Sunday Sentence for Schools

By Jack Hargreaves, published

Part of: Sunday Sentence

cover image

We're back! And we're starting 2021 with two sentences from two wonderful children's books.

The first is from 《好困好困新年》by Meng Yanan 孟亚楠, translated by winner of the 6th Bai Meigui Translation Competition, Izzy Hasson, as Sleepy, Sleepy New Year and published by Balestier Press.

The second is from 《我要作好孩子》 by Huang Beijia 黄蓓佳, translated by Nicky Harman as I Want to Be Good, to be published by New Classic Press this February.

The sentences and their context are below, but first some brief instructions for those joining us for the first time or in case 2020 has made you forget how this works.

  1. You have two weeks to complete your own translations of the sentences below.
  2. Once you're happy with them, post them in the comments at the bottom of the page. If you like, tell us what you liked about doing the translation or about the text or what you found difficult.
  3. Read others' translations, ask them questions in the comments, admire their work and generally just geek out as much as you like!

[Pictures reproduced by kind permission of the publisher.]



Every winter, Bao Bear hibernates until spring. So when Bao overhears a family of rabbits talking about making jiaozi for the New Year holiday, Bao doesn’t know what they mean. But the encyclopaedia can explain it, and so can Bao’s forest friends. In fact, they can show Bao what the New Year holiday is and how to spend it! When the holiday begins, one by one, family by family, Bao’s friends arrive to help Bao stick up couplets around the door, hang lanterns and make a feast! Only, sleepy Bao Bear keeps on falling asleep…


金铃说:“我不要意义,只要开心。我现在上学读书太不 开心了,没完没了的考试,满耳朵的分数,我觉得活着还没有死了快活。

Ling is an average sort of kid: quick-witted, kind, good at writing stories, but––no matter how hard she tries––hopeless at maths! As Ling and her friends get ready for their middle school entrance exam, the pressure piles on. Minjie Chen, Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University, USA, says this: “In China, a test-driven, ultra-competitive educational environment has turned the school experience into an arms race. But Ling has qualities that the school cannot measure with a numerical score. The persistent tension of the novel is the gap between who Ling is and what her anxious mother and teachers’ expectations of her are. Funny, moving, and a very appealing read.”
In the sentence above, Ling is beginning to rebel. She has just told her mum that she wishes she could be really old and take things easy like her grandparents. Her mum says, “But then there wouldn’t be any meaning (意义) in your life!”

We look forward to seeing your translations!


# 1.   

Sentence 1 - The water in the pot soon boiled, and the dumplings were out of the pot. After a while the smell floated out. Sentence 2 - Jin Ling said: “I don’t want meaning, as long as I am happy. I am too unhappy to go to school now, endless exams, full of scores in my ears, I feel happy that I am alive and not dead.”

Evelyn, February 2, 2021, 2:37p.m.

# 2.   
  1. The pot boiled over quick, in went the dumplings, and it didn't take long until a sweet smell wafted throughout the air.
  2. Jin Ling retorted, "I don't want -meaning-, I want happiness. School makes me unhappy. I'm drowning in tests and am up to my ears in maths - it feels downright miraculous that I'm alive and not dead."

Arnold, February 2, 2021, 4:02p.m.

# 3.   

Ah, "maths" should be "marks". Sorry about that.

Arnold, February 2, 2021, 4:04p.m.

# 4.   

This is my attempt at the first sentence:


The water in the pot was soon boiling and in went the jiaozi. Soon after, a delicious smell filled the air.

TDyson, February 3, 2021, 4:25a.m.

# 5.   

It'll be interesting to see whether Izzy Hasson went for 'dumplings' or 'jiaozi' in her translation. For me, there are so many delicious foods that come under the label of 'dumplings' in Chinese cuisine (抄手, 混沌, 煎包, 汤圆 etc.) that using the word 'jiaozi' becomes the obvious choice. Plus 饺子 has a clear connection with traditions during Spring Festival.

But without knowing which kind of audience the English translation was intended for, it's not an easy decision. Though I did notice recently that wagamama use the word 'gyoza' (a Japanese spelling?) on their menu in their UK restaurants, so maybe the term is making its way into English.

TDyson, February 3, 2021, 4:38a.m.

# 6.   

Great translations so far everyone. Both of these were a lot of fun to have a go at, especially the last one, although I understood the ending as slightly darker than others...

Ling is very dramatic, and everyone captured that melodrama wonderfully! Ears full of scores, and drowning in tests... oh to be in school again...!

My translations are below:

The water in the pot was soon bubbling, so in went the jiaozi. Moments later, a delicious smell drifted out.

Ling said: “I don’t want meaning. I just want to be happy. Going to school, studying, I’m not very happy at all doing that. What with the endless exams, my ears full of fractions, right now I would be happier dead than alive.”
金铃说:“我不要意义,只要开心。我现在上学读书太不 开心了,没完没了的考试,满耳朵的分数,我觉得活着还没有死了快活。

@TDyson you persuaded me to keep "jiaozi" in the text. Especially since it's in bold in the picture, which makes me think there's a glossary in the book somewhere, or at least that there could be.

Jack Hargreaves, February 4, 2021, 9:38a.m.

# 7.   


The jiaozi were dropped into the pot as the water came to the boil. Before long, a fragrant aroma drifted into the air.

For this one, I was unsure about whether to use dumplings or jiaozi, but I opted for jiaozi because although the name may be challenging to readers, I think it’s important to differentiate jiaozi from other types of dumplings that western audiences may be used to (e.g. for me, being from the UK, I know British audiences may associate dumplings with the kind that you have with stew, not kind that you would eat in China during the spring festival). Also, thinking about the story, if this is for younger audiences, I think it’s a nice way to introduce the concept of jiaozi and give the audience a taste of Chinese culture through literature, and perhaps just as Bao Bear is learning about jiaozi and these new aspects of Chinese culture, the audiences can learn along too!

金铃说:“我不要意义,只要开心。我现在上学读书太不 开心了,没完没了的考试,满耳朵的分数,我觉得活着还没有死了快活。

Jin Ling said, “I don’t want meaning, I only want happiness. Right now, I’m so unhappy at school, the endless exams, hearing of nothing but gradesI think I would find more happiness in death.”

Lucy Elwood, February 4, 2021, 4:57p.m.

# 8.   

It’s interesting to see 饺子 appearing in these English translations with and without italics. What do people think about italicising? Style guides often say it’s good practice to italicise non-English words, but there are claims that italicising is a non-neutral convention. For reference, see this 2018 article “Bilingual authors are challenging the practice of italicizing non-English words”

Helen, February 5, 2021, 6:17a.m.

# 9.   

@Helen my default is to argue for no italicisation. Italicisation tends to centre a Western English perspective and also reduces the effectiveness of using italics for emphasis. I requested Kazakh and pinyin not be italicised for Winter Pasture, especially since Li Juan already includes a lot of bracketed explanations after Kazakh words in the original and we planned to include a glossary at the back of the book anyway. But it was to no avail. My impression, from my limited experience, is that because italicisation has been common practice for a while in certain publishing fields, some editors are loath to stray from it in case that affects sales/reception. Hopefully that resistance won't last.

For this translation, I opted to italicise jiaozi because the word is bold in the original Chinese, so there is emphasis on the word there as well -- of course, I could have gone for bold text for the same effect

Jack Hargreaves, February 5, 2021, 2:39p.m.

# 10.   

Sent. 1 - The water in the pot quickly boiled, and the jiaozi went into the pot. After a bit of time, a pleasant aroma wafted out.

Sent. 2 - Jin Ling said: "I don't want meaning, I just want to be happy. I am most unhappy at study in school right now. There are endless tests, and the grades are coming out of my ears. I feel happy that I'm living and not yet dead.

William Harris, February 5, 2021, 3:20p.m.

# 11.   

Sentence 1: The water in the pot boiled in mere seconds, and then the jiaozi went in. A few moments later, the pleasant aroma drifted out to the wind.

Sentence 2: "Forget the meaning, I just want to be happy. Studying at school is not happy with endless exams and scores everywhere. I feel like dying is even more enjoyable than staying alive." Ling said.

Jason Yiu, February 6, 2021, 2:32p.m.

# 12.   

Sentence 1: The water in the pot boiled in mere seconds, and then the jiaozi went in. A few moments later, the pleasant aroma drifted out to the wind.

Sentence 2: "Forget the meaning, I just want to be happy. Studying at school is not happy with endless exams and scores everywhere. I feel like dying is even more enjoyable than staying alive." Ling said.

Jason Yiu, February 6, 2021, 2:32p.m.

# 13.   

Sentence 1: The water in the pot soon boiled, the dumplings were put into the pot. After a while, the fragrance floated out. Sentence 2: Jin Ling said: I don’t want purpose, just want happiness. I am so unhappy about going to school now , endless exams, all about scores. I feel that being alive is not as happy as being dead (meaning I’d rather die).

Antonia Traista, February 9, 2021, 11:06p.m.

# 14.   

Sentence 1: The water in the pot boiled very quickly, and the jiaozi were put into the pot. Not long afterwards, a delicious smell wafted through the air.

Sentence 2: Jin Ling said, “I don’t want any meaning (purpose in life), I only want to be happy. School and studying make me so unhappy now. With these endless exams, I am up to my ears in marks; I think I would be happier dead than alive.”

RC, February 10, 2021, 8:35p.m.


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