Translations: Victorian, non-native, communist, contemporary, machine
Many claim that among classical Chinese novels, Dream of the Red Chambers is the most difficult to translate. The text uses an unusually wide variety of styles (both classical and vernacular language; including many quotations from classical poetry), literary allusions, class references, and vocabulary ranging from the elevated to the taboo.
Here is spoken dialogue from Chapter 9 that is highly vulgar in the original:
Original text: 「我們肏屁股不肏屁股，管你籴舻相干，橫豎沒肏你爹去罷了！」
It is interesting to see how cultural norms for translation and expression have resulted in highly different treatments of this text. Below are five translations – one from the Victorian period, one by a non-native English speaker, one under communist supervision, one by a contemporary translator, and one by a machine.
1892: H. Bencraft Joly – a Victorian translation. (Joly was British consul in China; he was an English native speaker):
“What we do, whether proper or improper […] doesn’t concern you! It’s enough anyway that we don’t defile your father!”
1958: Chi-Chen Wang – a non-native English speaker translation. (Chen was a Chinese native speaker):
“Hey, you son of the Kin clan, what business is it of yours whatever we choose to do? You should be glad we haven’t violated your own father.”
1978: Xianyi Yang and Gladys (Taylor) Yang – a communist translation. (Xianyi is a native Chinese speaker; Gladys is a native English speaker. They were imprisoned, each in solitary confinement, during the Cultural Revolution. They were assigned to translate the book, under strict Chinese government supervision, as part of their penance for release):
“What we do is no business of yours.”
1973: David Hawkes – a contemporary translation. (Hawkes is a native English speaker. I have partially obscured certain English vulgar words; the original prints the full words):
“Whether we f*** ar**holes or not, […] what f***ing business is it of yours? You should be bl***y grateful we haven’t f***ed your dad.”
2012: Google Translate (the text appears exactly as Google Translate presents it):
“We f # # k ass f # # k ass, pipe down and buy thee henashi coherent, if they had not
f # # k your father went to nothing!”
Which of these translations do you prefer?