Volume 12, No. 3 
July 2008


Tian Chuanmao


Front Page

Select one of the previous 44 issues.


Index 1997-2008

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
On Becoming a Translator
by Salvador Virgen

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
Everything’s Comin’ up Roses (with apologies to Stephen Sondheim)
by Bernie Bierman
Navigating in a New Era: Translators in the Age of Image and Speech
by Eileen B. Hennessy
Supply and Demand Analysis of Patent Translation
by Yvonne Tsai

  In Memoriam
A Farewell to Vera—In Memoriam Vera Maria Conti Nogueira: 1944 - 2008
by Danilo Nogueira

  Nuts and Bolts of Translation
Übersetzung deutscher Nominalkomposita aus der Fachsprache der Technik und Analyse typischer portugiesischer Entsprechungen
Katrin Herget, Holger Proschwitz
Proper Names and Translation
by Samira Mizani

  Translators Around the World
The Influence of the Market on Translating—A Tentative Study of the Market-oriented Translation in China
by Tian Chuanmao

  Scientific and Technical Translation
Mini-Guide to Translating French Documents
for English-Speaking Markets (with general tips for other language pairs and writers of EFL)

by M.L. Seren-Rosso

  Cultural Aspects of Translation
Translating Sexuality: The Translation Industry and Adult Websites
by Sathya Rao

  Literary Translation
Corpus-based Study of Differences in Explicitation Between Literature Translations for Children and for Adults
by Shih Chung-ling

  Translator Education
Bibliografía comentada sobre Traducción e Interpretación para estudiantes
Pablo Muñoz Sánchez
Individual Differences in the Translation Process: Differences in the act of translation between two groups of ESL Japanese students
by Atsushi Iida
El análisis crítico de traducciones literarias en la formación de traductores
Dra. Beatriz MĒ Rodríguez Rodríguez

  Book Reviews
Book Review: A Companion to Translation Studies
by Esmaeil Haddadian Moghaddam
Book Review: The Locas mujeres poems of Gabriela Mistral
reviewed by Liliana Valenzuela

  Translation Theory
Meaning: The Philosopher's Stone of the Alchemist Translator?
by Maite Aragonés Lumeras, Ph.D.

  Translators' Tools
Translators’ Emporium

  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translation and Participatory Media: Experiences from Global Voices
by Chris Salzberg
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Best Websites
by Gabe Bokor

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies
  Translation Journal

Translators around the World

The Influence of the Market on Translating—

A Tentative Study of the Market-oriented Translation in China

by Tian Chuanmao
Universitat Rovira i Virgili


t was not until the late 1970s, to be more exact, in 1978, the year of reform and political opening-up, that the real market-oriented translation appeared in mainland China. By market-oriented translation I mean a kind of translation service which every individual or organization can access. Before 1978 China was relatively closed, only open to socialist and Third World (Chairman Mao's term) countries. International cultural, economic and technical exchanges were not frequent. As a result, there was little need of translation services. The basic pattern of the then translation market was self-sufficient in the sense that the government departments and state-owned enterprises had their own full-time salaried translators whose service was provided only for their own institutions. As for the freelance translators, they were actually part-timers and always affiliated with a certain governmental organization doing a certain civil service work; their number was quite limited. In one word, the market at that time was not totally open.

Translation norms and strategies are not at all fixed, but always change with the times, with the political, economic, and socio-cultural shifts.
After the reform policy of 1978, especially after China's entry into WTO in 2001, translation agencies and companies sprang up like mushrooms due to the ever-increasing exchanges in economy, culture, science and technology, etc. between China and other countries. By translation agency I mean a small organization which has only one or two people who keep the routine working of the agency, and which serves as a link between a client and a freelancer and charges a service fee. A translation company is a relatively large organization, which consists of a staff such as a project manager, a group of quality control personnel, engineers, secretaries, etc. It deals with small and large translation projects, and is generally located in big cities. One thing which must be pointed out is that, academically or theoretically, there is no marked distinction between these two kinds of institutions in China, both of which are labeled translation companies or localization companies and whose service is open to the whole society, including individuals and organizations, domestic or international. Their appearance has brought some substantial changes to the field of translation activity. In the following paragraphs we will focus on the discussion of the change of translation norms and strategies together with the possible causes by following a socio-cultural and functionalist approach.

The changes

I will restrict my investigation mainly to the client-translator model of translation service, especially when I mention the concept of loyalty (Nord 2001). It is somewhat different from the client-agency/company-translator model but is strongly influenced by it. I certainly do not exclude the consideration of the client-agency/company-translator model at some crucial points. "Client" here is an umbrella-term, and may mean an individual, government section, enterprise, mass media, etc. The term "translator" refers to either a full-time or part-time, in-house, or freelance translator. With the emergence of translation companies in China the norms governing translating and translation strategies employed by translators have undergone a drastic change.

Change of norms

Norm is a sociological category. It refers to a rule or standard of behavior shared by members of a social group. Norms may be personal--i.e., incorporated within the individual so that there is conformity without external rewards or punishments, or they may be enforced by positive or negative sanctions from without. Translation, as a social activity, has its own universally acknowledged (?) standard, i.e. norm which defines what a translation is. Certainly under this big umbrella there are various kinds of sub-norms which Gideon Toury (1978/1980) and Andrew Chesterman (1993) have discussed in detail.

Toury first introduced the norm concept into Translation Studies. He classifies translation norms as preliminary norms which concern the existence and nature of a translation policy in terms of the choice of source text types, individual sources, authors, source languages, etc. and the directness, i.e. a particular society's tolerance or intolerance towards a translation based on a text in an intermediate language rather than on the source language text, operational norms which concern decisions made during, rather than prior to, the actual act of translation. Operational norms can be further divided into matricial norms which have to do with the way textual material is distributed, how much of the text is translated, and any changes in segmentation, for example as a result of major omissions, and textual-linguistic norms which concern the selection of specific textual material to formulate the target text or replace particular segments of the source text.

Chesterman's classification includes professional norms and expectancy norms. The former emerges from competent professional behavior and governs the accepted methods and strategies of the translation process and can be sub-divided into three major types: accountability norms which are ethical and call for professional standards of integrity and thoroughness; communication norms which are social and emphasize the role of the translator as a communication expert; relation norms which are linguistic and require the translator to establish and maintain an appropriate relation between source and target texts on the basis of the understanding of the original writer's or commissioner's intentions, the projected readership, and the purpose of the translation. The latter is established by the receivers of the translation, by their expectations of what a translation should be like, and what a native text in the target language should be like.

The appearance of translation companies since 1978's reform policy has changed all the above norms, to a lesser or greater extent. (For the sake of the convenience of my discussion, I use "past translators / translations" and "present translators / translations" respectively to refer to the translators / translations before and after 1978.)

Change in preliminary norms. Let us just take translation imports for example. Past translators used to translate "revolutionary" or socialism / communism-related literary and political texts, generally from former Soviet Union, other socialist and Third World countries as well as friendly Western countries such as France. Present translators have gradually acquired the freedom to choose any text from any country or region on any subject. As for the directness of translation, indirect translation was relatively more common before 1978 than after 1978.

Change in operational norms. Past translations, especially literary translations, were to be directed towards the broad masses as an educational tool of ideological reformation. Present translation audiences have gradually got a heterogeneous nature. That is to say, the translated text may be done for a single person, a group of people, or the general public. Past literary translators were to translate from beginning to end without anything noticeable added or omitted in the translated work, while present translators are allowed to translate relatively freely.

Change in professional norms. Past translators were to translate responsibly, while present translators may translate in whatever way they prefer. As for the translator's role, past translators had to deal with the entire process of translating but present translators just do their translating, especially in the context of translation companies. It seems that they have been again marginalized by the localization industry and are considered as just another translation tool. Past translators had to be take into account both the ST author and the target-language readers, while present translators, in many cases, need not be faithful to the source text and they do not care about target readership but are only responsible for fulfilling the contract with a translation company. In the past, the translator was selected on the basis of his fame or prestige; today, financial considerations prevail.

Change in expectancy norms. Past readers held that a translation should be faithful to the ST, and was retain all the features in the ST; present readers hold different opinions on the relationship between ST and TT. In other words, past readers were idealistic, wanting to get a real and complete picture of the ST, while present readers are practical, hoping to get just what they want from the TT.

Change of translation strategy

Strategy involves a process. Translation strategy concerns the translation act which revolves around such questions as "why translate," "what to translate," and "how to translate." The first two questions concern the selection of the source text, which is strategy on the macro-level. The third question concerns two types of strategy: those strategies dealing with the processing of the whole text which may be labeled intermediate strategies, and those with translating a specific morpheme, word, phrase, sentence, etc., which are micro-level strategies. Here we will focus on the intermediate strategies because this is where the major changes have occurred.

Translation norms govern the process of a translator's act, and translation strategy changes with the norms. With the change of preliminary norms the global strategy has changed. As mentioned above, past translators had only a limited freedom to choose ST. Their choice was restricted in almost all aspects including the country of provenance of the text, period of time, author, subject, etc.

As for ST processing, past translators generally adopted the whole-text strategy. By whole-text translation I mean a type of translation with no drastic change of ST sequence and no additions and omissions above sentence level. It is the traditional and most common form of translation practice in human history. Present translators take the policy of combining whole-text strategy with part-text strategy. By part-text translation I mean a type of translation of a heterogeneous nature, which may be the translation of a part of ST, or the editing / summarizing and then translating of several STs, or the full-text / partial-text translation together with paraphrase / narration / comment / writing. It does exist in past translation practice but now it is much more frequently employed by Chinese translators in the market with translation companies and it has gradually become an established form of translating, both professionally and academically, enjoying almost an equal status with traditional whole-text translation.

In some sense the decisive factor in present translations is the client's expectations, i.e. translation specifications in skopos-theory terms. Present translators frequently use such strategies as editing-translating, selecting-translating, narrating-translating, abridging-translating, translating-writing, translating-commenting, summarizing, imitating, etc.

The causes

Now let us explore the possible causes behind these changes.

The political and ideological factors

In my research I will restrict my investigation of China's translation market to the period between 1949 and 2007. The dividing line of the period is the year 1978, which is most crucial in the sense that before that year China practiced planned economy and after that China has been pursuing market economy. Great changes have taken place in all fields. including the field of translation.

In 1949 the People's Republic of China was founded under the leadership of Chairman Mao and his Communist Party. China sided with the former Soviet Union and other socialist countries to form the socialist camp against the capitalist camp with the USA as its leader. The USA, Britain, and their allies held a strongly antagonistic stance toward China, practiced the policy of containment and used every possible means to subvert the new "Red Power," including instigating and financing a handful of counter-revolutionary groups inside and outside China to dethrone the new power. Facing a serious situation, the Communist Party of China assigned a high priority to class struggle and ideological reformation. The feudalistic and capitalist way of thinking had to be replaced by the socialist and communist way of thinking. This became the most basic guideline of the government. All activities had to conform to this political line, including literary and artistic work and translation.

So, in this general political atmosphere, any translation between Chinese and a foreign language was to serve as a means to achieve the Party's general goal. The selection of the ST became a very important thing. Only those authors and texts which exposed capitalist or old-society's inhumanity or dark side such as exploitation, suppression, class struggle, high unemployment rate, racism, etc., could find their way onto China's translation market. Most texts were imported from former Soviet Union such as Nikolai Alexeevich Ostrovsky's How the Steel Was Tempered (<<钢铁是怎样炼成的>>). Almost no text was imported from major Western powers. France was the first major Western country to recognize the founding of the P.R. China. China has always had a friendly attitude toward France, which led to a number of translations including those of Balzac's works by the famous translator Fu Lei.

As for operational norms, past translators had to translate faithfully, trying their best to keep the revolutionary spirit of the ST which could not be distorted in any way. This is very true in the translation of the works of the "revolutionary teachers" such as Mao Zedong, Marx and Lenin. The ideological propaganda went so far that the spirit of faithfulness was distorted in quite a few translations. For example Li Jiye's (李霁野) translation of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte replaced some politically neutral terms by ideologically colored terms. A good case in point is that the ST verb phrase "wake up" was translated as "觉悟" (become revolutionarily conscious) (Zhang 2004).

After 1978 the focus of the governmental work was shifted from emphasis on the class struggle to economic development. Developing China through science and education has become a national policy. People's minds have gradually been freed and the government has greatly reduced its control over publishing as well as over people's thought. Translators and publishers enjoy much greater freedom to choose ST. They can select whatever text from whatever country on whatever subject. Relatively, technical translation has become a very important part of the translation sector due to the government's emphasis of scientific development..

The economic / market factors

As market economy was gradually established after 1978, the Chinese, like Westerners, have gradually become business-minded. Most state-owned enterprises were sold to individuals through privatization. More and more government officials who had been held in awe and enjoyed exclusive privileges before 1978, have been quitting their positions, and "plunging into the business sea" as described by a popular Chinese expression, so as to earn more money. The pursuit of communist ideology has given way to commercial pursuits. And translators are no exception in a market dominated by translation companies.

The implementation of the open-door policy since 1978 resulted in a higher and higher frequency of international exchanges in all fields including politics, economy, culture, science and technology. Translation services became more and more needed. As a response to this demand, translation companies began to make their debut in the translation market. Some of the companies developed out of the translation department of the government or state-owned enterprises. Or they were established by bilingual individuals or university teachers of translation or former full-time translators in government institutions. The new-style translation career began to open to everyone and in recent years it has become a very profitable industry due to the accelerating globalization and increasing exchanges between China and other countries. In today's market there are three forms of translation services: freelancer, translation section of the government or enterprises, and translation company.

Up to the present day statistics show that there are over 3,000 registered translation companies. The total turnover of translation services in China reached nearly 30 billion RMB in 2007. The ever growing "cake" is making the competition fiercer and fiercer in the translation market. Slow high-quality translation has almost disappeared in today's market, and translators are becoming business-minded. The fierce competition gives rise to a lot of shoddy translations. The client who is generally not a bilingual is usually in the dark about the quality of the translation or pretends to be blind to the quality because he is more interested in the low price.

Today's translation market is in a disorder. The price war has been damaging the image of translators as a whole and slowly undermining the clients' confidence in translation. However, in order to win over more clients, some companies claim that they can provide the "most competitive price" and the "best quality." The price might be "most competitive" to a knowledgeable customer but the quality can never be "best" if it is a below-cost price. Although the government issued two regulations of translation services--The Regulations for Translation Services (2004) and The Requirements for the Quality of Translation Services (2005), things have not yet improved satisfactorily.

The socio-cultural factors

Before 1978 we never saw or heard of Kentucky Fried Chicken, hamburgers, MacDonald's, Coca Cola, the Beatles, etc. in our mass culture. What we knew were red uniforms (worn by Chairman Mao's Red Guard), Mao's quotations, revolutionary / communist ideology and the like. We knew very little about foreign things except a few names in the former Soviet Union's novels and movies such as Paul Cocking (保尔ˇ科察金) and Youth Guards (<<青年近卫军>>) through translation, subtitling and dubbing. At that time our pop culture was monolithic and barren because the country was almost completely closed and foreign cultures could not find their way to China. As a result, translation activity was reduced to a minimum.

With the implementation of the open-door policy and the shift of the governmental work focus on economic development in 1978, everything has changed, including pop culture. New and fresh exotic things have been and are being introduced to Chinese people through translation. For example, the American Pepsi Cola Company introduced the advertisement of its drink like this:

Original English version:

"Give up my Pepsi? Don't even think about it."




Chinese version:

新事可乐 旧事可乐 小事可乐 大事可乐 祝您百事可乐!

(Back translation: New things make us happy. Old things make us happy. Little things make us happy. Great things make us happy. May you be happy with one hundred things [i.e. everything])

(Tian & Yang 2007:264)

A first glance at the bi-text suggests that the Chinese version, semantically, has nothing to do with the original version. Is this a translation or self-translation? Anthony Pym pointed out that "self-translation would thus raise many problems with standard notions about translation as passive representation." (2006:9) On the one hand, traditional meaning-based view of translation denies it is a translation. It is more of an "original" work or an outcome by one of part-text translation strategies--imitating, something like John Drydon's imitation which means radical departures from the ST, including additions and re-interpretations. By imitating I mean a translation retains some features of the ST. For advertisements one of their most important features is the advertising effect which centers around memorizing and attention-getting. I think the Chinese advertisement has successfully achieved the original effect. In other words, it is like a Chinese advertisement. And what's more, it caters for the traditional Chinese cultural psychology by selecting such words as "新事", "百事"and "可乐" because it was launched on one Chinese New Year's Day. In form "" and "可乐" are repeated and in pronunciation "可乐" and "百事可乐" sound similar to "Cola" and "Pepsi Cola", which is well in accordance with the aesthetic tradition of the Chinese. In one word, the Chinese advertisement is easy to remember and pleasant to hear. On the other hand, if we take some special forms of original writing like self-translation as one of the objects of Translation Studies, then we can expand its scope, and more importantly, we can reflect upon the nature of translation, the relationship between writing and translation and the unique contributions by (pseudo-) translators to the enrichment of human culture and civilization.

With the increasing emphasis on science and technology in economic development by the Chinese government, technical translation has become a very important part of the market, which is intimately linked with the importation and exportation of technologies. In today's world, science and technology are developing so fast that it is very difficult for translators to introduce the latest sci-tech information in a timely manner by using the whole-text strategy. Whole-text translation and its publication requires a relatively long period of time, which cannot satisfy the needs of scientific workers: they want to know a certain theory or technology right away. Moreover, one text usually cannot cover the major achievements in a specialized field. Copyright is another problem for translation. These problems can be tackled by part-text strategies. For example, the translator can select the most important part(s) of a newly published text to translate, for we know that for many books not all pages contain the crème de la crème of human knowledge. This is so called selecting-translating. If the achievements of a new technology are contained in several books and articles, the translator can first edit, then translate, which is editing-translating. For a lengthy publication the translator can compress it into a small article of 1,000-2,000 words, which is abridging-translating. The translator can even add her / his own opinion of the new technology in question, which is translating-commenting. In one word, part-text translation strategies give translators much more freedom, avoid some troubles, meet the practical needs and in some way subvert the traditional perception of translation.

Let us finally look at one of the major market factors--the client. Before 1978 there was no real-sense client because the translation market was almost closed. The government departments, state-owned enterprises and publishers were actually pseudo-clients. Those in-house translators got their regular pay and provided their service for the departments and enterprises. The publishers employed some well-known bilinguals including writers to translate a limited number of literary and political works. These bilinguals were not freelancers but part-timers, whose service was not open to the society. In this sense we say the publishers were not real clients though they gave translators a reward in the form of royalties.

The emergence of translation companies after 1978 gave the market its real meaning because any individual or organization can now access them to get anything translated. That is to say, real clients came into being. They have become a decisive factor in the context of money-oriented translation. As Christiane Nord put it, the target receiver becomes the most important yardstick of translational decisions (2001:123). In the market the client may be a combination of author, customer and reader. The client may give the translator her/his own translation instructions. The translator's power has been reduced to the minimum and the translator has been turned into a translation tool. S/he has to be loyal to the client. In the case of the client-company-translator model of translation service, loyalty is still there, although it is very weak. True, freelancers are free to choose translation companies. The only yardstick is money. On the surface freelancers seem to have no fixed relation with translation companies and thus they need not be loyal to the latter. Anyhow, once a contract is signed between a freelancer and a company, a temporary relationship has been established between them. The translator has to be loyal to the company, and indirectly to the client, for the duration set by the contract. We may see the fulfillment of a contract as a kind of loyalty to the other party of the contract. In the final analysis, the translators' loyalty is to money, not to a human individual such as author, client or reader in the context of the market.

Among the three causes discussed above, the political / ideological one is the most important because the changes in China's policies have brought about those radical changes in economy, society and culture.


This paper has compared the translation markets before and after 1978 in China, arriving at the conclusion that the appearance of translation companies has resulted in a change in translation norms and strategies, as well as in the nature of translation services. The major causes for the change are political / ideological, economic and socio-cultural, with the political / ideological as the root cause. Therefore, I propose that translation norms and strategies are not at all fixed, but always change with the times, with the political, economic, and socio-cultural shifts. In my future research I will focus on the 1950s market without translation companies and the 1990s market with translation companies, to show the similarities and dissimilarities between them, based on which, perhaps together with the empirical data to be collected, the changes and their causes can be better explained.


Baker, Mona. 1998. Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies. London and New York: Routledge.

Chesterman, Andrew. 1993. "From is to ought: Laws, norms and strategies in Translation Studies". Target 5(1): 1-20.

Nord, Christiane. 2001. Translating as a Purposeful Activity: Functionalist Approaches Explained. Shanghai: Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press.

Pym, Anthony, et al (eds). 2006. Sociocultual Aspects of Translating and Interpreting. Amstedam / Philadephia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Tian, Chuanmao & Yang, Xianming. 2007. Chinese-English Translation: A New Approach. Shanghai: East China Normal University Press.

Toury, Gideon. 1978. "The nature and role of norms in literary translation". In Holmes, Lambert, and van den Broeck (eds), 83-100.

Toury, Gideon. 1980a. In Search of a Theory of Translation. Tel Aviv: Porter Institute.

Zhang, Ping. Visited July 2004. "Social and cultural environment and translators' choice of words". http://www.transexpert.net.