Comparative critique

So this is the thing , since we’re all here involved with writing in one way or another, I thought I might enlist the help of any of you that is looking for a way to procrastinate for a little while and would be willing to help me with a mini project. I have two different translations of a Chinese “essay”, is perhaps the best way to describe it. It’s not long. Without any further introduction, what I’d like is to know which of the two translations you prefer as something to read, and why, and any other comments you care to make about them.

I will also be enlisting the help of Chinese friends … colleagues and former students … and asking them the same thing.

You can — I hope — download the requisite file at If there’s any problem with the download, let me know. It’s the first time I’ve tried it from my space since .mac became .me and the whole interface was changed.

You can PM me your comments if you prefer.

TIA :slight_smile:

No problem.Download instantaneous. :wink:

Great. Thanks Vic. I hope I can look forward to some comments.



disclaimer a) I’m only 18, b) I’ve never been to China, c) when I read I pay more attention to whether or not I like it than anything else.

However, that said…I like it. Your style is inviting and it drew me in from the first paragraph; I especially like your repeated use of phrases. It adds a poetic rhythm to the writing.

My only critique is this: on the first page, in the paragraph beginning with “In Lüliang in Shanxi there is a place called Bei Wudang Shan,” there is a punctuation error…“It it is an isolated peak in the Loess Plateau of China, covered with pine trees and mixed woodlands, it’s cliffs eroded by streams giving it a unique appearance.” Should be “its” without an apostrophe, I believe.

Otherwise, in my limited ability to evaluate, very well done.

Having downloaded them, my intention was to read them later on in the day. I gave a cursory glance at the first line of the first translation and WHAMMO! :open_mouth: The opening paragraph is exquisite, beguiling and the piece carries on in that vein to its completion. It`s poetic without being poetry.

By the time I`d finished the first translation, I was head-over-heels in love with the author; mother nature (as I believe the author is), and China! Oh yeah! in love with the translator as well, for such a lovely translation.

The second translation, on the other hand, left me decidedly indifferent. As for syntactical errors etc, I didnt take much heed of them. If there, then theyll be self evident.

I would love to read other stuff by the author, translated by the person who did the first translation.

So! Blown away by No 1. Indifferent to No 2
Hope that`s of some use to you Mark
Take care

Uh-oh … bloody typos! I’ll have to change that.
Umm … I’m keeping quiet about the translators for the moment. What interests me is how people react to the two translations of the same text, which they prefer, why, if one of them seems to retain more Chinese-ness and if that is a good thing or not …
But thank you for reading and for your comments. They are much appreciated. :slight_smile:

Thank you very much Vic. That is indeed very useful. I’m glad you liked the piece too. The original author is a painter and essayist … now very elderly … but reasonably well-known, I think.

I’ll reveal all in due course, when I’ve had sufficient responses.


On my way out the door, so time only for quick observations; I’ll come back this PM for further comment, as the topic intrigues me.

Dominant impression: number 1 is by a native English speaker who has learnt Chinese; number 2, just the reverse. (Look at “festooned,” would you.)

I prefer reading number 1, yet can’t help suspecting that number 2 – perhaps because of my previous comment – is more faithful to the original.

I agree generally with Vic’s observations.

More anon.


Thank you Phil. Very interesting, and I look forward to your further comments.

Crap crap crap crap.

Number one tries too hard to be a poem turned into a pamphlet. Think travel brochure. The poor word order requires breaks in the pace of the read. The idea is there but it feels like a direct translation without the filter of insuring the intent is communicated. If I were to guess this would be a direct translation by a native Chinese.

Number two is my idea of heaven. The philosophical nature of the chinese is maintained by proper phrasing and complex word choice (sorry PJS but the more with less mantra would seem to me to allow the use of less common words to convey a particular meaning). This translation also shows a clearer reverence for the past common to the chinese culture. I would assume this translation it from a nationalized individual who has passionately pursued the chinese culture. Probably a native english speaker. Although it could be a foreign born chinese who grew up speaking both languages.

In both there are slight errors, but nothing worse that what I do in every post.

How long do I have to live?


Great … the voice of dissent. I love it. Let’s hope you provoke lots of argument. Me, I’m keeping quiet for the moment.



That seems to be a common role for me.

In a hurry, so here’s my first impression.

I agree with Vic’s judgement, with the gloss that Translation 1 is almost too self-consciously rich (as a simple read) in vocabulary, rhythms and overall poeticism, whilst I quite enjoyed reading Translation 2 despite its blander take.


P.S. Xiamen has made the news today!

Thank you Hugh. Dare I hope that you will find time to make a more detailed comment?

As for Xiamen being in the news, yes, I heard about that. Sadly, not something that one should be proud of on Xiamen’s behalf. :confused:


Really!! :open_mouth: Good lord. :confused: I shall have to go back and read it again, with the, Crap crap crap crap, bouncing off the walls of my empty cranial cavity. But. First off I shall reread No2. Without the lustre of No1 blinding me to what good there may be therein :wink:

For the record that was not a comment on the writing, but a comment on the position in which I discovered myself. Picture it this was, Mrs has been gon for a week and you, Mr K, have be practicing your bachelor skills. Suddenly you hear a key in the door, it open and standing there is Mrs. K. What are the first words that come to you?

Might I suggest my opening line?


Sorry I missed your invitation. And I have sent you a PM which you’ve missed, so please see your Inbox.

I think Vic, our resident literary cricket, nailed it: version 1 is light, happy, even a little juicy; version 2 is dry, reserved, though perhaps more informed and intelligent. They are like written by the Vert brothers, Extra and Intro. Some combination of the two might be most felicitous.

The one clunky sentence in version 1 is the beginning of the 3rd paragraph: “In Zhenkou in Shanxi, there used to be an old ferry across the Yellow River which has long been out of use so, much to my disappointment, there is nothing there to see.”

Rewrite: Once an old ferry crossed the Yellow River at Zhenkou in Shanxi; but today, no longer. (And since that’s so, how would you get to the deep-cleft valley? Time and place locaters are so important in essays: this 'graph needs some major surgery.

To me, jujubes are nice hard little candies I bought as a kid to get through long Saturday matinees. I was fascinated to go read in Wiki about them and discover that their predecessor is the Chinese (or Red) Date.

Please do check your Inbox.

No, you may not.

I would say something like, "Sweetness! My love! When you left you took the light, my day became as night. All places, darkness; shadows in shadow! Ive had naught to light my path, save for that, [i]'flicker',[/i] of hope for your early return. Now, My angel, you are home, and the Sun doth truly light my way. I see now wherst I must now toil." To which she invariably replies, on these occassions. "Dont bother yrarse cleaning up this mess. Put the kettle on, and make me a cup of tea. Then y can clean up this shit-tip while I`m having my looong soak in the bath.

Crap crap crap crap! That`s no way to welcome you wife back home. :open_mouth:


Having now reread No2 twice, and likewise No1. Then both 1n2 side by side, the impression I`m left with, is that, No1 has been translated by somebody Überfluent, in both languages. Whereas No2 is the product of a very good, none human Internet translation service.
Thats All Folks

Ah, sorry about that :blush:

Again, I’m no expert. In a sense I liked the second one better because it’s more clear somehow. But at the same time, it feels to me as if it loses a bit of the poetic cadence of the first one. I realize this is not meant to be a work of poetry :slight_smile: But personally, I was more compelled to keep reading the first translation than the second.