Saturday, June 27, 2009

Lost in Translation

The memory of telling our English teacher in Ohio that that the only American musicians we, mostly-Chinese students, could easily call to mind were Michael Jackson and Madonna [Last blog entry: Remembering a Pop Icon], brought other memories to me.

In the early nineties, I was a university undergraduate in Northeastern China. When the Student Union announced a screening of video Gone With The Wind, the university administration got nervous and eventually ordered or persuaded the Student Union to switch to The Blue Lagoon for the disappointed students.

Pressed to explain why that happened, my guess is that Gone With The Wind, when introduced to Chinese audiences in the 30s or 40s, the Chinese title, 乱世佳人, could mean either The Beauty in Troubled Time, or The Beauty Who Made the World Upside Down. Rather risqué, wasn't it? It was further stigmatized during Cultural Revolution in the 60s, by being branded as "poisonous weed." Perhaps it was never officially banned, naturally, the "ban" was never officially lifted. Therefore, the students were treated with the lesser known, never banned for sure and apparently less dangerous The Blue Lagoon, in all its soft-pornographic glory. The occasion of that screening was International Women's Day, no less!

More on these ironic memories: I had the honor of viewing the video of The Killing Field (a movie about the cruelty of Khmer Rouge) in the same university (for English study), and read a Chinese translation of George Orwell's 1984, borrowed from the library in the same university. Apparently, the Chinese authorities were either too ignorant or too oblivious to see any connection between the Khmer Rouge or Big Brother and themselves.

Because of those experiences, I cheer for the occasional losses in translation.

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