Translating Sensitive Material

By Michelle Deeter, published

I'm sure you've heard of the Chinese government blocking access to the English and Chinese websites of the New York Times earlier today. The New York Times published an article about the riches that Premier Wen's family has gained since he has been in office. The English version of the article can be found here and the Chinese version can be found here. In this case, the Chinese translation does not list the translator's name, perhaps because the translator asked to be anonymous. Typically the translator is credited at the bottom of each NY Times article.

I am curious if others have translated "sensitive" content before, and what kind of experience they had. Have you ever translated something that you thought might be blocked or censored if published in China? Have you translated something that you would not put on your resume, because it might affect job prospects or have some other negative impact? Have you ever asked to not be credited for your translation?


# 1.   

I heard of one eminent translator who, when the author insisted on 'improving' his/her translation, requested that the translator's name be omitted and substituted by 'translated under the supervision of the author' on the grounds that he/she had a reputation to protect.

Wu Ming 无名, October 28, 2012, 7:20a.m.

# 2.   

Words Without Borders is soon coming out with an issue of dissident Chinese writing (or something along those lines) – it will be interesting to see if any translators opt not to have their name used…

Eric Abrahamsen, October 28, 2012, 7:45a.m.

# 3.   

"Have you ever asked to not be credited for your translation?" Yes, I have, once, but I did suspect myself of paranoia and wonder if it was really necessary

Nicky Harman, October 28, 2012, 9:46a.m.

# 4.   

...and BTW it wasn't the story I did for the Words Without Borders issue Eric mentions.

Nicky Harman, October 28, 2012, 9:48a.m.

# 5.   

I translated essays in Liu Xiaobo's "I have no enemies ..." as well as some texts by Zheng Yi on cannibalism in Guangxi during the Cultural Revolution. I never bothered to hide my name. I figure they'd know anyway (Sweden is a small country). But if someone, for instance the author, would make changes in the text that I couldn't accept I wouldn't want to put my name on it.

Anna GC, October 31, 2012, 11:13a.m.

# 6.   

Liu Xiaobo's 'I have no enemies...' was translated into Dutch as well, by a number of translators. The only translator who used his real name on the book was someone who had been working for Amnesty for years, all the others used pseudonyms. Perhaps it's paranoia, but I would have done the same. When I send my resume to Chinese organisations, I leave all the sensitive things off my list of publications. It's easy to find online what I have done, but no need to rub their face in it.

AnnaS, June 18, 2015, 10:57a.m.

# 7.   

Liu Xiaobo "I have no enemies ..." can also mean he is not really after principles. Whoever is after the truth, nothing but truth will have enemies, for sure.

Susan, March 14, 2016, 1:17a.m.


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