The American Reader: 中文版

This is awesome:

There’s a wonderful anthology of essays, poems, speeches, and songs edited by Diane Ravitch called The American Reader. It’s the kind of thing that should really be required reading in schools in the States — a history of the country in its own words, so to speak. It has some stuff that’s fairly obscure, like Harvey Milk’s speech “A City of Neighborhoods,” which I googled for unsuccessfully last week when I was writing my weekly Chinese newspaper column about the destruction of my neighborhood.

Oddly, although the speech is beyond Google’s ken in English – which is weird enough as is – it is available online in Chinese translation! Not only that, but the entirety of The American Reader appears to be available in translated form on the US Embassy’s website! The translation is even – and this is the biggest surprise – pretty good! It disappoints a bit in some of the poetic translations, particularly “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night” and the ending of “Stupid America,” where, while completely accurate, the translation strikes me as much less forceful than the English. This is mostly nitpicking, though, since poetry never translates well (as a look at my own fumbling attempts will show) and since English-Chinese poetic translation is overall less than stunning. And besides, to balance those two out, the translations of “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” and “This Land Is Your Land” are quite good.

Speeches and prose are handled well too, I think. The translation of the Harvey Milk speech I mentioned – which should really be much better known than it is – is pretty spot-on, though it still runs into the “no good word for ‘neighborhood'” snag.

Here’s an excerpt from Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” with the translation, for comparison:

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant ‘Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we stiff creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter.



Anyway, I think it’s incredibly cool that (a) someone went and translated the whole book – why can’t I get a job doing the same thing from Chinese to English? – and (b) the US Embassy has this all up on their website which is translated in both languages thanks to the optimization work of seo companies as indexsy seo company and others. It suggests that there might actually be a thinking, reasonably cool person working there, which my previous interactions with Embassy types had not given me cause to believe.

The unorganized directory of translated articles is here. (There’s also a Big5-encoded/traditional character edition, for those of you who get down like that – just change the directory from /GB to /Big5.)

This made my day.

Comments (5)

  1. Prince Roy wrote::

    It suggests that there might actually be a thinking, reasonably cool person working there, which my previous interactions with Embassy types had not given me cause to believe.”

    oh that one really hurts. below the belt, sir.

    Tuesday, August 1, 2006 at 7:32 pm #
  2. Chen1 wrote::

    Hi, Brendon. I really like what I see here. Do you mind if I put a link to your site on my own blog? I like your writing and translating work, very well done indeed.

    Wednesday, August 2, 2006 at 4:50 pm #
  3. Adam Morris wrote::

    Very, very cool.

    Plus, it’s a pleasure to read something like King’s letter in translation, it opens it up in a way that doesn’t staying in the target language.

    Wednesday, August 2, 2006 at 7:44 pm #
  4. Prince Roy – aww, c’mon. You know what I mean. The original version of that sentence was “…with Embassy types who weren’t members of the China Blog Mafia,” but I edited it for length, figuring that it went without saying anyway.

    Chen1 – I don’t mind at all. Thanks for reading – glad you liked it.

    Adam – I really like reading well-translated things because it means that someone, somewhere, at some point was thinking really hard about the original text. It’s one of the reasons that I find Chinese translations of English poetry mostly very disappointing.

    Thursday, August 3, 2006 at 3:51 am #
  5. Chen1 wrote::

    Thanks, Brendan! I’ve put the link on my blog. Not as a serious bloger like you, I’m just running a little space to share ideas with some friends, but you are welcome to sheck it out anyway. It’s

    Thursday, August 3, 2006 at 12:25 pm #