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Chinese publisher pulls ‘vulgar’ translation of Indian poet

1 January 2016

From The Guardian:

A Chinese publisher has recalled the latest Chinese-language translation of a work by the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore after criticism in India that it was too vulgar and strayed too far from the original text.

Zhejiang Literature and Arts Publishing House announced this week that it would pull from shelves all copies of Tagore’s Stray Birds, translated by the Chinese writer Feng Tang, and would review the translation.

In the passage that has drawn the strongest objections, Feng translated the line “The world takes off its mask of vastness for its lover” as “The world unzipped his pants in front of his lover”. Feng also used the Chinese word for “coquettish” to translate the word “hospitable” in a line where Tagore describes the grass-growing earth.

. . . .

“This incident raises questions about the role of the translator in relation to the author and what his motives were,” said Radha Chakravarty, a Tagore scholar who teaches in Delhi’s Ambedkar University. “Was it about marketability? Was it to push its sales? Or was it an attempt at satire, at lampooning Tagore?

“It also raises questions about authorship authority and where does liberty end and where does licence begin when we talk of creative freedom and creative expression.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to J.A. for the tip.

Non-US

10 Comments to “Chinese publisher pulls ‘vulgar’ translation of Indian poet”

  1. That is truly scary. How can you approve translations into languages that you don’t understand?

    • You can’t. That’s a Real Publisher’s job, and it is part of the loving and skilful process of Curation. Only a Publisher is qualified to approve translations into languages that neither the Publisher nor any of its employees understands.

      (signed)
      H. Smiggy McStudge

      • Here, there should have been no problem : the source language was English, and it is quite probable that either the publisher or some of its employees would understand it, and of course they understood the target language (Chinese).

        The real problem is when the publisher does not understand the source language, which happens quite often when it is not English, Spanish or German, and does not wish to pay more money to have the translation checked by somebody else (another translator…)

        And to answer Alice : when the original author understands the target language (or believes s/he does), it can also be a problem (not often fortunately) : because s/he is maybe not qualified enough in it to know for sure if the translator’s choices are the right ones, and could try to interfere, with mixed results (here, I presume that the translator is a competent, serious professionnal, not like this Feng Tang).

        • Here, there should have been no problem : the source language was English, and it is quite probable that either the publisher or some of its employees would understand it, and of course they understood the target language (Chinese).

          You mistake me. It was the Indian publisher that did not understand Chinese, and cheerfully sold the author’s translation rights to a knacker’s shop. As was right and proper: for we cannot afford to let pestilent stuff like literature and poetry cross international frontiers without being safely garbled and sterilized.

          (signed)
          H. Smiggy McStudge

          • Well, the Indian publisher would not have understood Chinese even if the Chinese publisher had been a serious and reliable publisher. Publishers selling rights for translation into languages they don’t understand happen every day, and it has to be so, or there would not be any translation made in this world (or very few).

          • Tagore is out of copyright, so there is presumably no Indian publisher involved

  2. Dear H. S. McS. You scallywag, you! 😀

  3. I actually found the translation quite funny. For those who haven’t read the link, the line:

    The world takes off its mask of vastness for its love

    was translated as:

    The world unzipped his pants in front of his lover

    I burst out laughing when I read this. Looks like badly written erotica.

    I don’t know, but I would buy this translation. I’m sure there are more gems in there 😉

    • Yeah, but would you bother learning Chinese just so you could read the translation?

      For all we know, the actual Chinese text is nowhere near as funny as the English translation of the Chinese translation. And for all we know, this is like one of those trailers for awful comedy movies, where every funny bit is put into the trailer and the other 88 minutes of the movie are utter tedium.

  4. In decent translation, Tagore’s short stories are masterful and well worth reading.

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