Picking up the translation for Mandarin Duck Blades

I started the translation for Mandarin Duck Blades a few weeks ago. This came after I was testing my new CAT tool and needed to test opening multiple files in a project. I chose the Mandarin Duck Blades because it was long enough at 11 chapters, but not too long like the other Jin Yong novels.

The next thing I knew, I was hooked on both reading and translating the book. Yes, I get a weird thrill of enjoying the book, and also turning it into English. It’s no coincidence that I love writing, and I’m also a bookworm.

Existing translation

This made me look up for existing translations of the novel. I told myself that I would pick up the translation if there’s only the SPCNET version. Sure enough, that’s the only translation available online.

I know a lot of these fan translations are done by fans who were non-native in both English and Chinese. Their efforts allowed many fans to enjoy the novels in English. However, I also recalled that the existing translation of Mandarin Duck Blades is crude. I didn’t want to judge from memory, so I tried reading the parts that I had translated.

There are many nuances when it comes to Chinese culture, tradition, and language, that were lost in translation or just plain misunderstood. I know that the translators used online translation softwares and dictionaries to help them grasp the rough meaning. But as I always say, Chinese is a high-context language. This requires understanding not just the situational context, but also the cultural context.

I jotted down some notes as I read. If you’re not familiar with bullet journalling, you might find it a bit strange. I write down my thoughts when I read. Anyway, there were enough points that made me decide to take on the task of translating the novel.

Check out Chapter 1 of the Mandarin Duck Blades. I hope you’ll enjoy it and find the footnotes and translator notes in the hover tips useful.

Errors in the old translations

As I mentioned, I take a lot of notes. My note-taking app is my second brain. In other words, a tool for me to capture my thoughts for review later. There are too many conversations with other readers and fans that led me to the conclusion that I should make my notes public.

So I’m sharing my notes from the read, with the points fleshed out while I wrote this article to give further explanation and context.

  • The phrase “黑道上山寨的强人” is mistranslated as “powerful figures” or “fearsome bandits” because of the misunderstanding of 强人. Translated literally, it means powerful or strong people. However, the term 强 qiáng actually refers to 强盗 qiángdào, meaning robbers or bandits.
  • Jianghu is mistranslated as wanderers’ world. To be fair, it’s not an easy term to translate. In fact, it is such a unique concept on its own that I use the term in pinyin untranslated.
  • Mandarin Duck Blades translated as the Twin Blades. It loses the symbolism of mandarin ducks in the Chinese culture.
  • The daos are mistranslated as sabers. Daos can include sabers, but also other types of single-edge blades.
  • The onomatopoeia for laughter “嘿嘿 (heīheī)” was mistranslated as “haha.” The Chinese character for “haha” is “哈哈(hāhā).” A closer translation of “嘿嘿” is “hehe.” Another onomatopoeia for laughter “呵呵(hēhē)” has pinyin that looks like “hehe” but actually means roaring with laughter traditionally, and can also be used nowadays to mean a contemptuous or disdainful “heh.”
  • Zhou Weixin’s nickname literally translated as the Iron Whip that Quells Eight Directions. Eight Directions in Chinese refers to all directions. The eight directions refer to north, south, east, west, northeast, southeast, northwest, and southwest. The term “eight directions” is used to describe extending in all directions, not just in the eight directions.
  • Silver taels mistranslated as weight instead of the monetary unit.
  • The Sichuan-Shaanxi Viceroy is mistranslated as Chuang’shaan Provincial Office. Sichuan-Shaanxi is referred to as “Chuan-Shaan” in Chinese, using the conjugate that combines the abbreviation of each province. The Viceroy oversaw several provinces, not just one province.

Moving forward, I would be focusing on the translation and not be pointing out errors in the old translation. I believe both versions are great ways for readers to enjoy Jin Yong’s wonderful stories. My efforts merely provide more context because I also want to help readers have a better understanding of Chinese culture and traditions.

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