There are more than a billion people who use the Chinese language and less than a billion who use the English language, so the Chinese and the English are very important languages in the world, and the translation from one language into the other may be said to be as important.
Generally speaking, translators in English-speaking countries translate from one Occidental language into another and it is not difficult to find equivalents between the two languages, so the principle of equivalence is usually followed.
But the Chinese language is an Oriental one in which only half of its vocabulary has equivalents in English. When there are equivalents, the principle of equivalence may befollowed in translation. When no satisfactory equivalents can be found, the expressions used by the translator may be better or worse than the original.
Generally speaking, the translation cannot be so good as the original, so the translator should do his best to choose the best expressions to lessen the gap between the two languages. If the translator’s country has a longer civilization than the English-speaking country, it would not be impossible for the translator to overshadow the original by choosing good expressions in his own language.
What is more, theEnglish language is a scientific one, it is concise, it says what it means, its sense goes as far as the word, this may be epitomized into a formula 1 + 1 = 2;while the Chinese language is an artistic one, it is concise, it may mean morethan what it says, its sense may go farther than the word, its formula may be 1+ 1 > 2.
The difference between science and art makes it possible for art to triumph over science inliterary translation. The way how to solve the contradiction between scienceand art may be creative, so it may be called creative translation.
The theory of creative translation is based on traditional Chinese culture, which includes Confucian and Taoist ideas, represented respectively by two books: the Analects of Confucius translated by Arthur Waley and Lao Zi:the Book of Tao and Teh published by Peking University Press.
Are the titles of the two classics well translated? The phonetical transcription of the Confucianbook is lun（论，discuss）yu（语，speak）, while the Analects used by Waley means selected miscellaneous passages, so the title may be said to be an equivalent translation. If the title is changed to Thus Spoke the Master to read like aphilosophical work, it may be called a creative translation. If Lao zi:the Book of Tao and Teh（老子：道德经） is changed to Old Master: Laws Divine and Human（老子：天道与人道），it may also be called a creative translation.
The first motto in Thus Spoke the Master is 学而时习之，不亦说乎。（Phonetic transcription: xue er shi xi zhi bu yi yue hu） How to translate this motto into English? Let us read the versionof Waley who follows the principle of equivlence:
To learn and at due time to repeat what one has learned,
Is that not after all a pleasure?
“To learn” is equivalent to xue, “and” to er, “at due time” to shi, “to repeat what one haslearned” to xi zhi, “not after all” to bu yi, “a pleasure” to yue. So we may say Walay’s version is an equivalent translation. But, as we have just said,the Chinese is an artistic language which may say one thing and mean another.Here “to learn” is said, but xue means “to acquire knowledge”; “to repeat” is said, but xi means to “put into practice”, and what is said is not so importantas what is meant. So this motto may be retranslated as follows:
Is it not delightful to acquire knowledge and put it into practice from time to time?
This may serve as an example of creative translation. It is very important for translation theory. If we do not know whether a theory is good or not, we should put it into practice and see the result. This Confucian idea might serve as a base forour theory of creative translation.
Another base for creative translation is the Old Master’s Laws Divine and Human, which also begins with a motto:道可道，非常道。（Phonetic transcription: tao ke tao, fei chang tao）
In this motto there are six phonetic symbols, of which three are tao. The first tao is a noun which may mean way, law, truth, etc. The second tao is a verb which may mean to know or to be known. The third tao used together with chang means well known truth or truth known to you. Now let us read the translation of this motto published by Peking University Press:
The Tao that is utterable is not the eternalo Tao;
The first and the last Tao replaced by meaningless phonetic symbols make no sense at all, so it may be replaced by:
Truth can be known, but it may not be a wellknown truth.
If we replace“truth” by literary translation, we may say: Literary translation can be made,it is not transliteration but creative translation.
Here is another base for our translation theory. Mao Zedong’s theories On Practice and On Contradiction may also owe their origin to the Confucian and Taoist classics,so we may say that creative translation theory conforms to Mao Zedong’s thoughts, and we may illustrate that by examples.
It was said that the Book of Poetry was edited by Confucius 2500 years ago. The first poem 关雎 (phonetic transcription: guan ju) has five stanzas and the first stanza 关关雎鸠，在河之洲。窈窕淑女，君子好逑 translated by Waley reads as follows:
“Fair,fair,” cry the ospreys
On the island in the river,
Lovely is this noble lady,
Fit bride for our lord.
The title guan juis taken from the first and the third word of the first line (phonetic transcription: guan guan ju jiu), “guan guan” is supposed to be the cry of the bird. What is the crying bird? There are five answers: water bird, osprey,egret, heron, turtledove. None of these five birds will cry: guan guan, only the turtledove will coo, which is not sonorous, so the poet adds one suffix-an, and the sound becomes cooan, which sounds like guan.
So we may concludethe crying bird was cooing turtledove. Then who are the lovers in lines 3 and4? Waley says they are a lord and a lady. But in the following stanzas the lovers gathering water plants to eat look unlike noble lords and ladies, so it would be better to replace them by a young man and a fair maiden. So one creative translation reads as follows:
By riverside are cooing
A pair of turtledoves.
A good young man is wooing
A maiden fair he loves.
The new version is more faithful and more beautiful in three aspects: in sense, in sound and in form:in sense for it is true not only in the past but also in the present, in soundfor the verse is rhythmical and rhymed, and in form for it is more regular. Sowe see the creative translation better than an equivalent version.
In the Bookof Poetry there are four beautiful verses: 昔我往矣 （xi wo wang yi），杨柳依依 （yang liu yi yi），今我来思 （jin wo lai si），雨雪霏霏（yu xue fei fei）. These four versesdescribe how a peasant conscript to fight for the lords was unwilling to leavehome and even the willow would not let him go; when he came home bent down bythe war, the sympathetic tree was also bent down by snow.
Was there communion between man and nature? In these verses yi yi and fei fei have no English equivalents. How can we translate these verses into English? Let us read the version of Professor Watson of Columbia University:
Long ago we set out
When willows were rich and green.
Now we come back
Through thickly falling snow.
The second line is an objective description without showing the sympathy of the personified willow with the soldier unwilling to leave home to fight for the lords. The last lineis a description of snow without showing communion between man and nature. Now let us read the Chinese translator’s version:
When I left here,
Willows shed tear.
I come back now,
Snow bends the bough.
In the second line yi yi means “unwilling to part with the soldier, and willows in English may be said to be “weeping”, so here “shed tear” is used to show the communion between soldier and willow. In the last line the tree with boughs bent down by snow shows its sympathy with the home-coming soldier bent down by the war.
Here we see how a Chinese translator has done better than an American professor. In other words,the principle of creative translation can do what the principle of equivalence cannot.
But opinions may differ. For instance, Professor Graham (University of London)says in his Poems of the Late Tang (p.37), “we can hardly leave the translation to the Chinese, since there are few exceptions to the rule that translation is best done into, not out of, one’s own language.” Is his idea right? We may read for example his translation of Li Shangyin’s Untitled Poem on p.146 of his Poems of the Late Tang.
The poet wrote this poem for an unnamed lover with whom he had a date. He recalled the night when he entered her golden door with a lock in the form of a toad while she was burning incense, and the morning when he left her while people were drawing water with silken ropes from a well with a windlass ornated with a tiger of jade.
The incense (xiang in Chinese) and silken (si in Chinese) put together means lovesickness (xiangsiin Chinese). This hints that the poet passed one night together with hisunnamed lover. The original couplet reads as follows:
But Graham’stranslation reads as follows :
A gold toad gnaws the lock. Lock it, burn the incense.
A tiger of jade pulls the rope. Draw from the well and escape.
Comparing Graham’sversion with the original, we may find 11 words equivalent with the 14-word original: gold, toad, gnaw, lock, burn, incense, jade, tiger, pull, draw, well,so we may say Graham follows the principle of equivalence.
There are only 3 words which he has mistranslated or left untranslated, that is, enter, silk and return, but these 3 are key words which, when untranslated, would make Graham’sversion a complete failure.
Graham does notknow that the golden toad is an ornament on the door, nor that the toad gnawingthe lock means the door locked. He does not know who is the subject of the verbto lock and to burn, and uses the imperative mood instead of the indicative in the past, so the meaning is entirely wrong. It should read that the poet entered his lover’s door ornated with a golden toad before it was locked and when she was burning incense.
The same mistakeis made in the second verse. The tiger of jade is an ornament on the windlass of the well and stands for the windlass. The key word “silken” (lovesick) is untranslated and “escape” is a mistranslation which should read to go home or to return.
Graham does not know what is the subject of verbs to draw and to escape. So the meaning is again entirely wrong. It should read: after the tryst the poet left his unnamed mistress in the morning when people began to draw water from the well with a windlass ornated with a jade tiger. Therefore these two verses should be retranslated as follows:
With incense burned at night I entered golden gate;
Whenwater’s drawn at dawn, I left my jade-like mate.
The door with a lock in the form of a golden toad is simplified into “golden gate” to show his mistress’ house is a mansion, but the word “toad” is negligible because the ornament might be made in the form of a dragon or other animals.
The word “jade” is transplanted to the poet’s mate, this is important for a jade tiger is only anornament to show the family is rich and noble, while the jade-like mate showsthe heroine of the tryst is beautiful as ivory or white jade, and that may bethe reason why the poet comes to the tryst and writes this poem for an unnamedbeauty.
This poem shows the difference between the word and the sense. When the poet says the golden toad, he means the golden gate, and by the tiger of jade he means the windlass.What is more important, by “incense” and “silk” he hints at the tryst. Without understanding this, Graham fails to make the reader understand the poem, which is the minimum requirement for a translator.
If a translator only understands 50% of the original, he could not translate more than 50% of the original, no matter how good he may be at expressing the idea in his mother tongue. How can Graham be so ignorant and so arrogant as to say they cannot“leave translation to the Chinese”!
No less ignorant and arrogant is Stephen Owen, professor at an American university, who also says something like Grahamin the world of English published in March 2015. “China is wasting money in publishing Chinese classics translated into English by Chinese translators,”said Owen in that monthly periodical, p. 108, “for no one will read the seversions of Chinese translators.” Is Owen right in his conclusion?
Let us compare two versions of Li Bai’s poem Drinking Alone under the Moon, one translated by Owen and the other by a Chinese translator. One verse in the poem reads as follows: 行乐(make merry)须(must be)及春(in spring), Owen’s version readsas follows:
The joy I find will surely last till spring.
According to Owen, the poet should find joyor make merry before spring and not in spring. Is this the original idea? No.Now let us read the version of the Chinese translator:
(And) make merry before spring’s spent away.
The Chinese translator has corrected the mistake made by Owen. How dare he say that no one will read the Chinese version? Even if he has made no mistake in his translation, can he express the original idea better than a Chinese translator? Let us read another example inthe same poem:
And lift cup to bright moon, ask it to joinme,
Then face my shadow and we become three.
I raise the cup to invite the Moon who blends
Her light with my Shadow and we’re three friends.
A Chinese critic said: All scenic expressions in classic Chinese poetry are lyrical. Then we may say Owen’s version is scenic for it only describes the poet drinking under the moon, but the Chinese version is lyrical for it describes the drunken poet who sees the Moon blending her light with his Shadow. Here we see the Chinese translator excels Owen inexpressing the same idea even in Owen’s mother tongue, even when Owen has madeno mistake. What if his version is doubtful? Let us cite a third example in thesame poem:
(1)永(ever)结(make)无(no)情(feeling)游(travel),相期(expect to meet)邈(far)云(cloud)汉(river)。
Let us join in travels beyond human feelings,
And plan to meet far in the river of stars.
Our friendship will outshine all earthlylove:
Next time we’ll meet beyond the stars above.
Again Owen’s expressions are scenic whilethose used by the Chinese are lyrical. Can Owen say that scenic expressions are better than lyrical expressions?
In short, Graham and Owen cannot well translate classical Chinese poetry into English because they do not know how to solve the contradition between sense and word, idea and form, or between science and art, truth and beauty, scenic expression and lyrical expression.According to the theory of creative translation, to be truthful or faithful is the necessary condition, while to be beautiful is the sufficient condition.
That is to say, it is necessary for the translation to be faithful to the original. If unfaithful, it cannot be called a translation. But it is not sufficient for literary translation to be faithfulonly, for a literary work must be a thing of beauty, so a literary translation must be as beautiful as the original, and to be beautiful is the sufficient condition for literary translation.
That is why the sense of the Chinese language may go beyond the word, for the Chinese is more artistic than scientific. The scenic expression is scientific and objective, while the lyrical expression is artistic and subjective. Science cannot go beyond the realm of necessity, but art may enter the realm of freedom. That is the reason why the principle of creative translation surpasses the principle of equivalence.
Finally I will sum up the contradiction between idea and form in imitation of the first chapter of the Old Master’s Laws Divine and Human.
Translation is possible, it is not transliteration.
Forget the original form, get the original idea!
Getting the idea, you understand the original;
Forgetting the form, you express the idea.
Be true to the idea common to two languages;
Be free from the form peculiar to the original!
Idea and form are two sides of one thing.
Get the common idea, forget the peculiar form:
That is the way of literary translation.
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