Volume 16, No. 4
October 2012

  Chuanmao Tian

Front Page


Index 1997-2012

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
How I Tripled My Translation Business in One Year
by Ilse Wong

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant and Worker Bee
The Most Prized Possession of All
by Jost Zetzsche

  Translators Around the World
The Booming Localization Industry in the People’s Republic of China
by Chuanmao Tian

  Translators' Health
Using OSHA Guidelines for Ourselves
by Françoise Herrmann, PhD

  Legal Translation
Derecho continental y derecho anglosajón: la terminología y la fraseología propia del ámbito sucesorio
by Esther Vázquez y del Árbol
The Brazilian Supreme Court Comes to the Rescue of Translators!
by Danilo Nogueira and Kelli Semolini

  Literary Translation
La palingénésie de Marco Micone : écriture, traduction et auto-traduction comme remèdes littéraires à l’invisibilité du migrant
by Cecilia Foglia

Cultural Aspects of Translation
Who’s Listening/Reading?
by by Philip Macdonald
Translation of Cultural Items in Dubbed Animated Comedies
by by Paulina Burczynska

Advertising Translation
Advertising in Translation: “Nivea Beauty Is” Campaign Against “Belleza Es, Facetas”
by Soledad Sta. María

Translation Theory
The Illusion of Transparency
by Daniel Valles

Translator Education
A Foray into Student-Centered Learning (SCL): Two SCL Activities Designed to Enhance Translation Pedagogy
by Lorin Card, PhD

  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Best Websites
by Gabe Bokor

  Translators' Tools
Translators’ Emporium

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies

  Translation Journal
Translators around the World

The Booming Localization Industry in the People’s Republic of China

by Chuanmao Tian
School of Foreign Studies, Yangtze University, Hubei, 434023 P. R. China


In recent years, Chinese localizers have been strengthening their exchanges with their foreign counterparts as well as the publicity of their services. The free and chaotic state of the sector has been replaced by the standardized and orderly development pattern. Although the worldwide financial crisis of two years ago crippled the flourishing tendency of localizing enterprises, it offered them precious opportunities in the accelerated globalization. China has gradually become one of the major centers for multilingual localization services.

Keywords: China; localization; localization service; development

1 Introduction

hina has witnessed rapid development of its localization industry for over ten years. In recent years, Chinese localizers have been strengthening their exchanges with their foreign counterparts, as well as the publicity of their services. The free and chaotic state of the sector has been replaced by the standardized and orderly development pattern. Although the worldwide financial crisis of two years ago crippled the flourishing tendency of localizing enterprises, it offered them precious opportunities in the accelerated globalization. China has gradually become one of the major centers for multilingual localization services.

2 Appearance of localization companies

In the mid-1990s the earliest localization companies were founded in Beijing, among which were Worksoft Creative Software Technology Ltd. (1995), Beyondsoft Group (1995), hiSoft Technology International Limited (1996) and Lionbridge Technology, Inc. (1996). At the beginning, they were small-sized, focusing on software localization. For example, Worksoft provided the localization translation services for the products of international IT giants, such as IBM and Microsoft. Most of these companies were established by domestic investors and a few of them by foreign investors.

Over the recent years, some Chinese enterprises have stepped up their efforts to rely on the international market.
A few important events, such as China’s entry into the WTO in 1998, Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 and Shanghai World Expo in 2010, fueled the country’s rapid development and international communication in almost all fields. The economic prosperity of China, the great demand of the product localization market, the rich human resources, the competitive cost of human capital and the government’s policy to promote the IT industry put the domestic localization sector on the freeway of development. China’s localization market attracted the attention of the world. International localizers wanted to know how to enter China’s market and how to adapt themselves to Chinese culture and traditions. They also wanted to know the ability of Chinese localizers. These purposes were achieved by holding forums and conferences in the country.

The Localization Industry Standards Association (LISA) organized three special forums in Beijing and Shanghai in 1998, 1999 and 2003, which were followed by “LISA Forum Asia 2006,China Focus” in Shanghai in 2006 and the 2007 LISA localization conference in Beijing, with the theme being “China 2.0 Globalization”. The Globalization and Localization Association (GALA) and Localization World also tried to exert their influence by holding seminars, forums and conferences. Localization services also became an important topic of the XVIII FIT World Congress held in Shanghai in 2008.

3 Development of Localization Industry

From 2004 on, the entry of localizers from other countries and regions into China’s localization market accelerated. In 2004, Czech-based Moravia Worldwide and Skrivanek Translation Services, US-based Localize Technologies and Symbio Group, and Taiwan-based TargeTek established their offices in Beijing and Nanjing, providing software testing services, translation and interpreting services, traditional and simplified Chinese localization services, as well as desktop publishing services, East Asian languages localization and internationalization, multilingual localization and international engineering treatment. In 2006, Belgium-based Jonckers Translation & Engineering opened its affiliate in Beijing. In 2007 and 2008, US-based TransPerfect Translations and Europe-based Tek Translation International established their affiliates in Beijing.

The acquisition of Trados by SDL and of Bowne Global Solutions by Lionbridge in 2005 triggered a tide of mergers and acquisitions in China. In 2006, the purchase of China’s Transco and Rainbow by the United States' Welocalize and Britain’s TheBigWord, respectively, helped those foreign companies achieve the purpose of entering China’s market. Ensemble International Ltd. and Teksen Information Technology Limited were incorporated into hiSoft which was then ranked among the top 25 language service providers (LSP) in the world according to the statistics of “Common Sense Advisory, Inc.”

China’s localization companies have been expanding their services from first-tier cities to second-tier cities by establishing affiliates. For example, Shenzhen SDL established its localization and desktop publishing center in Changsha City in 2007 and highSoft opened its affiliate in Wuxi City in 2008. They have also established their offices in other countries and regions. Due to the cut-throat competition and increasing technological strength, many translation companies, especially technical translation companies, began to enter the localization market, such as Jiangsu Sunyu Translation Information Co., Ltd., Shenzhen Haoboyi Translation Co., Ltd. and the Chengdu Lan-bridge Group in 2005. These companies had their staff trained by localization experts and combined translation and localization into one integrated businesss. It seems that it is a general trend for translation companies to offer localization translation services in China. Like translation companies, localization companies are now under the leadership of the Translators Association of China (TAC).

The service pattern of localization companies underwent remarkable changes in 2002. Outsourcing service companies began to purchase localization companies and traditional localization companies tended to transform into outsourcing service providers. For example, Worksoft changed its software localization service into software outsourcing service, and henceforth its development was sped up and it became listed on the New York Stock Exchange as the leading enterprise of China’s software outsourcing service industry. The localization technology has been developing rapidly. SJTU Sunway Software Industry Limited was the first to formulate the concept of “information localization” in China, and in 2004 it successfully developed Yaxin CAT, a computer-aided translation software package, with the ambition of becoming the largest information localization expert in the Asia-Pacific region. In 2006, Lionbridge issued Freeway, marking the advent of localization 2.0. It is a kind of web-based language service coordinated platform which integrates all key factors of international companies’ localization projects into one flexible, free-of-charge and multilingually supported Web platform and which allows real-time control by global companies, localization service companies, language service vendors, and others.

Localization technology research has been done in various kinds of forms. Two major works entitled Software Localization (2005), written by Bowne Global Solutions and International Software Testing (2006) were published by the Publishing House of Electronics Industry. In 2005, Lionbridge organized the China Localization Industry Summit Forum in Beijing, which was attended by general managers of major domestic and foreign localization companies, such as Lionbridge, Worksoft, Beyondsoft, hiSoft, and others. The Localization World Web ( http://www.giltworld.com), the first non-profit localization information and technology service website, organized four communication conferences in Beijing as well as the First Localization Translation Competition. In 2006, the website sponsored the Third Beijing Localization and Translation Sector Communication Conference with the theme of “Localization Technology and Training of Professionals”.

As far as localization technology training is concerned, Beijing Yuda Global Technologies Corporation, which is the first company to focus on localization service training, was founded in 2004, with the aim of providing localizing technologies, management, and training curricula for foreign and domestic software developers, localization service companies, translation companies, university students and individuals. Yuda Corporation adopted various forms of localization training, such as enterprise training, open classes, and employment training. The Localization World Web conducts the web-based training and ISTQB testing training and accreditation, dividing localization technology into technical writing, localization translation, desktop publishing, technological tools, and project management.

A growing number of domestic companies are aware of the increasing importance of localization services in the localization and internationalization of their products. They have become or will become members of international localization associations. For example, Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd., the leading enterprise of China’s communication equipment and technical service, became a member of LISA in 2005. Among the world’s top 500 enterprises, 480 have so far opened their branch company in China and 42 of them have China as their Asian headquarters, undertaking the design, development and localization of international products.

4 Current trends in the Localization Service Sector

Statistics show that information in the world in the coming five years will increase ten times, and information in China over the same period will increase 30 times. In turn, information localization service expects soaring growth in business. The scales and numbers of localization projects will be expanding and stricter requirements will be set for managing localization projects. For language information service providers, to implement and apply Information Localization Service (ILS) becomes necessary to improve the quality and efficiency of project management, and to lower the cost of management and production.

On the other hand, buyers of language information service (clients) are increasingly adopting Content Management System (CMS), or even Global Management System (GMS). They prefer that ILS be seamlessly connected with CMS and exchange data smoothly and in a timely manner, in order to enable a swifter and more transparent localization and internationalization of information.

The new generation of machine translation technology, showcased by Google's automatic translation, exerts a major impact on the global language information service sector; in particular, machine translation of Neolatin and European languages has greatly improved. For certain high-volume information, some clients are willing to adopt the localization model of relying mainly on machine translation supplemented with human editing.

Developers of localization tools also take notice of the changes in technologies and have integrated or are integrating machine translation technologies with traditional translation memory technologies. Language translation of information localization service will combine machine translation and translation memory with human editing.

With the rapid growth of communication technology, it has been applied in various sectors and regions, and the number of mobile phone users is increasing rapidly. Against the backdrop of economic globalization and growing regional economy, the need for communicating in different languages based on communication technology is growing fast.

In sectors such as international conference, business negotiation, global hospital diagnosis and patient care, global service support, and call centers, demand for interpretation has increased. The traditional interpretation model that relies on the language proficiency of interpreters can no longer meet the need of these particular service sectors. As a result, Computer-Aided Interpretation (CAI) systems or software tools are being introduced to assist in improving the efficiency and quality of interpretation.

Some products of Facebook and of game developing companies are using online communities to complete localized translation. In the online communities the members of which are familiar with the mass products and share the same interest, the products are virtually managed, and their language contents are translated and edited by these people following the terms and requirements provided by the developers of the products.

Other software developers such Microsoft also started globally what is known as “crowdsourcing” for the localization of their products. They outsource at relatively cheaper price some small-scale and new software products for localization into different languages to some virtual teams in the online communities, and offer technical support and platform for these teams.

After over 20 years’ development, the localization industry has accumulated rich data resources, including corpora and terminology data banks known as language assets which are dispersed among many localization service providers. With the growing business of information localization, the localization sector realizes the importance of language resources in improving the specialization of service and lowering production cost. Translation Automation User Society (TAUS) and other similar organizations have started to launch actions to share these public language information resources.

Open Source is a new model of software development, which over the recent years has been used in the localization service sector. For instance, Welocalize joins global software companies to develop open source tools such as GlobalSight for managing localization businesses.

The global financial crisis, which began in 2008, has had a strong impact on the localization service industry. Localization projects of clients have decreased in number or have been postponed. Localization companies in the world have had to lay off employees, stop recruiting, or reduce salaries in order to keep cost low. Chinese localization service companies feel the same pressure from the market in 2009, since 99% of their clients are from Europe and the US. This limited income source has seriously challenged those businesses.

On the other hand, the huge market potential and the cost advantage of human resources in China attract more and more global localization companies to China. Among the top 25 global localization service companies, over 80% have set up branches in China in the past two years, including Transperfect and Tek. China has become the new processing center of global language service.

Technical writing is the creation of instructions or users’ manuals of various products that are used globally. Manuals and instructions are essential components of global products. To a certain extent, mistakes in manuals or instructions affect users' experience with the products, and have a negative impact on the image of the companies. Global companies thus have paid greater attention to the importance of technical writing.

With the extension of product lines, the quantity of information content soars. Global companies are focusing on core businesses such as the development of new products, and outsource technical writing, which had been previously undertaken by the companies themselves, to vendors. In China, IT companies such as IBM, Microsoft, are finding vendors for some of their technical writing projects, which creates new business opportunities for localization companies. To meet the need of their international clients for technical writing, localization companies must have skilled staff that is proficient in English writing, familiar with the clients’ products as well as with technical writing standards.

Localization companies established in earlier years in China are located mostly in Beijing, Shenzhen and other economically developed cities. However the cost of human resources and office facilities is rising rapidly due to keener competition in these cities. In addition, the price of localization of Chinese has been reduced to absurdly low levels, which brings greater pressure on the operational cost of localization companies.

At the same time, second-tier cities in China are restructuring their economies and supporting IT and software sourcing sectors. Attracted by favorable policies and supportive measures, localization companies, like other sourcing companies, move to cities like Chengdu, Wuhan and Jinan. In April 2009, TAC and Chengdu High-Tech Zone Management Committee jointly established Chengdu--Global Multilanguage Information Processing Center in Chengdu Hi-Tech Zone in Sichuan, which attracts many Chinese translation and localization companies to set up their offices there.

For a long period of time, there was only a very limited number of localization companies in China. They did not have their own organizations, or training or educational institutions for skilled and specialized people. At the initial stage, localization service did not grow as a sector. During 2007 and 2008, the localization service sector witnessed dramatic changes.

Localization companies started to join forces under the Translators Association of China (TAC) in 2007, and the proposal for establishing a Localization Service Committee under TAC was filed with the Ministry of Civil Affairs for approval (the Committee was approved in January 2009), a sign that the localization industry in China has embarked on regulated development. The Department of Language Information Engineering of Peking University started to offer master-degree education of computer-aided translation and natural language processing, and to probe into the possibility of combining this major with Master of Translation and Interpretation (MTI), with the aim to train graduates with multiple skills. IGS Technologies Co., Ltd has committed itself to training of specialized and skilled people for the localization sector. These organizations play a role in completing the ecological chain of localization service sector in China, and promoting the healthy development of this sector.

For a long time, clients of Chinese localization service were mainly from Europe and the US, since clients from these markets already have a steady need for globalization and localization. However, the risk of having a limited source of clients becomes serious in the context of the international financial crisis. Over the recent years, some Chinese enterprises have stepped up their efforts to rely on the international market, and the need for domestic localization service starts to appear.

It is significant that localization companies are now able to provide services for Chinese clients although some Chinese clients of localization service need to have a better understanding of the value of localization service. Clients and service providers should strengthen communications and exchanges, and coordinate their strategies to help more Chinese products enter the world market. Localization service companies can participate in constructive exchanges and provide professional language information services for the localization of products of Chinese companies, based on their experience of serving their international clients.


Research for this article was funded by the National Planning Office of Philosophy and Social Science, P. R. China (grant no. 12BYY023).


Wang, Chuanying and Cui, Qiliang. 2010. Professional Training & Certification of Competent Translators and the Development of Localized Translation Industry. Chinese Translators Journal 4: 76-79.

Cui, Qiliang. 2012. New Technical and Commercial Trends of the Localization Service Sector in China. http://www.tac-online.org.cn/en/tran/2009-10/12/content_3180358.htm.