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China Censors Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air

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Parallel readings in translation: Into Thin Air – 进入空气稀薄地带

In 1996 I took a job in South Korea, where I studied a little Korean simultaneously with the Chinese characters that formed the roots of much Korean vocabulary. This led to eight years of teaching English and served as a catalyst for my fascination with foreign languages in general, and two years in South America in Brazil and Argentina, where I studied Portuguese and Spanish. But I had a fascination with the Chinese language in particular and moved to Taiwan, in 2002, where I studied Mandarin at the Taipei Language Institute, and set a goal of literacy in Chinese. I am far from fluency, but over the last twenty years have read many books using parallel readings to help understand translations in the languages I’ve studied. This has led to interesting discoveries, humorous mistranslations, clever interpretations of difficult cultural idioms, laziness concerning the omission of difficult passages, and in certain cases, censorship. Currently I’m reading Krakauer, and after finishing a paragraph, the next paragraph did not match. A whole passage, on page 286 of Into Thin Air, had been taken out, an obvious case of censorship:

Paragraph excised from Chinese translation: “But guiding Everest is a very loosely regulated business, administered by byzantine Third World bureaucracies spectacularly ill-equipped to assess qualifications of guides or clients. Moreover, the two nations that control access to the peak – Nepal and China – are staggeringly poor. Desperate for hard currency, the governments of both countries have a vested interest in issuing as many expensive climbing permits as the market will support, and both are unlikely to enact any policies that significantly limit their revenues.”

The Chinese government may have made strides since the downfall of Mao and adapting what they call “special communism (特殊共产主义 Tèshū gòngchǎn zhǔyì). Namely, a communism that allows a significant amount of control to the private sector to own property and for the distribution and production of goods. Nevertheless, they still feel it is in the best interest of their society to control information and protect society from what they deem as harmful ideas.

So those who cannot read Chinese can verify, I am linking to Google translate the last sentence of the translated paragraphs that sandwich the censored material. Translation is not an exact science, and word orders shift, but a Google check shows enough to make it definitive that the paragraph in question was certainly omitted. Well done, China!

。。。因为当人们知道没有氧气供应时,便很少人再去尝试。Yīnwèi dāng rénmen zhīdào méiyǒu yǎngqì gōngyìng shí, biàn hěn shǎo rén zài qù chángshì

Google: “…Because when people know there is no oxygen supply, very few people try.”

对攀登珠峰所犯的错误进行分析是一件非常有意义的事情。。。Duì pāndēng zhū fēng suǒ fàn de cuòwù jìn háng fēnxī shì yī jiàn fēicháng yǒu yìyì de shìqíng…

Google: “It is a very meaningful thing to analyze the mistakes made in climbing Mount Everest…”

Written by Caleb Powell

July 19, 2022 at 11:40 am