The primary purpose of this dissertation is to analyse the effects of institutional censorship on film translation in China. In so doing, this dissertation addresses a number of key aims and objectives. Chinese government censorship in translation has somehow been an understudied subject. The purpose of this title is to address the issues of ethics and equivalence when translating foreign or domestic films in China. This paper aims to contribute to this area and its main concerns will centre on the study of how censorship effects translation ethics, and the role of the translator. Underlying Chinese politics and ideology have functioned to affect the transfer and non-transfer of foreign images and ideas. In general, censorship is a very well researched topic. However, the literature that appeared in searches did not closely relate to the theme of film translation. This dissertation explores theoretical concepts such as domestication and foreignization and noting the positives and negatives of these two basic translation strategies which provide both linguistic and cultural guidance. Domestication implies using culture-specific terms and phenomena existing in the target language and the cultural context (Gambier & Doorslaer, 2012). Eugene Nida develops the claim for those who favour domesticating translation, whereas Lawrence Venuti is regarded as the representative for those who favour foreignizing translation.
In discussing the literature used within this dissertation, Chapter ** notes not only the positives and negatives associated with using qualitative and quantitative analysis but also highlights the ethical considerations that underpin this piece of work.
In the 1950s and 1960s, translation was explored and considered both from the linguistic and political point of view. However, the whole approach changed when there was a big “cultural turn in translation”, initiated by Mary Snell-Hornby in the 1970s.Brief History of Censorship in China
The prevalence of censorship in China throughout history has conformed society to what it is today. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, the country has endured various modes of censorship, many of them bearing either directly or indirectly on the activity of translation. Censorship is a form of institutional (e.g. government, editorial, publishers’) control of the circulation of information and ideas and regulates the activity of translation in the country (Tan, 2015). Government censorship in China can be traced back to as far as the Qin Dynasty (221 to 206 BC). Qin Shi Huangdi, the First Emperor of China, ordered books he did not like to be burned and scholars to be buried alive for owning forbidden books (Tan, 2015). This major event of censorship is known the Burning of Books and Burial of Scholars. It is said that his reasoning was to restrict intellectuals from questioning the power of the dynasty.
China, since its beginning of censorship, has become more and more government controlled. For example, Chinese internet censors and film censorship. Today, government authorities are still trying to find balance between their need to access more information and controlling content as a means to maintain power. China continues to filter foreign and domestic content. In order to understand the cultural politics of translation in a broader context, it is crucial to explore the grounds on which content is censored. It can be argued that censoring shields the public from the harsh realities that result from violence such as warfare. Films that “encourage juvenile delinquency, glorify violence and include sexual context” will be censored or completely restricted. Censoring also prevents locations being compromised, as well as preventing important information from being leaked.
The question that needs to be asked is why censoring is not necessary in the translation process. Firstly, the public needs to know the truth, instead of being blindsided. Secondly, not censoring raises awareness for global events happening in the world. These events are sometimes portrayed in films. Lastly, the fight against political propaganda. Films may be shortened or altered to accommodate the prevailing ideology in some periods and countries. Sometimes, they may not even be translated at all. (Chaume, 2012) Political, religious and sexual censorship is undertaken in order to rewrite dialogues until they are considered to be acceptable to the ideology of the target culture.
Constraints of Dubbing and Subtitling Films
This chapter is concerned with the two major types of English-Chinese film translation: dubbing and subtitling. Dubbing is defined as the process of replacing the original speech or dialogue with the translated spoken audio, whereas subtitling is a form of written translation of a dialogue in a foreign language, or a written rendering of the dialogue in the same language (Sajan, 2016). Many large countries, like China, opt for dubbing while smaller ones often choose to subtitle as the standard. Despite an indisputable dominance of dubbing in China in the early 1980s, there is a co-existence and competition between dubbing and subtitling. This may be interpreted in two ways. Some factors include cost, time, film genre, the standard of literacy, interest in foreign languages, the degree of cultural openness, and a target audience profile (e.g. age, sex, educational background, social class). Dubbing has been typically attributed to economies of scale because dubbing is significantly more expensive. However, sometimes dubbing is favoured for political reasons as a way of “naturalising” an imported film. It can be considered that countries such as China with strict censorship laws prioritize dubbing also because it allows more power to be given to the translator and censorious influence by completely concealing or altering the original dialogue.
Although there is no lip-synchronization involved, there must be some agreement between the subtitles, the written form of the spoken SL dialogue, and the corresponding image (Baker 1998 p. 245). The main problem in this type of translation is caused by the difference between the speed of the spoken language and the speed in reading. A complete transcription of the film dialogue is not possible, for both the physical limitation of space on the screen and the pace of the spoken word require a reduction of the text. The experience for viewers who see a subtitled foreign film is substantially different from those who see the original film. Viewers are required to do a lot of extra work by reading subtitles while still absorbing all the other visual and oral cues of the film.
Dubbing allows considerable flexibility in editing the audio component of the visual. It attempts to cover entirely the spoken source text with a target text adjusted to fit the visible lip movements of the original utterances. At the beginning of the 20th century, dubbing was not required as films were mainly silent. Nonetheless, a translation was necessary to enable the audience to understand. It could be argued that Chinese audiences did not receive an accurate representation of foreign films available in China at the time. They had the option to read a synopsis supplied by the cinema to get to know the storyline. Then, there was a live interpretation of the film with a film commentator standing beside the screen and explaining what the film was about. In 1992, Shanghai Peacock Film Company pioneered making foreign films with CN subtitles. This opened a window for Chinese people to learn more about the outside world and promote communication with people from other countries.
The current literature on censorship in film translation in China is abound with examples of films which have been both success and unsuccessful. Bosley Crowther was an American journalist and author, also a film critic for The New York Times for twenty-seven years. According to Nornes (2007 p. 13), ‘he argued that one reason people dislike dubbing is that they have never seen a masterful one’. Crowther suggests that in the post-war era, foreign film distributors dub when they strive to compete with Hollywood for the mass market, while the core audience for such films almost invariably demands subtitles. Ang Lee’s ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ (2000) exceeded expectations for a subtitled film, with strong international success. The DVD contained a dubbed version in addition to the original subtitles. This film ‘marked an age of transnationalism and globalization in Chinese film culture and identity’ (Ng and Holden, 2006 p. 138). What made this film distinguishable from its predecessors was the use of Western notions to translate the dialogue into English subtitles. The film’s director, Ang Lee, and American co-screenwriter, James Schamus, worked together to achieve the translation success behind the film. It is uncommon for screenwriters and directors to participate in the translation of their work, as it is usually allocated to the film’s producers. Generally, those put in charge of translating the film view it as a product rather than an art. This allows them control to cut out, alter or censor scenes and dialogue in order to suit local, cultural norms (Nornes, 2007). This topic will be discussed in further detail in the chapter relating to the unethical behaviour in film translation influenced by censorship laws. To make the subtitles user-friendly, Schamus used a minimum number of English words so that the viewer’s interest remains focused on the screen action. This involved simplifying both the names of the characters and the dialogues. The resulting subtitles can be interpreted differently depending on a viewer who understands Chinese, and one who does not. A Chinese speaker may read the subtitles as ‘describing not a transnational China but a Westernized hybrid China’ (Ng and Holden, 2006).
The meaning of the dialogue is rendered through the domestication of the dialogue, which makes it easier to understand the impact of language in the story. In this way, screenwriters make every effort to make the language sound “natural” and “real” as the everyday language to the audience, instead of reminding the audience from time to time that they are watching a movie. “Translation rewrites a foreign text in terms that are intelligible and interesting to readers in the receiving culture. Doing so is akin to committing an act of ethnocentric violence by uprooting the text from the language and culture that gave it life.” (Translation Perspectives 9, 1996 p. 195-213). ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ is a prime example of accessibility through subtitles, and in the eyes of global cinema, it still retains its Chinese identity and culture.
Censorship has a dominant re-occurrence in English-Chinese subtitling. An example of a western film with subtitles censored and altered to make it acceptable for viewing in Chinese cinema is the record-breaking James Bond film, ‘Skyfall’. In a scene filmed in the Chinese territory of Macau, the lines remained the same but the subtitles were changed to suit the Chinese audience. James Bond is seen asking a hostess about whether her tattoo is the result of her being forced into prostitution at an early age. They were changed to suggest that he was instead asking her about her connections to a mob. It is also not uncommon for foreign films to open in China with potentially politically or culturally controversial scenes edited out.
Among all kinds of film translation, dubbing is the one that interferes the most in the structure of the original. It is no surprise that many critics raise objections as to its authenticity. However, subtitling involved the least interference with the original,
The question of whether censorship is unethical has caused much debate in translation theory over the years. There a lot of reasons people argue for both sides of this topic. On the side of yes, the argument is that it is ethical because there is a moral responsibility to protect people from seeing harsh and gruesome productions, which may contain videography that can be upsetting. While on the other hand, people argue the complete opposite. It is unethical because people deserve to know the harsh truth of what is going on in the world, no matter of their geographical location in the world. Governments and political organisations have no right to hide that from anyone.
Foreignization and Domestication
The notions of foreignization and domestication were introduced and described by Lawrence Venuti in his book The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation published in 1995. The literature describes a translator’s situation in contemporary Anglo-American culture and criticises the translations into English for being too domesticated. Venuti’s work is mentioned in the book Theories of Translation (Williams, 2013). Along similar lines, Williams argues that domestication is required to produce an adapted text suitable for viewers of the target culture.
It is richly ironic that while machine translation is becoming more widespread and machine translation output is frequently ridiculed in literary circle, the very same circles often view literary translation as if it was produced automatically without human intervention. (Williams, 2013 p. 98)
These two basic translation strategies which provide both linguistic and cultural guidance have caused disputes for a long time.
A translation approach which emphasises “foreignization” is one that would be undertaken by censors.
The concept of fidelity has a long tradition in translation theory. Fidelity has fostered debate on whether or not dubbing reaches its quality standards. A loyal translation involves fidelity to content, form, function, source text, effect, or all or any one of the aforementioned (Chaume, 2012). China’s practice of censoring most definitely effects the fidelity of the translation. In order to ensure that the reader of the target text is given the same chance to interpret and understand the target text as is the reader of the source text, the translator can use domestication. Nevertheless, a source text can bring up words or actions that are not culturally or socially acceptable in the TT culture. In the case of China, this could be sensitive themes such as corruption, sex, and homosexuality. This is when the translator is faced with a professional dilemma.
Translators can become so used to censorship that they eventually practice self-censorship in their translations. Sometimes translators and dialogue writers work as self-sensors and produce translations that are politically correct according to the ideology of the target culture (Chaume, 2012). The decision of whether or not to censor has caused much debate in translation jobs. Chaume states “that translators may resist censorship” or “even refuse to do a translation that they know will later be censored” (Chaume, 2012 p.152). On these grounds, it can be argued that the decision lies with the translator. However, in order to protect themselves from punishments and threats, the translator may not have a choice. In this case, there is no fidelity to the ST, but only to the target culture. This type of domestication has had to give way to censorship.
There is ample support for the claim that external forces often play an important role in the way a final translation turns out.
Due to globalization, a large number of foreign films enter the Chinese market and Chinese films also have access to going abroad. Due to the differences between languages and cultures there are some barriers that hinder audiences from understanding overseas films, which has a negative impact on the viewer’s understanding of the film. Therefore, there is an increasing academic attention on the translation of films.
It could be concluded that..The characteristics of film make it a unique part in the translation field, and the quality of film translation directly influences the satisfaction of audiences. Therefore, translators must carry on the translation under appropriate translation theories. The choice of not censoring film content will undoubtedly improve the quality of translation works.
“The more fluent the translation, the more invisible the translator, and, presumably, the more visible the writer or meaning of the foreign text.” (Venuti, 1995 p. 1)
List of References:
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Gambier, Y. and Doorslaer, L. (2012). Handbook of translation studies. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Pub. Co.
Chaume, F. (2012). Audiovisual Translation: Dubbing. New York: Routledge.
Sajan – An Amplexor Company. (2016). The pros and cons of dubbing and subtitling | Sajan. online Available at: https://www.sajan.com/the-pros-and-cons-of-dubbing-and-subtitling/ Accessed 26 Apr. 2018.
Williams, J. (2013). Theories of translation. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
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