Skip to content

Fun (for certain values of fun)

We’re doing a series of reports at work on the 30th anniversary of you-know-who’s death. (My suggested title: “MZD: 30 years later, his death is still a good thing.”) I’m doing translation for the reports, even though the English text will never be used except for keyword-searching purposes. In principle, i should probably slack off, since all I really need to do for any given report is a 15-line summary, but I tend to end up translating the whole thing anyway, since I work fast and haven’t really got much else to do.

Anyway, today I ran up against an academic paper whose title posed an interesting challenge. (Or so I thought at the time — the bar for “interesting” is set pretty low here.) The Chinese title is 轻诺延安 寡信北京 Qīngnuò Yán’ān, Guǎxìn Běijīng. Background info: Yán’ān is an area of Shaanxi province where the Chinese Communists ended up at the end of the Long March. It symbolizes a utopian period (or at least a less-bad period) in modern Chinese history, a time when people actually believed in the rhetoric they were spouting. 轻诺寡信 qīngnuò-guǎxìn is a four-character idiom meaning, literally, “lignt-promises-impoverish-trust,” i.e., to diminish one’s credibility by going back on one’s word. Neither 轻诺 nor 寡信 exists as an expression outside the idiom (so far as I know), though both would be understandable in a written context.

Anyway, I decided that I’d try to come up with something in English that had a similar feel. I ended up settling on “Betraying Yan’an, Besmirching Beijing,” but I’m sure I could’ve done better than that if I’d had more time. Anyone have any other translations for it?

9 Comments

  1. Gin wrote:

    By the context of the article, are 轻诺 and 寡信 adjectives here? In other words, does the author by any chance mean 轻诺的延安, 寡信的北京?

    Wednesday, September 6, 2006 at 10:57 pm | Permalink
  2. Don’t know — I only know the title of the paper, which was cited in our report. It seems to me that 轻诺 and 寡信 are probably verbs, but I can’t cite anything to back that up other than my initial reading, which is far from reliable. Looking at it, though, there isn’t anything (in the title, at least) that would explicitly mark 轻诺 and 寡信 as adjectival.

    Thursday, September 7, 2006 at 1:27 am | Permalink
  3. Absurdfool wrote:

    both 轻诺 and 寡[信] actually could be used individually
    i think you probably have checked them on the web
    i did google and found this:
    轻诺者必寡[言],多易者必多难。
    is an expression by Laozi (《老子》63章)
    and it’s translated by
    http://eee.tsinghua.edu.cn/show.aspx?id=693&cid=53
    as
    “He who promises casually can hardly keep his word; he who always changes will necessarily be troubled with many difficulties.”
    it appears that [寡信] come as a result of [轻诺]
    i dont know the content of the article you are translating
    but when it’s put into the historical context of mao’s (or cpc) rise to power
    his promises made in the yanan period didnt come into being after he succeeded in taking control in beijing
    he not only betrayed himself but also the revolution
    the meaning of your translation seems quite fit
    to put it in my own words:
    beautifying yanan, falsifying beijing
    PS
    1.both [轻] and [寡] are adjs used to qualify [诺] and [信] respectively
    when put togethere [轻诺] and [寡信] are best interpreted as gerunds
    2.[言]and[信] were used in different occasions when laozi’s words were being interpreted
    see it here:
    http://appbook.qq.com/book/4041/0059.htm

    Thursday, September 7, 2006 at 10:59 am | Permalink
  4. Thanks for the comment, Absurdfool —

    I’d read 轻 and 寡 as transitive verbs here – “[taking] lightly the promises” and “impoverishing one’s credibility.” Looking at the 说文 gloss (少也從宀從頒頒分賦也故為少) and thinking again, though, I think I was probably wrong.
    Thanks for the Laozi connection as well. I’d missed that.

    Thursday, September 7, 2006 at 1:05 pm | Permalink
  5. beaa wrote:

    我感觉在跟一个外国人学中文.”轻诺寡信”这个成语的意思我不清楚,但可以猜到”轻诺”的意思是轻易就做出承诺,但是未必能兑现.

    在网上查了一下:
    《老子·六十三章》:“夫轻诺必寡信,多易必多难。”

    解释:
    轻易答应人家要求的,一定很少守信用。

    “诺”的意思,是”答应别人的要求”,和我理解的”对别人做出承诺”不同.

    “轻诺延安 寡信北京”是说毛泽东的.我的理解是毛泽东在延安promised,后来到北京没有kept the promise,所以失去了信用.

    至于毛答应了别人什么要求,需要查一些历史资料才能知道.

    p.s. danwei的视频里 那个戴黄帽子的人是你么?

    Thursday, September 7, 2006 at 4:03 pm | Permalink
  6. Mfool wrote:

    How about:
    Hyping promises in Yan’an; forsaking them in Beijing.

    Sunday, September 10, 2006 at 11:00 am | Permalink
  7. kastner wrote:

    It depends on what Yan’an and Beijing you suppose them to be.
    In modern western news reports, you may substitute the governments with their capitals, so here the same, you take Yan’an/Beijing as a metonymy, 轻诺、寡信 turn to be adj. — 轻诺(的)延安(红色政权),寡信(的)北京(中共政权)
    But to be exact, I’ll be glad to understand this title in a Chinese way, which is 轻诺(于)延安,寡信(于)北京
    Yan’an and Beijing both act themselves.

    Wednesday, October 4, 2006 at 10:00 am | Permalink
  8. kastner wrote:

    oh, the later case, as u said, 輕諾/寡信 are verbs.
    (Subject +) Verb + Adverbial of location
    while modern Chinese should in order to:
    Subject + Adverbial of location + Verb

    Wednesday, October 4, 2006 at 4:20 pm | Permalink
  9. Ah, cool – thanks, kastner.

    Wednesday, October 4, 2006 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *
*
*