Calvin & Hobbes in Chinese!

15 Nov 2004

Ever since I first started reading it as a kid, I’ve always been a huge fan of Calvin & Hobbes. No other comic strip has ever impressed me on so many levels. I remember when I first came to China and brought presents for the special Chinese people that helped me get on my feet, the most prized ones I would give away were Calvin & Hobbes collections. They were one of the few really good items I could think of that you couldn’t get in China.

But that was back in 2000. Today at Shanghai’s Scholar bookstore (思考乐) in Xujiahui, I stumbled upon these:

Calvin & Hobbes in Chinese

The store had Something Under the Bed is Drooling, Revenge of the Babysat, Yukon Ho!, and Weirdos from Another Planet. Notably absent was the original self-titled collection. I’m really stoked that the Chinese can now share in this cultural treasure.

After I got over my excitement, though, I started wondering… how good could the translations be? The titles of the two books I picked up were translated OK. Something Under the Bed is Drooling became “Who is under the bed drooling?” (谁在床下流口水), and Yukon Ho! became “Off to the North Pole” (到北极去).

More disappointing were the names of the two main characters. Most fans know that Calvin was named for theologian John Calvin, and Hobbes was named for political philosopher Thomas Hobbes. I know I’m no translator, so maybe there were good reasons, but it was sad to see Hobbes’ name translated as something like “Jumpy Tiger” (跳跳虎). That name seems much more appropriate to Winnie the Pooh’s friend Tigger, whose Chinese name also happens to be — guess what? — 跳跳虎. “Hobbes” in Chinese is 霍布斯. Not cute enough, I suppose.

Calvin’s name became 卡尔文, which is very close to the preferred Chinese transcription of the theologian’s name, 加尔文. Unfortunately, the transcription 卡尔文 is the one used for Calvin Klein’s Chinese name.

But what’s in a name? The real test is how the comics themselves read. I don’t have the books anymore; I sent them home with my girlfriend under strict instructions to read and enjoy ASAP. Hopefully I’ll know soon. If she doesn’t love Calvin & Hobbes, I’ll be forced to conclude that the comics must be poorly translated into Chinese.

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. Though Calvin and Hobbes seems easy our kids here find the English hard to get.

    The laugh like hyenas at those Far Sides you gave me though.

    Who knew?

  2. Tim H,

    Yeah, I don’t think Calvin & Hobbes was ever meant for kids. I gave it to college students with a fairly high English level.

  3. I have to wonder whether the humor can cross the bridge. I hope it does; Calvin and Hobbes is my favorite, too. I think Chinese will find C&H far more relevant and comprehensible now than they would’ve 10-15 years ago, so maybe it has a decent shot. It all depends on whether the translator stayed faithful to the original.

  4. Agree

  5. Care to put up some scans? I’ve seen ads for the Chinese C&H books online, but when I went to order, I was told they were out of stock.

    I had a conversation with Kaiser about the Chinese equivalents of Calvin and Hobbes. Ultimately, we decided that “孟子 & 韩非子” just didn’t have the same ring.

  6. In my pirate edition from 1990 (晨莎译,内蒙古人民出版社出版), the title is 凯文和小老虎哈贝.
    凯文 is usually “Kevin”, isn’t it?

    Anyway, the ones you’ve got surely blow that early version away–mine is comic book sized with all red print, and the English text is clumsily blotted out, in some cases leaving large, empty balloons containing one or two words. Mostly they read well, although there are some disappointments:

    1, The full page of Calvin and Hobbes dancing to a record is followed by:
    Mother:是他们跳舞呢,还是我在做梦?
    Father:明天早晨起来后第一件事,我就给孤儿院打电话。
    Nothing about Beethoven at 78rpm.

    2, Calvin puts on his boots and goes out into the snow. As he walks, he makes 咔嚓!咔嚓! sounds. Then he looks strangely at the reader. This makes no sense, and I can’t remember why the English version was funny.

    How do your books render these two?

  7. Penn State Says: November 15, 2004 at 5:24 pm

    Brendan, The American equivalents of the two Chinese sages, I think Mencius can be compared to President Carter and Han Fei Tzu (the founder of legalism/ fascism)can be compared to Karl Rove/ Bush. It is quite obvious…What do you think?

  8. There seem to be two sides to the comic – girlfriend equation, don’t they?

    Supposing the two don’t quite agree, isn’t it logically possible that there is nothing wrong with the books but that the other side is flawed 😉 ?

  9. Oh, and Brendan, there’s no need to give up hope yet. Sure, “孟子&韩非子” doesn’t work, but that’s because it’s odd (even for this strip) to be giving honorifics to children and (stuffed) animals, as if it were “The Reverend Calvin and Professor Hobbes”. How’s “小孟和小韩”? Or better yet, “阿轲&阿非”? That preserves the initial for Calvin in 轲, and in some dialects (Minnan is one), for Hobbes in 非 as well (compare 福尔摩斯 for Holmes).

  10. Are these authorized translations? Wait a sec, who am I fooling?

    I know Bill Watterson cares very deeply about how his images are used and how extremely frustrating it is for him to see all of those Calvin pissing logos.

  11. i remember the 1st time i read a calvin & hobbes book: i sat in an arm chair at uncle marty and aunt kathy’s and could not put it down. just about every other page, i laughed until i cried. mom and aunt kathy got a big kick out of just watching me. happy memories. 🙂 i wish that for everyone. maybe c&h is the key to achieving world peace! 😉

  12. Brendan,

    I’ll try to put up some scans later. (I’ll see if I have the ones zhwj mentioned in those two books.) The books are not in my possession at the moment, but perhaps more importantly, I don’t have a scanner. I want to get one though. We’ll see.

  13. The book with yellow cover is Zhong Guo Nong Min Diao Cha…

  14. chinese 连环画 is my sweet memory for my childhood.

    i strongly recommend you a bood about the games for chinese boys and girls in 1960s and 1970s (with great pix). the name of the book is something like Xiao Ba La Zi Kai Hui Le (kids are going to have a meeting), its shanghai dialect i think

  15. Penn State – Interesting, but I wouldn’t be quite so hard on Hanfeizi. Consider that whereas Confucianism emphasized rule by moral authority, Legalism called for a system of codified laws. If it had won out, China would be a very different country today.

    zhwj – I like 阿轲&阿非. It wasn’t until high school that I realized that “Calvin” and “Hobbes” weren’t just random names. And Hobbes is rather contrarian at times…

  16. Actually, I think Legalism (which was never codified law in the ‘rule of law’ sense, but more ‘rule by law’) was the big winner in the larger scheme of things, but they managed to couch it in Confucian terminology to make it more palatable to those who got the short end of the stick. Lots of current parallels, and not just to China…

  17. jlong,

    Ssshhh!

  18. calvin and hobbes ended very sadly,but amazingly they are still happy.always

  19. daofeishi Says: March 17, 2010 at 2:15 am

    I wholeheartedly agree! Calvin and Hobbes have been trusty companions ever since I was Calvin’s age. I have also tried to give away Calvin and Hobbes books to some of my Chinese friends, and their English is by no means bad. However, I think that, sadly, a lot of the social commentary and sarcasm that characterizes the strip is lost to the Chinese. The free, unrestricted ramblings of Calvin, the pride he takes in being an underachiever and his mischievousness don’t seem to resonate with those who grew up in China.

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