Review of ‘A Hero Born’ & some thoughts on wuxia translation

A Hero Born. Hailed as the Chinese ‘Lord of the Rings’, 300 million copies of series have been sold in Chinese. To the great excitement of the world, this masterpiece received an official translation that was published in 2018.

It’s 2019. Why is this review coming out only now?

Straight off the bat, I must apologize. MacLehose Press was so gracious as to send me a review copy and I never got around to it. I happen to be a Chinese fantasy translator myself, running in a cohort of likeminded folks. We were naturally tremendously excited to see an emblematic work come out in our sphere, and I personally looked forward to putting the novel up on my shelves as a reference guide for my own work.

Then, one of my colleagues got his hands on a digital review copy before my physical one came and our happy expectations came crashing down. More on that later.

So as a forewarning, parts of this review will be highly critical, as evident in how long it took me to eventually get to it.

Off topic: I like the cover design very much so. Michael Salu marries well the Chinese elements with English reader appeal. Covers sell books, and I definitely would’ve stopped in the bookstore when seeing this. I also love the insert art within the pages. They’re the perfect touch to bring the scenes to life.

So what kinda punk am I to not see Mt. Tai?

I belong to a group of online wuxia/xianxia translators, and have been in this scene for almost four years, witnessing firsthand the rise of online Chinese pulp fiction around the world.

We’re a bunch of wuxia fans, bookaphiles, or drama addicts who started out just wanting to share these awesome stories with those who didn’t know Chinese. We grew up binging on Jin Yong novels under the covers or cooing over the male leads in a wuxia drama. Some of us even take martial arts lessons, or tuned into the online Chinese literature scene when it took off more than two decades ago.

As the scene grew to a more developed, mature industry, some of us turned from hobbyists into full-time translators. I personally left behind a M&A consulting/corporate finance job to walk the jianghu full time.

Most translators work with web novels and churn through anywhere from 6,000 to 9,000 Chinese characters a day. While high literature and web novels aren’t typically mentioned in the same sentence, it’d be no hyperbole to say that those of us who’ve been around have handled several hundreds of millions of characters in a few short years. To quote what a friend in the scene once said, at some point, quantity becomes quality through sheer force of volume.

In short, we’re some uber fans who live and breathe this material daily. Naturally, we’ve got some opinions on translation styles and principles, yours truly included.

You say tomato, I say tomahto. So what’s in a name?

So we come first to one of my primary gripes about the translation — the names. Names are an absolutely crucial part of a novel, if not part of the heart and soul. They can make or break the audience resonating with a character, or turn an awe-inspiring fighting move into one with the force of a limp noodle.

In ‘A Hero Born’, we have male lead Guo Jing, son of Skyfury Guo, and female lead Lotus Huang.

A simple one-liner about the cast was enough to send me into paroxysms of horror when I first picked up the book. Some readers might look at me blankly and go what’s up? It’s all pinyin and Chinesey, ergo it looks fine in a Chinese fantasy novel?

There is so much wrongness here, but let me raise Harry Potter as an example. Since it’s originally written in English, that make it more apparent just how jarring the naming scheme is.

We have Harry Potter, son of James Potter, and a student in house Gryffindor (but could’ve gone Slytherin). He eventually marries Ginny Weasley.

Or rather, what if we had Harry Potter, son of Potter Zhanmusi, a student in house Gelanfenduo (but could’ve gone Slythern). He eventually marries Weasley Ginny.

And that, right there, is my biggest beef with the translation of ‘A Hero Born’ and why I couldn’t bear to read it. There’s a smattering of translated names in Western syntax. There’s pinyin names in Chinese syntax. There’s partially translated names in… an east-meets-west-and-they’re-still-fighting syntax.

To be clear, I’m not saying that translating the names into English is wrong. That’s a translator judgment call and reading about Skyfury Guo and Ironheart Yang is certainly much more intuitive and descriptive than Guo Xiaotian and Yang Tiexin.

However, consistency is key.

For non-Chinese speakers, is it readily apparent that Guo Jing and Skyfury Guo are related? I might just think they share a same name, like James Marshall and Marshall Lee, but they have nothing to do with each other. It’s an enormous cast to keep track of, and wouldn’t Guo Jing and Guo Skyfury be more intuitive that there’s some sort of familial connection?

Does that syntax feel weird? Sure, but these aren’t Western culture characters. It’d be stranger still if their names made perfect grammatical sense in English.

And why on earth do the two main leads have different name syntaxes? Guo Jing vs Lotus Huang. Was Lotus adopted by a Western family or raised in an English speaking world to justify the mish-mash of syntaxes?

This is often a judgment call to be made in wuxia translation. We’re dealing with a ton of pinyin, which is absolutely exhausting to keep track of in an epic-length novel. ‘Forefather Qianye’ makes much less of an impact than ‘Forefather Thousandleaf’. I chalk up the use of pinyin in names and honorifics as a stylistic choice, but the principle underpinning it all has to be consistency. The syntax and style must remain consistent.

For further reading on pinyin in translations, please refer to a semi-diatribe I once wrote.

Setting aside the fact that I don’t like Huang Rong being English-fied, interactions between characters that wasn’t present in the original had to be added in the translation to illustrate the use of ‘Lotus’. If a step like that had to be taken to explain a translator decision, doesn’t that hearken to the notion that this might not be a good idea?

I understand that Anna needed to indicate that the ‘Rong’ was a character used only in girl’s names, but alternatives would’ve been a footnote or (what I usually do) clarification of the character within the dialogue. The ‘rong’ character is also generally understood as a reference to the hibiscus flower…

Y’all need to get off your high horses!

But perhaps me and my colleagues are a bunch of purist translation snobs. Just as food doesn’t have to be prepared by a Michelin chef to be delicious, neither does a translation have to be the most accurate one in the universe for a novel to be enjoyable. We are hardly the authoritative experts when it comes to translation.

Ready to eat humble pie, I introduced the book to bookaphile and Chinese drama friends when it came out. I especially pointed it out to ABC friends with enthusiasm. These are folks who grew up watching the dramas with their parents and couldn’t fully read the originals due to the language barrier. They were absolutely perfect target audiences who would respond favorably to this masterpiece finally getting translated.

I ran into similar feedback, and noted the same with other online reviews. How the names are handled throw so many people off. I was bombarded with complaints from those I’d recommended the book to, with some going more in-depth in saying that the writing lacked a certain je ne sais quoi. To which, I wonder if Anna Holmwood’s background factors into it.

Anna Holmwood is a wonderful writer — despite my immense gripe about the names, the prose itself was lovely to read. Given her work with the Emerging Translators’ Network and previously as editor-in-chief for Books from Taiwan, her expertise and abilities are not to be doubted.

However, I don’t see many wuxia, xianxia, or xuanhuan works in her resume. For all we characterize wuxia as Chinese fantasy, it’s very much a genre and world of its own. Notions like the jianghu and wulin are completely absent in other genres and fantasy at large. It’d be similar to having a romance author write a litRPG novel. The end result would still read smoothly, and it’d be a great story, but the tone just wouldn’t be quite right.

…this all further reinforced my inertia to crack open the book.

You really are just a snob, etvo. Fite me with your kung fu.

What does wuxia experience matter? Literature is literature is literature.

Alright. Wuxia knowledge is imperative when it comes to naming martial moves and referring to quintessentially wuxia concepts.

Martial methods, weapons, and treasures are the bones of a wuxia novel and critical for the story’s structure. I found the translations in ‘A Hero Born’ to be very literal. ‘Bare Hand Seizes Blade’ or ‘Open the Window and Push Back the Moon’.

The Nine Yin Skeleton Claw, though I personally might’ve replaced Skeleton with ‘Bonecrusher’ or reworked the name entirely.

While those can barely work, something like ‘Twice Foul Dark Wind’ is off the mark. It’s a reference to a couple who practices the famed move Nine Yin Skeleton Claw. And the translation places the focus on the entirely wrong subject.

I’m really, really sorry, but a dark wind that’s twice foul… makes me think someone is letting loose with one helluva fart due to the ‘breaking wind’ idiom. More accurately, the translation should’ve been something like ‘Twin Devils of the Dark Wind’ or something like that. Tweak as one will for style and preference.

Whenever qinggong is mentioned, it’s done as ‘lightness qinggong kung fu’. I understand the struggle to translate this, I hate doing this term as well and opt for levitation skills (with a footnote) or immense leaps/jumps or qinggong. But so many words to describe one martial concept illustrates the ongoing struggle throughout the novel to accurately define the notion. In the end, the reader gets bogged down in the redundancy.

Being literal VS localizing more in the target language is a translation debate that will likely rage forever on. I fall on the latter side of that argument, and feel that it’s part of the translator’s job to translate the essence and meaning behind a phrase, rather than just parse a singular Chinese character into an English word.

Literal interpretations breaks immersion into the story and cuts into the flow of a fight at the very least, at the worst we get something that sounds kind of right, but isn’t. This is when knowledge of wuxia plays a role, especially in the world of xianxia that I play more in, where golden cores, nascent souls, and internal manors play a role in cultivation levels and dao.

For example, the ‘Supernova Point’ is a move that comes up in one of my own novels. Translated literally, it would be ‘Explode Star Finger’. Using that in a fight would be almost hysterically comical, not to mention the localized translation paints a more vivid picture on what the move actually does.

And this, this right here, is the bones of a wuxia novel. Treasured weapons clanging against each other in the pursuit of justice and revenge. Magnificent moves with immense schools of thought behind them being executed in their refined glory.

And in the midst of all that, an incredible farting villain dashing in and out of it all. Oh dear.

Incidentally, why is the Wades-Gilles spelling of Taoist used in the novel, but hanyu pinyin for all other Chinese words?

Here comes the rest of the kitchen sink…

Speaking of fights, some of the sound effects in them are straight up pinyin. I’m curious as to why ‘sha, sha, sha‘ was chosen over ‘whoosh, whoosh, whoosh’ in some aspects, but not all. Additionally, I might’ve missed the definition of wulin when it first comes up, but this critical wuxia term is referred to over and over again without immediate explanation. There’s a nod to the metaphor of ‘martial forest’ in the intro — who reads those though?

The moves in general are often referred to as kung fu in the novel. Though Anna gives the technical definition of kung fu as anything that takes dedicated practice or time to study (possibly to head off the exact point I’ll make, heh!), it’s hard to get away from the popular culture conception of the term.

Whether it be Jackie Chan, breaking bricks with one’s head, or high pitched screeching while bouncing on the balls on one’s feet, it seems to me that the term has moved slightly away from the notion that’s being referred to in ‘A Hero Born’. Language is a moving, breathing concept and it’s important to factor in its changes.

Translating the measurement units of jin, li, etc would’ve enhanced understanding of the novel without taking away from its authenticity.

I’m also not a fan of how all the titles were capitalized. “Only bad Emperors keep bad Chancellors.”

Suppose the bad Emperor only became bad because he lost his Sword to the bad Chancellor, who took it because his Teacher was secretly a Spy from another Nation? The Emperor was a good Emperor before!

When everything is capitalized, nothing is special. These are just little nits that would’ve gone a surprising distance to making the novel more accessible and digestible.

PS. The irresistible urge to giggle visits whenever I read ‘devilnuts’ flying around. Was there really no better alternative? Perhaps Chinese caltrops? That would’ve been a perfect subject for an illustration.

This Jin Yong guy seems kinda famous huh?

At the end of the day, why should one pick up a 400+ page book when there are so many adaptations, reboots, remakes, and remakes of the remakes, each with their own delectable cast and increasingly lavish sets to choose from?

And that brings me to a tangent. The dramas.

I’m not joking when I say that even the remakes have remakes. Jin Yong is SO beloved and SO iconic that there are nine versions of the Legends of the Condor Heroes drama alone. The last one was greenlit just this year. There’s three movies, an animation, manhua (comics), computer games, musical theater, even broadcast theater. This is all for just one of Jin Yong’s series.

There is so much history established with this series that it’s baffling for ~50 years of precedence to be bucked when it comes to naming. Surely it was foreseen ahead of time that the backlash would be enormous, yet the editors still decided to go with the executive decision of an inconsistent naming scheme. For being most concerned about the reactions of Chinese diaspora and Jin Yong fans, as Anna expressed in a CNA interview, this just seems odd.

Plus, this also comes across a missed marketing opportunity. Generations of Jin Yong readers are already out there, setting the stage for success from day one for the English series.

We get it, you obviously hate the novel.

At the end of the day, it’s a very well written novel. I thoroughly enjoyed the prose, especially compared to the web novels I usually have to wade through. Anna’s writing flows smoothly, and I really got vested in the pacing of the scenes.

If one is going into it without much knowledge of wuxia and is looking for a solid introduction to a Chinese classic, this is a solid pick.

If one wants to first read up on the Legends of the Condor Heroes before diving into one of the billion adaptations, this is also a solid pick. If one wants to revisit childhood nostalgia, this is fantastic.

If one is an opinionated bilinguist who counts themselves a ‘xia fan, this would not be the novel for you. You’d be spending too much time nitpicking over name translations and wuxia concepts to enjoy the work, and you’d still be unhappy at the end of the day. This here grouch is going to get off her soap box now, thank you for tuning in.

SOTR 2000 Chapterversary & $4K USD CONTEST!

I transmigrated one day and somehow translated a novel to its 2000th chapter.

Wut.

XD

HAPPY 2000TH CHAPTERVERSARY SOTR!

We’re kicking off the celebrations early for this milestone because it’s a humdinger of a writing contest! This special event is a blast from the past and revamped in conjunction with writing community Moonquill and LitRPG author Pegaz!

Thank you to all you wonderful readers who have followed SOTR from day 1 or day 1000. The journey started four years ago! Entry tickets to JC’s old men harem for all of you! XD We’re throwing a party that everyone can participate in, and that focuses on the best parts of SOTR.

CONTEST LOOT

SHORT STORY CONTEST PRIZE POOL:

  1. Samsung Galaxy S10 to solve all the communication issues in SOTR. GPS tracking for Ling Bi’er! Facetune so JC would’ve known Nian’er is his kid. Facebook to show off his old men harem! (Eh, wot?)
  2. The elos Skateboard Classic is the closest thing we have to Starfate on good ole Earth. It’s just as retractable!
  3. One winning entrant to be illustrated as a 22-page manga with a colored cover. All those times we laughed at the wanted posters on MAI? Here’s your chance to see how it’s done!
  4. One Razer Death Adder Elite Mouse (SKT T1 Edition)in honor of my favorite LOL team. This is to all the times we bet chapters on the outcome of games! And Worlds 2019, moar betting!
  5. Cold hard cash prize of $300.
  6. Cold hard cash prize of $150. We can never have enough spirit stones, eh?

POEM CONTEST PRIZE POOL:

  1. Nintendo Switch (neon blue and red joy-con) in honor of Jiang Chen’s gaming/gambling/betting addiction.
  2. Logitech G513 mechanical gaming keyboard. Do you have the OP MC aura in your games?
  3. Bose Quiet Comfort 35s for when you need to meditate for a breakthrough at a party.
  4. The modern jade slip, a Kindle Paperwhite!
  5. Cold hard cash prize of $200.
  6. Cold hard cash prize of $100. MOAR spirit stones!

HOW DO I ENTER & WHAT DO I WRITE?

Jot down your best inspiration for a short story or poem and submit it through the Moonquill site! There’s no real deadline before the event ends, but remember voting starts on Oct. 1! Get your entries in before then for the best chance of winning~

SHORT STORY PROMPT (1000-5000 words):

Illustrate what happened to certain characters or locations while they were “off-screen”, or go off the rails and take the story in a completely different direction! What if a battle hadn’t turned out the way it did? What if best girl was someone else, or Jiang Chen had a different personality? Would it still be Sovereign of the Three Realms?

POEM PROMPT:

Write a poem that ties into a facet of SOTR. This can entail things such as Jiang Chen’s old man harem, the infamous fart that kicked off the story, or any other facet of the story.

ONLY ONE ENTRY PER PERSON, PER CATEGORY IS ALLOWED. So everyone can submit one short story and one poem, and that’s it! Pick your best for folks to read~

Submissions start Sept. 2, and voting starts Oct. 1. Anyone is free to read and vote on the Moonquill site. There will also be cash prizes for random voters, so cast a vote for your favorites! Winners will be announced in November. They will be able to pick their prize from the pool in descending order.

ETVO I HAVE A QUESTION!

  • How are you choosing the winners?
    • Five for each category will be decided by reader vote, which opens on 10/1. Remember, you might win $$ simply for voting!
    • A sixth for each category will be chosen by me, Pegaz (who generously sponsored some prizes), and Moonquill staff (the heroes behind the submission/voting infrastructure and consultants of writing contests!)
  • Who is this Pegaz guy?
    • Just your neighborhood nice author who got excited for SOTR’s milestone and decided to kick in some prizes as well! Thank you Pegaz! <3 He specializes in LitRPGs, so if that’s up your alley, idle games got nothin’ on The Idle System!
  • It’s really hard to ship to my country!
    • Indeed, some places are hard to ship to. We’ll work something out!
  • I don’t read Chinese web novels. Who the heck are you
    • Haiiii! I’m your neighborhood friendly fluff aka etvolare aka former NYC finance professional now full-time xianxia/CN romance translator.
    • SOTR is my first novel from when I first set foot in this scene four years ago. I may eat dirt for a few months for this contest, but this milestone deserves a celebration! CN web novel authors need to publish ~10k characters a day, so the finished product here might be different to what English readers are used to with published works. But it’s still a good time!

It’s been an amazing rollercoaster, here’s to the end of the novel in ~400 chapters! Submit your entry and vote by clicking me~

Not a SOTR reader? No problem. Click me to start reading!

Stay up to date on the contest via my Twitter!

<3 etvo

Mandatory text something something about how I reserve the right to change the rules and conditions at any time etcetc.

Grab a sleepy etvo pin today!

What do wuxia translators do most of the time…? We’re diligently at work. Ahem yes, mos def!

Not falling asleep halfway through a chapter. Oh no, not I. XD

Please support your local Chinese fantasy/romance translator with some personal merch!

 

The sleepy etvo pin will go out to July/August patrons @ patreon.com/etvolare. 

Thank you all for helping keep the lights on. 😀

 

An interview with etvolare: “From Wall Street to Chinese Web Novels Translations”

Hey everyone, part II of the Peking University series, back when etvolare still ran volarenovels! This was quite a bit of fun to do, and you’ll also see some outdated information when it comes to the novel lineup since the interview took place at the beginning of May 2017. Note: etvo no longer runs volare~

The Chinese reading community delineates quite definitely between “male” novels and “female” novels. Basically, any novel with a harem, tons of violence, and basically a male MC is a “male” novel, and any novel with lots of fluffiness and female MC is a “female” novel. Hence the categorization of volare as a “female novel site” due to our higher weighting in romance novels. This certainly makes explaining volare’s “off the beaten path” focus an interesting exercise.

From Wall Street to Chinese Web Novels Translations—Interview with volare novels Founder etvolare

By Yingxuan Xiao (Peking University Chinese Department)


To start off, can you introduce how exactly volare was started? I heard that you lived in America for about ten years and worked in New York in the finance and accounting industry. How did you begin translating Chinese web novels?

etvo: I grew up in Taiwan on a steady diet of wuxia TV shows and romantic novels. I was, without a doubt, an unabashed and utter bookworm. This love has always been with me. I would occasionally do some work with translation agencies amidst work and studies. Translating online literature was actually something I began inadvertently.

I was on the web one day looking for new works to read and somehow landed on an online literature translation site, leading me to try translating myself. The more I translated, the more interested I became, so I set up my own website. In one respect, it was my hobby and a desire to share Chinese literature with the world. In another respect, translating web novels imparts great feelings of accomplishment. I always highly anticipate the responses from my readers.

Were you still working in New York at that time? In everyone’s eyes, Wall Street’s banking industry is very busy and highly financially rewarding. You were still able to find time to translate, choosing to do something with much fewer returns under those circumstances. You must’ve relied on your love and passion in order to persevere! Are you now running volare full time? Resigning from your job requires so much courage!

etvo: That’s right. Work was indeed very busy; not only was I translating, I was also managing volare, so I translated rather slowly. I resigned from my job on January 1st of this year (2017). New hopes for the new year! I then returned to Taiwan and registered volare as a company. Making this decision definitely required enormous courage. Even now, some of my family doesn’t understand, but I feel that everyone wants different things in life. Many people yearn to be part of  New York’s financial sector, but only after joining do some realize that reality is not what they had imagined it to be. After working for many years, I felt that its atmosphere did not suit me, along with the fact that I was just a little hot blooded—why have Western works influenced the entire world so much, and yet Chinese literature has barely made its way out? I hoped to improve this situation.

I’m actually a conservative person, but if I didn’t take this risk, volare would never truly be established. This is possibly the greatest gamble I’ll ever take in my entire life!

You’re so bold! Though what you obtain in return definitely makes it worth it. I’ve noticed that volare’s web page is very concise and straightforward, making it very user friendly for those who access the site for the first time; it must have been pretty hard to design this. Did you do this yourself, or did you ask someone specializing in web design and development to help?

The website can be divided into two parts—frontend and backend. I did the initial frontend, the part of the website that we can see, and was forced to self learn it at the time. The backend I couldn’t do, so I invited a specialized backend developer. With the recent addition of a marketer, operations improved one step further. Besides luck, I believe my previous profession had a lot to do with why I was able to accomplish these things. Since I was already used to how big companies operated and had obtained some knowledge in regards to this field, applying it to running the website was relatively easy.


volare’s Distinguishing Quality: “Alternative” Works and Female-Oriented Novels

At the end of November 2015, you started translating your first novel, Sovereign of the Three Realms (SOTR). In December you founded volare and began releasing chapters for SOTR, later publishing them on Wuxiaworld as well, while your second book, Great Demon King (GDK), initially started on Gravity Tales but later returned to volare. It appears that volare had a deep relationship with Wuxiaworld and Gravity Tales when being established. I heard that you began translating GDK because you really liked it, and saw another translator drop it after only translating the first few chapters. In terms of the translation community for Chinese novels abroad, what’s the present situation for how its members interact with each other? Can you give us a simple introduction about the current state of affairs?

etvo: When I discovered this field, Wuxiaworld was the first large scale website I stumbled upon. I didn’t understand anything at that time and sent an email to RWX, bouncing off the walls in excitement and randomly dishing out a self-introduction. (etvo note: Ren… I hope you deleted that monstrosity!) I told him that I thought his website was really great (cue mad sparkling eyes) and asked him if he needed any help. We would chat on and off when we bumped into each other online later and gradually got to know each other.

Then why didn’t you just join Wuxiaworld or Gravity Tales, rather than start a separate website? It’s so hard to maintain a website by yourself!

etvo: Indeed, all I wanted to do in the beginning was to have a place to store my translations and hadn’t planned on managing my own website. It is indeed quite troublesome. However, after thoroughly understanding this scene, my deep rooted hot-bloodedness came out to play once again. I saw that a lot of lady novels, as well as alternative novels, didn’t seem to get a lot of love. Everyone seemed to prefer wuxia and xianxia. I brought it up to RWX once before, but perhaps he has less interest in women’s literature because he’s a guy? Not to worry, come one come all to me! This consequently brought about my ideas of establishing a website, gathering such works, and putting them on the site.

Yet right now, I see that among volare’s 27 novels (May 14 increased to 28 novels), the number of male-oriented and female-oriented novels are roughly split evenly (male 14, female 13). The genres also seem to be a motley collection. How did you choose these books?

etvo: English readers don’t actually delineate by male or female literature that clearly, and rather use the genres of wuxia, xianxia, xuanhuan, modern, comedy, and so on. I have introduced some male readers to women’s fiction—they too love to see the scheming between characters or the domineering female protagonist trampling the villains. Readers on both sides likely have different preferences, as many Western male readers also like to weep and rail at the novels they’re reading!

I would term all the other works on volare as “alternative”, which includes genres such as comedy, science fiction, etc. volare’s selection does seem a bit scattered at first glance, because I focus on the story itself and the author’s writing skills. Trite and cliche plotlines such as the rich, handsome guy falling in love with the silly, pretty girl; the rise of the trash cultivator, etc. are ones I’m not as interested in. This is why the works on volare all have their own unique flair and loyal readers.

That must mean that every book is one you’ve filtered and believed to have distinguishing qualities?

etvo: Yes. Every novel on the site has been carefully chosen. Of course, after finding a good translator, the most important thing is seeing what the translator wishes to translate, as well as the authorizations for the work. This year, thanks to the attention of various corporations this year, volare has already received multiple indications of partnerships. We also have a small library of pre-authorized works waiting to be adopted by their translators.

I understand now. On one hand, you are searching online for translators who already have translations; on the other hand, you have a library of authorized novels waiting to be translated . Do you usually read more Chinese novels or English ones? For Chinese literature, do you go on each site and view their novel rankings, or do other readers give you recommendations?

etvo: I have a wall full of English books in front of my table, but my computer and cell phone are filled with Chinese novels, split roughly fifty-fifty. The Chinese novels I read are typically dependent on the recommendations of other readers, as I don’t really look at the novel rankings that much since they rarely have books with the “unique twists” that I like to read.

As of now, the site has 27 novels. I find the distribution of their raw sites rather unexpected:  10 Qidian, 3 Qidian MM, 3 JJWXC, 2 Yunqi, 2 Xiang5, 2 iReader, 1 Tadu, 1 ReadNovel, 1 Zongheng, 1 17K, and 1 XXSY. It is very understandable that the male-oriented novels are mainly from Qidian, but the female-oriented novels are a bit different than what I had imagined. I originally thought that there would be more from JJWXC, and there is surprisingly not a single book from Hongxiu; however, there are actually 2 books from Xiang5, which is not that popular in China.

etvo: I didn’t know that Xiang5’s popularity was that low. In the very beginning, it was a translator called Ruyi who was translating their novels, and since I wanted to establish an official company, I went to chat with them about a partnership. We have also already reached an agreement with iReader and are presently talking with 17K, Zongheng, and other websites.

The most important thing is to first obtain authorizations of the novels on the site, and it might not be as relevant to reach out to Hongxiu about partnering when we currently don’t have any of their works. (Clarification note: Hongxiu is owned by Qidian’s parent company.) As for JJWXC, I really do want to work with them, but after reaching out to them, I realized that the expectations for both sides are slightly different, so we haven’t been able to reach an agreement for the time being. I feel that this is a real pity and will try contacting them again in the future.

If volare plans to lean towards female-oriented novels, would you consider adding boy’s love, slash fiction—these types of genres?

etvo: I currently don’t have any plans for these two genres, since for one, I still haven’t reached an agreement with JJWXC, and two, this subject matter is indeed a rather sensitive topic.


volare’s Translators and Editors

What are your requirements for translators and their translations?

etvo: Quality above all. Since we are “human translators” and not “machine translators”, the works that we translate should seem like they were natively written in English. Only in this way do we not let the authors, readers, and ourselves down.  Speed is certainly also important—if we translate slowly, it will be hard to be warmly received by the readers, though I wouldn’t sacrifice quality for speed.

Is there a fixed criteria? Such as each a certain number of chapter releases each month?

etvo: There isn’t. I feel that this type of fixed criteria would actually restrict the growth of the translators. My only hope is that they translate well and happily. As for factors such as forming a conducive and supportive environment for the staff and ensuring the speed of updates for readers, this is responsibility that lies on the shoulders of the person in charge. Of course, many translators enjoy interacting with readers and will set a minimum rate for chapter updates.

Currently, what countries or regions are the website’s translators roughly from?

etvo: As of now, there are about 30 translators who come from all around the world, including North America, Europe, Southeast Asia, etc.

Then how do they know Chinese? Are they all ethnic Chinese? I know that RWX is ethnic Chinese, GGP (Gravity Tales founder) is American born Chinese.

etvo: Most of them are ethnic Chinese and Chinese living abroad. A small number are Westerners who have learned Chinese.

I’ve noticed that for every book, besides the translators, there are also many editors. Are these editors also filtered and invited by you? Or are they fans who decided to volunteer? What is their main job?

etvo: The editors have an extremely high proficiency in English, and are responsible for polishing the flow of the writing and structure after the translator has translated a chapter. They will not, however, look at the original text and make guesses about what more to add or delete. The editors are mostly filtered by me, though some are those who have been working with their translators for many years.

Can you thoroughly explain the filtering system by which the translators and editors are chosen?

etvo: Before hiring an editor, I would first personally audit the first round and give them a sentence that had been purposefully restructured into a mess. If they can correct it properly, I would then give them a chapter that’s approximately 3,000 words. During this process, I also chat with them about their interests and preferences. If they are also able to pass the second round, then I recommend the editor into one of more appropriate translation teams according to need. The lead translator would then test them with a chapter of their own novel and start working with the editor after this process is complete as well. Translators also go through a similar filtering process.

Then do these translators and editors do this full-time? Or are they all concurrently working other jobs? For each novel, how are the incomes of the translators and editors distributed?

etvo: Some do it part-time; only I work full-time. The incomes are distributed by the lead translator; I occasionally check in to make sure there aren’t any problems, though I don’t regulate how income is distributed.

Then where does the income come from? How does volare currently earn revenue?

etvo: Because I have contact with Wuxiaworld and Gravity Tales, based on my understanding, our business models are all similar to one another—reader donations, crowdfunding (Patreon), and advertisements. In the future we may place more emphasis on ebooks, mainly platforms like Amazon. Overseas readers are already rather used to reading ebooks, so there shouldn’t be much of an issue with this aspect.

Do you have any books that are currently being sold on Amazon?

etvo: Not yet. This is part of our future plans. (etvo note: DCF will likely be the first novel we publish, and we’re looking forward to getting that started this year!)


volare’s Readers

I saw that in a previous interview, you brought up that 30% of volare’s readership comes from America, 5% from Canada, 10% from Western Europe, and 12% from Southeast Asia. Are there any new changes to these numbers?

Etvo: Western Europe has increased to 17% or so lately, with the remainder holding steady.

You said volare’s monthly visitors (unique IP) has already reached the millions; however, I’ve noticed that there aren’t many comments left under the translations. Why is that?

etvo: Some readers like to comment, others like to lurk. We also have reddit and Discord that others may utilize more often. [Note at posting: interviewer was looking at TOC comments and not chapter comments.]

From my understanding, reddit is a forum that resembles Baidu Tieba. Discord is something similar to QQ and WeChat groups?

etvo: Yes, Discord is similar to QQ groups or Wechat groups. We have many groups and actually, all of the translators in the scene communicate with each other often. Some use Skype, others use Discord—sometimes for the members of an entire site or just one novel. volare’s Discord has more than 1,500 members (note: volare’s Discord has grown to 2,500 members in mid June. Further note at time of posting: we actually have 2,800 members as of July 1.)

Wow! That is a super huge group! Have you paid attention to their discussions? Why do you think that overseas readers are so interested in Chinese web novels? Could it be that a great majority of the readers are ethnic Chinese? Or are a lot of them “true foreigners” who have great interest in Chinese culture?

etvo: I will occasionally read the comments, though I usually rely on volare staff to help me keep an eye on them. I think overseas readers like our fanciful flights of imagination, out-of-the-box thinking and innovative topics. A major advantage of online literature is its adaption speed, with many current events or trends easily being written in. For instance, one of our recent novels that we’re collaborating with iReader for, “Red Packet Server”, is about a chat room that links to the Heavenly Court. The MC interacts with them through the group and competes with the Monkey King and other deities in the group for red packets. Readers can also understand much about Chinese culture through the novel, making it quite fascinating. This is something you’d never see in Western literature.

I feel that most of the readers are likely “true foreigners”, Chinese overseas may not wish to read translated webnovels? Because if they can’t read Chinese, they may want to watch dramas instead. After all, a real life Yang Yang is much more handsome than any dashing male MC, haha!

The process in producing English bestsellers is a well oiled machine. There are essentially books of every genre. Besides being able to quickly add new elements, what other advantages do Chinese web novels have?

etvo: I really love the interplay between characters in webnovels, and the emotions in Chinese web novels are very rich. Perhaps I need to revisit my favorite English novel, but I always feel that the love, hate, passion, and animosity written in Chinese web novels are more able to touch people’s hearts.

In that case, between Chinese female-oriented novels and English romantic fiction novels, such as Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey, do you feel that there are any essential differences?

etvo: Besides the differences between authors’ writing styles and that both sides write about very tried-and-true  topics, the one biggest distinction is that because of the contrasting backgrounds of Chinese and Western novels, the way they look at and depict things are also different. Other than new and original topics, plots with current trends integrated into them, and abundant emotion, I feel that Chinese web novels have another advantage: it’s currently in vogue with Western readers who may view them as a new toy. There’s a surge of interest in it currently, but this type of passion may fluctuate uncertainly.  


Chinese Gay Lit: What is Danmei?

Danmei (耽美) is something that always seems to make readers shriek and fangirl online. Especially with recent mega-hits from MXTX, images of flowery elegant gentlemen have captured the imagination and made girls swoon.

Modaozushi written by MXTX

In a nutshell, danmei is a genre that is written by, consumed by, and targeted for a female audience. It’s wildly popular in online Chinese literature, with adaptations for the big or small screen mostly scrubbed of overt homosexualism. The term itself translates to “indulgence in beauty” and symbolizes the (over)romanticizing of male-male relationships, sometimes to the point where aesthetics overcome the importance of plot and character development.

There are a few speculations as to why this phenomenon came to be and how they might be compared to its Western equivalent: slash fiction.

  1. The systematic ban and the socially taboo nature of homosexual/homoerotic content in China
  2. Gender inequality and inequity in society where women feel oppressed and objectified
  3. Inevitable ties and constraints in a conventional romance, which end in marriage and childbirth – and ultimately interfere with an idealized concept of love

The first two points aren’t unique to China and apply to most of Asia, where civil rights haven’t transformed as they have in most of the West. The emergence of slash fiction coincided with the gay rights movement, although it tends to be more centered on fan fiction.

Therefore, it doesn’t come as a surprise to find that danmei or yaoi (Japanese term for boy love, whereas yuri is the term for girl love) is very popular with female audiences in those places, as well. Just as pornography set in a classroom or a religious facility invokes naughtiness, danmei provide readers with the rush of witnessing something taboo and forbidden – and the forbidden fruit is sweet.

Along with that comes the freedom and privilege that a male-submissive character represents, because men can often continue their lives without any fallout (or so the female writers think) that might otherwise affect women, such as slut shaming, virginity complexes, and pregnancy.

This leads to the third point, which suggests that in danmei, the characters aren’t as concerned with marriage and children. Same-sex marriage isn’t allowed in Asia except in Taiwan (where it was recently legalized), and children don’t have to be involved in the couple’s lives (no shotgun weddings!). This allows “pure love” to exist in the danmei world, where two characters stay together solely because of love, and not because of societal expectations or social responsibility.

Without a widely observable homosexual community in China, life as a homosexual man was both mysterious and romanticized. At the same time, it served as a blank canvas for writers hoping to create a form of “pure” romance without the conventional restrictions. However, this same lack of understanding also brings an interesting pattern found in danmei – the submissive partner is often portrayed like a woman with feminine exterior and interior traits, only she has junk in her trunks. This is probably the most obvious difference between danmei and slash fiction.

Slash, on the other hand, grew out of fan dissatisfaction with canon relationships. For instance, in the Star Trek fanfiction circle, stories are written about Kirk and Spock because fans felt that canon lore served the two short.

The genre name comes from the practice of putting a slash between the names of two characters that are “shipped.” This often involves romantic or erotic elements that extend from friendship and companionship. Subplots from canon are elaborated, and darker themes are explored such as domination and violence. In other words, it’s often whatever fans wanted to see happen, but the original writers didn’t make happen.

For more about danmei, and English translations of these novels, please visit Chaleuria.com.

[Updated] Impressions of “Legends of Ogre Gate” & why you should try it

It’s not everyday a Chinese wuxia/xianxia translator gets to publish their own writing.

It’s not everyday I know the translator doing so.

Thus is the big disclaimer for my post — I received a copy of this THICC novel (it really is satisfyingly thick) through some twisting of the arm, kidnapping of baby DB, tampering with soul lamps, robbing of sect foundations — er, let’s rephrase. Jeremy “Deathblade” Bai was very nice to send me a review copy. 😀 Since the novel was launched just in time for World Book Day, I wanted to get out a first impressions post after reading the first 100 pages.

WHO THE HECK IS THIS REVIEWER?

I’m a big fan of the cover art and wanted a physical copy of the novel because of it. It’s infinitely satisfying to hold in one’s hands. And for those who don’t know me, I’m etvolare, another translator of Chinese fantasy (wuxia/xianxia) and romance. The gobbledegook I sprouted above is common tropes in xianxia, and what I comment on may be colored by my experience.

As long time readers of web novels will know, online wuxia/xianxia tends to be heavily formulaic. After a while of reading, you always know what twist is coming. Most open with some shocking event — a battle, a relationship betrayal, the final lucidity of the last moments of life, or enemies at the door.

LOG is no different. A shocking battle, unexpected subterfuge, and a prophecy to be fulfilled. There was a comfortable amount of confusion — who is Hui? She’s not one of the names in the summary. Where did the artifact take her? Did she transmigrate? To ancient China or…? Was she reborn?

It all sounds rather typical of a fantasy novel, but it’s executed quite well. It’s most telling as opposed to showing, and neatly sidesteps a lot of the info-dump-repetition-filler-filler-filler potholes that a lot of web novels are littered with. DB’s years of experience show through in the deftness of how he sets the beginning of the novel.

WHAT’S THE NOVEL ABOUT?

We’re in a non-typical cultivation world, where qi is actually brought to the world by a… stranger? Demon? Alien? Ghosts of Christmas past? Combining it with traditional martial arts gives us our much beloved cultivation system. We get to explore the process with Sunan, and the way DB chooses to tackle this is really lovely.

Instead of an info dump, we follow a country boy’s journey of discovery of this mysterious new energy. We see through his unlearned eyes how his strength builds and experience how killing intent appears. A fresh twist is that he doesn’t start off as cultivation obsessed. In fact, his hilariously verbose friend Sun Mai is the one who encourages to explore more.

There’s an enormous villain on the scene, so naturally the ultimate goal is to take him down. The journey is the main premise of the novel, and I really wonder how two blank sheets of canvas will be able to rise up and contend with someone who seems to have already reached grand perfection in their cultivation.

Just when we really start to bond with Sunan — the boy’s basically using his knowledge to be an MMA fighter! — we’re left with a killer cliffhanger. Thanks DB, you really learned from the web novels.

The perspective pivots, and generally that’s accompanied by an amping down of the tension. Not so here. We meet the other MC, Bao, and it doesn’t take more than two pages before I’m baying for blood on her behalf. This was a gut-wrenching twist, and I’m purposefully being vague so I don’t spoil things. Five more pages in, and someone hand me a spear!

The action is fast and furious, and though she’s a noble girl, she’s the last thing from a helpless damsel distress there is. She fights, she kills instead of cries, and it seems that she… has a gift for prophecy? Whatever her hidden talents are, I love that she’s no wilting flower that Sunan will have to rescue over and over again.

Her story line seems rather different though, as she’s off in the wilderness, fighting ogres commanded by the Demon Emperor and running around with bandits. Sunan’s off in a city, dealing with the ‘mundane’ hardships of day to day living. I’m quite interested to see how the two will meet up, and where’s Hui?

I am also a fan of how realistic the novel is. We’re in a xianxia world with fantastical creatures, artifacts, and cultivation. But that suspension of belief doesn’t come with deus ex machina, plot armor thick enough to kill the reader, or two-dimensional characters. So while the setting itself may require a suspension of belief, what happens in the story and the characters is anything but.

In fact, how the characters and supporting cast are drawn out is possibly one of my favorite parts. I care about them, and I want to know more about them.

IS IT ALL SUGAR AND SPICE?

If I were to point at anything I didn’t like from my initial impressions, it’s that there’s too much pinyin in the names for my taste. Cities, mountains, deities, and of course the cast are all pinyin. Kong Zhi for Confucius (assuming that’s the reference), shan/mt./mountain for mountains, shen for god, etc.

Even as someone who’s very comfortable working with Chinese, I found my mind wandering and skipping over the names. As someone who doesn’t like to read with a map in hand, I already know the geography of LOG will remain somewhat obscure to me.

[addendum] The importance of reading afterwords is that we learn there the names are a result of the game that the novel is based on. I remembered that vaguely, but it didn’t register for me since the novel works wonderfully as a standalone piece of work. 

Despite being friends with DB for a while, I have to admit I’ve never really read his original novel. …in fact, I may not have clicked on a single chapter. Oops, don’t hate me man. Still buds?

SHOULD I TRY IT?

There were always too many interesting Chinese translations to get to, that I never felt this way or that about originals. After this first peek, it’s definitely vaulted to the top of the reading list for me. 

This is novel for those who are tired of the same old in cultivation. This is one for those who want a twist on xianxia. If you’ve ever been on the fence about originals, want a novel with legit dual MCs, or simply fare that sidesteps filler and wordcount padding… grab a copy by clicking me. 😀

[UPDATE] COMPLETION OF READING

Bottom line is, I liked it. The plot moves at a fast pace, there’s a good mix of action and philosophical introspection. Betrayal, intrigue, mystery, and romance all play good parts. The romance doesn’t factor in as heavily, which could be a pro or con depending on what folks are looking for. 

I would read it again, and I do recommend LOG to everyone. It’s a wonderful twist on an origin story for long-running, hardcore xianxia fans, and a perfect intro for those just dipping a toe into Chinese fantasy.

DO THE GOOD VIBES CONTINUE?

We left the first impression with me recommending the novel after 100 pages, and it’s a good ride all the way to the end. The writing doesn’t fall off, and while I feel that some of the villains fall in a rather anti-climatic way — e.g. Bao’s personal demon seriously needed to die in a more gory manner. More humiliation. Or maybe my appetite has been much too enlarged thanks to typical xianxia web novels. Overall, the ending and loose ends are wrapped up in a very solid manner.
 
Apart from the pinyin, there was also one point about the novel that I wasn’t the biggest fan of, and I left it for the full readthrough to see if it would still be an issue. While DB sidesteps the plot holes, filler, and nonsensical developments, the slightly choppy, web novel way of writing actually crops up for the initial chapters. Granted, it’ll be more apparent to me because I’m a fellow translator, and I’m constantly analyzing other people’s writing styles on the path of improvement.
 
When I brought it up to him, he mentioned it was a conscious stylistic choice, and that he switches out of it. My personal speculations are that maybe he did so to ease the transition for web novel readers, to bridge the typical web novel style for something much well-written and logical, in a more traditional publishing style.
 
Things do clear up around chapter 18, where I noticed my mental voice stopped getting tripped up by sentence structure. It’s a really nice read from that point onwards. 
 
LOG is based off of the board game, Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, screenshot below.
 

FAVORITE PART OF THE NOVEL?

To be honest, I hadn’t expected to enjoy the process of building a cultivation system as much as I did. I touched on it briefly in my first impressions above, but this part really played hugely into why I like LOG.

Experienced xianxia readers will be very familiar with the cultivation system, with levels, realms, breaking through, and heavenly tribulation. Mystic treasures, spirit creatures, inter-dimension travel, gods, and souls are par for the course. 

But none of that structure is present in the LOG world. A lot of trial of error is present — how to meditate most effectively? How to recover energy? How to use energy in fights? How to develop techniques? And the notion of breakthroughs isn’t even quantified until Sunan and his friend Sun Mai achieve several of them. The reader really grows with them, and it’s a very fresh twist and neat avoidance of several chapters of world description.

It also leads to some hilarious moments, as how one character defines the system might not match up to another character defines it. One man’s cultivation system is another man’s gibberish. We also get to see how cultivators would appear to regular folk.

“What did you just say?” she asked.
“Huh?”
“You just yelled something. What was it?”
“Um… Dragon Cleaves the Clouds?”
“Yes, that was it. Dragon Cleaves the clouds? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Uh, that’s the name of the move. The technique I just used.”
“You name your moves?”
“You don’t name your moves? But… doesn’t everybody do that?”
Bao chuckled. “You name your moves? What are you, a child?”

I can totally hear the internal voice scream, chuuuuuni!! Weirdo. Lol.

KEY TAKEAWAY?

Honestly, I’m really looking forward to more books from this world. The huge spoiler is that good eventually triumphs in the end, but there is a lot more material that we can explore. The barebones of cultivation are established in the end, and we see the rise of martial heroes with the budding formation of a wulin, but there’s also a lot of room left to establish mature factions, a regular tourneys, the formation of secret realms, etc.

There’s also a god/demon trapped in the crown and some vague references to other ancient Chinese gods. I’d love, love to see more of them and see from their perspective how they view the arrival of qi and development of cultivation in the mortal world. The underworld is also mentioned, and some of their creatures are seen. There’s definitely a societal structure there that we haven’t fully seen yet.

There are some loose ends left that don’t impact enjoyment of the story, as well as a whole load of new names and slight gibberish that the main villain voices at one point. I definitely want to see that developed more, and also see more of where Sunan and Bao journey to. 

Grab your copy of LOG by clicking me. 😀

Here’s to prosperity in the year of the pig!

It’s already February of 2019 and the year of the prosperous pig! Hope y’all caught the giveaway on Twitter and IG, and more to come~

Translator Musings: Who is Ben, and why does he have a gong and a wang?

“Wangye, nubi apologizes for the slight to da furen! Nucai’s zhuzi wanted to bring erye’s gift into the wangfu, but er furen once told san taitai that she’s allergic to flowers so xiaode used the chaos of wansuiye’s arrival to put erye’s gift into the dafang!”

Welcome to etvo’s inaugural post on random translation musings, in which I share some thoughts on possible best practices and reflections after two years of webnovel translations.

Of course, these are my opinions and preferences only, take ‘em with a boulder sized grain of pink salt! And this scandalous Ben fellow certainly has a party going on!

Ben… I think you dropped this.

Today I’d like to address a pet peeve that’s creeped in over the years—leaving pinyin in novel translations. This is most frequently done for forms of address, cultivation ranks, and location names.

Did… did anyone make sense of that first quote? Did you want to close this post?? Of course, it was exaggerated due to consideration of space, as posting 200 chapters to illustrate a point is silly.

Imagine being a reader and coming back to this beauty after a month of exams/crazy work and following 20+ novels at the same time. Rather than follow all the ins and outs of this, a reader might just give up. Or, they might barely get that there’s some drama about something, and wonder why some apparently random revenge plot breaks out a few chapters later.

The opening quote is about a servant babbling reasons why she offended the senior madame. Senior madame wanted to bring the second master’s gift into the prince’s residence, but second madame once told the third wife [1. Change in title indicates lower station, likely just a concubine] that the former is allergic to flowers. Therefore, the servant used the chaos of the emperor’s arrival to stick the gift (presumably of flowers) randomly into senior madame’s residence.

Right, who got all that after major cameos from what I call the Alphabet Soup clan?

Not this kind of alphabet soup!

I’ve discussed this with some folks before and some prefer pinyin for the flavor. The non-English words lend an air of authenticity, and truthfully, it’s so much easier to not translate something and leave it in pinyin.

However, I feel that defaulting to pinyin is a hindrance to fully enjoying a novel. It makes people pause when they reach the pinyin, try to decipher this new word, and recall the definition. All this takes away from them purely enjoying and reacting to the novel itself. Instead, they’re tripping over Alphabet Soup clan members.

But! This isn’t to entirely eradicate the use of pinyin. I feel that it should be used sparingly, when there really isn’t an English equivalent. I myself use jianghumama, and yamen in my translations. Now back to our previous program.

“Prince, sluga apologizes for the slight to wielka dama! Stowry’s mistrz wanted to bring drugi mistrz’s gift into the dwor ksiazecy, but panie dwa once told trzecia zona that she’s allergic to flowers so ten sluga used the chaos of cesarz’s arrival to put drugi mistrz’s gift into the dworek!”

The pinyin was switched to Polish in this version, thanks to help from the wonderful TranslationRaven over at WW. It might look like a train wreck to fellow translators as well now. That’s also likely how it appears to newcomers of translated novels—which, are what most new readers tend to be.

I think even long-time fans of translated novels would find this an utter headache to wade through. Instead of being engrossed in the story, we’re hung up on how foreign, weird, and strange everything is.

But at this point, one might point out, “Harry Potter has tons of weird phrases and non-English words! Look at how popular it is!”

Well, yes, but it’s also a fantasy world. Made-up words are found much more often in fantasy settings, and mashing two words together is frequently how something is named. No writing and/or grammar rule is the be-all and end-all, and adjustments are always made based on context.

Okay granted… this is also an example of bad subtitling.

While I do advocate mostly translating raws into English, sometimes one does want to highlight the foreignness of the word, ie. the spells in Harry Potter. But as one flings around accio and wingardium leviosa, one’s also brewing the Draught of Living Death and not its equivalent in Latin.

Just because it’s a fantasy world doesn’t mean one goes off the deep end with non-English words as well. Imagine if all the names of places and titles were pinyin, ie. Diagon Alley = Xiexiang, Hogwarts = Huogewoci, and Dementors = Shehunguai. Doesn’t this lose some of the beauty of this world?

We still haven’t gotten to our scandalous resident Ben and his clan yet. He gave me the inspiration for this writeup! Please meet his brothers bengong [2. Autocorrect keeps changing this to banging, oh dear], benwang, as well as sisters chenqie, furen, aunties nubi, nucai, etcetera in the great Alphabet Soup clan. Ben sprang into existence after reading many passages like:

Benwang will not be denied! Minnu will enter the wangfu as my wangfei! If you do not comply, you will enter as a qie then!”

“How dare you speak to bengong this way! Bengong is the most exalted guifei of His Majesty! Bengong will have your head for this!”

I burst out laughing the first time I saw benwang in pinyin because in the States at least, “wang” is slang for a certain male organ. So er, Ben won’t be denied hey! Rather than getting sidetracked about gongs and wangs, why not:

“This prince will not be denied! Commoner woman, you will enter my manor as my princess consort! If you do not comply, you will enter as a concubine instead!”

“How dare you speak to this seat this way! I am His Majesty’s most exalted noble consort! I will have your head for this!”

Fully translated, we can instead focus on what an ass the first speaker is, and understand the haughtiness of the second. I also switched around the structure of the second more, to reflect better flow in English. Being overly beholden to the Chinese syntax is another pet peeve to be tackled another day.

Not only does too much pinyin make a passage nonsensical, there are also incredible relationships in Chinese culture that are apparent just from forms of address. So much meaning is denied by pinyin’ing everything.

The beizi only smirked coldly when he saw the beile, and both were taken aback when Huang jiangjun strode in and took a seat without a word of greeting.

After reading this, it’s apparent that lots and lots of drama is about to erupt. Or is it?

A beizi is a Prince of the Fourth Rank, whereas a beile is a Prince of the Third Rank. So for the former to not greet his higher ranked brother respectfully… well that is a very big deal. And Huang jiangjun aka General Huang? How dare he walk in and take a seat without acknowledging the two royal princes?

Some epic face slapping is about to explode in the next paragraph after this. But by leaving everything in pinyin, we’re bereft of the subtle undercurrents.

H-here be wangfu?

At the end of the day, I feel that translation is an art. “You just sit at a computer and type whatever random crap, right?” Someone once asked me that. We-ell, not quite garbage in, mindless garbage out like that.

As translators, we should convey the author’s meaning as faithfully as possible, but as appropriately as possible in the target language. It’s essentially painting the author’s creation on the canvas of another language. How does one evoke the same feelings of anger, pity, glory, and awe that we felt when reading the raws in their original language?

As the founder of volare, I always encouraged my folks to translate in proper English as best one can. “Let’s not have our work smack of a translation.”

Wouldn’t it be better for readers to lose themselves in cheering for the MC finally getting his revenge or aww’ing over couple interactions, rather than getting hung up on “wait, that should’ve been peek instead of peak…” or being clobbered over the head by Ben and his crew?

I’m always excited to share my work with friends and recommend translations around the community based on what they like to read. But I also often get feedback that they didn’t read past a few chapters because of the mighty Alphabet Soup clan turning out in full force, idiom errors, or awkward sentence structure getting to them. That’s always sad, and a lost opportunity to convert a new reader. 🙁