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December 5, 2015

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Hard-working translators get their due

PRIX Fu Lei, a prize honoring major achievements in French-to-Chinese translation, was awarded recently in Shanghai.

The award is named after Fu Lei (1908-1966), a Shanghai native known for his translations of Honore de Balzac (1799-1850), Voltaire (1694-1778) and Romain Rolland (1866-1944). To this day, Fu’s translation of Rolland’s 10-volume “Jean Christophe” series remains one of the most widely-read translated works in China.

The prize was established in 2009 by the French Embassy in China. At first, it was bestowed on outstanding translations of literary and social science works. In 2013, organizers added a third award to honor talented young translators.

“In French, the word for translation also means to cross from one side of the river to the other,” Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, the French Ambassador to China, said of the importance of interpretation at the award ceremony.

“And the translators are exactly the group who help us cross in this globalized era, to better understand other cultures and other souls.”

Gourdault-Montagne added that more French works are translated in China than anywhere else, a sign of the increasingly active cultural exchange between the two countries.

But while more foreign books are hitting Chinese store shelves in translated form, some say quality has fallen by the wayside in the race to publish. Many of China’s translators work under tight deadlines and it is not uncommon for a single book to be translated by a team of translators, who may not always be communicating with one another. Such practices have been known to create inconsistencies in style and plot. Awards like the Prix Fu Lei though are meant to honor the country’s hardworking translators, many of whom are motivated more by their love of literature than commercial pressures.

This year, the new translator’s award went to Wang Mingnan for her translation of “La Querelle de L’art Contemporian” (“The Quarrel of Contemporary Art”) by Marc Jimenez.

In accepting this prize, Wang said: “Translation is a humble job, and hopefully it helps us find some value in this noisy world.”

Meanwhile, Zhou Xiaoshan took home this year’s prize in the literature category with his translation of “Le Liseur du 6h27” (“The Reader on the 6:27”) by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent, a novel about a group of bibliophiles, including a protagonist who reads everyday for people on the metro.

In the social science category, this year’s prize went to Xu Minglong, who translated “La Preuve par la Chine: la Description” (“Proof for China”).

All three books have been published in Chinese.

“It gets more difficult to judge every year because we continue to have more submissions with better quality,” explained Caroline Puel, president of the jury.

“Compared with classic translators like Fu Lei, the young translators today often have a lot of pressure from publishers to get the work done as quickly as possible. But ... continuing to polish the work is essential to improve its quality. We hope the award can help encourage translators not to be disturbed by the noise in the outside world and to commit to polishing their works to the best quality. It is the worth the time.”


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