Politics in Translation: Challenges of Translating Chinese Policy and Political Documents

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Image of Dr Holly Snape, University of Glasgow
Dr Holly Snape

Dr Holly Snape is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Glasgow. A few years ago, she worked as a translator at the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau in Beijing where she worked on the official translations of political documents for Chinese Government.

Dr Penny Ding, the Deputy Director (UK) of University of Liverpool Confucius Institute, recently invited Dr Holly Snape to host an online webinar discussing the challenges of translating political documents within a cross-cultural context. The webinar was led by Dr Holly Snape on 11th November where she shared her experience of translating China's current Premier Li Keqiang’s Government Work Report and other central documents from the perspective of a bilingual Mandarin-English speaker and provided some helpful advice on this subject. 

Political documents play an integral role in the Chinese political system. This system is reliant not only state legislation and policy but, more importantly, on Chinese Communist Party meeting resolutions, law-like documents, and a canon of writings and speeches of former and current leaders. According to Dr Holly Snape, figurative language is commonly used in Chinese political documents. She referred to a metaphor in the Chinese economic policy ‘a bucket's capacity is determined by its shortest stave’ (一只木桶能装多少水,是由其最短的木板决定的), saying that she could not figure out the meaning the first time she read the sentence because, growing up in the UK, a ‘bucket’ is made of solid metal instead of wooden staves from her impression. In that regard, translating Chinese political documents is, by all means, a rather challenging mission for translators who come from a different cultural background. 

At the Q&A session of the webinar, Dr Holly Snape answered questions from students and co-hosts. Her advice on immersing oneself in a target language and culture by constant research and reflection shed light on linguistic awareness development.

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