (as showed above), because in our opinion, tiger is the monarch of all beasts.
In English, owl is a kind of clever and sapiential bird, such as the idioms “as wise as an owl” and “as a grave as an owl”. But here in China, we think it is unpropitious. Most of the time when people hear it hoots, they will think that something bad will happen.
It is said that, there was an American woman who paid a visit to China. She likes wearing her favorite owl brooch wherever she went. But Chinese people often stopped and whispered at her brooch. She felt very strange. After someone told her how Chinese people think about the owl, she finally understood. Perhaps now people are not so taboo about it, but the difference do exists.
Sheep and goat
Sheep and goat have totally different meaning due the Bible, Sheep means good man, and goat means bad and evil man. There are some idioms in English related to goat, but most of them are derogatory, for example, to play the goat = play the fool（瞎胡闹）, to get sb’s goat（触动肝火）.
And there is also an old saying: separate the sheep from the goats, which means to divide good or useful people from bad or useless. In Chinese culture, there is no difference between the two.
Cat is an important member of the Westerners’ pet culture. Most people use cat to describe a woman, such as catwalk (catwalk); and the word “old cat” has the meaning of “grumpy old woman”, “barber’s cat” means sickly people; “copy cat” means “people without judgments”; “as sick as a cat” means people who are seriously sick; “like a cat on hot bricks” means “热锅上的蚂蚁”; But in Chinese cuture, dogs are more common as a pet than cat, and there aren’t many idioms about it.
What have led to these differences are many-sided, there can be cultural, religious, geographical and habits and customs reasons. But anyhow, as a translator, we should pay much attention to those differences, and then, we can make our translation more adaptable.
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