On Translation and Creativity

Yiheyuan

Yiheyuan

My internship for a music magazine in Beijing has been a way for me to anchor myself to a routine, as well as gain insight into the development of modern Chinese culture. China Music Business News, a well-read magazine that gets a lot of traffic to its Chinese website, took me on as an intern to shape up their English website, translate articles, correct the poor existing translations, manage their social media, conduct English interviews, and film for any articles that needed media. It was work that I took to quickly, and I took heart in the fact that my lackluster writing and reading was not quite as lackluster as I thought, and was finally coming in handy.

Although I had to check my propensity for more creative translations, I discovered that translation is much like creating your own language, in the way that you create semantic relationships between words and reconstruct images with different linguistic units. Even though there are no invented words or sounds, one does create their own “rules” of translation since the options for translation are so vast, especially for a language like Mandarin Chinese. Especially where colloquial sayings or proverbs (chengyu) come into play, you often have to rely on your gut instinct as far as translation goes. Of course, I also had the benefit of my boss and co-workers being unable to read any of my work, so even if I botched the translations (which I didn’t), there wasn’t really a review process.

The rabbit head (and brains!) my co-workers made me eat

The rabbit head (and brains!) my co-workers made me eat

The work culture is also far more laid-back than I expected. I anticipated a work culture not unlike Japan or Korea, where people work insane hours and at all times. Instead, I found that it more resembled San Francisco startups, from the shared, open office space accommodating a couple hundred people, to synchronized naps and ping pong tables. Nonetheless, I realized that my comparatively light work load was a result of my boss being unfamiliar with what to expect from translation work, as well as my status as an intern. In the end, I took a lot out of my experience working for the magazine (in fact, they want me to continue working for them when I return to the US), and am incredibly grateful to the Freeman Foundation for generously allowing me to live and work in China this summer, as well as visit my family.

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