Sci-Fi Titles in Chinese
19 May 2006
Busy with work and classes, I don’t have a lot of time for pleasure reading, but I manage to read a bit here and there. Lately I’ve been on this extended classic sci-fi novel kick. I’m almost through the entire Foundation series by Isaac Asimov, and I’m currently reading Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein (1961). Since these are classics, they have all been translated into Chinese already, as our friend Joel Martinsen reminds us on Danwei.
I’m not really very interested in reading these novels in Chinese, but I’d be interested in discussing them with Chinese people, so I thought it would be a good idea to learn these books’ titles in Chinese so that I at least would have a starting point for my nerdy wild goose chase of trying to find Chinese people who have read them. Some of the titles are interesting.
First is Stranger in a Strange Land. I think this is a cool title in English, and interesting that it comes from the Bible:
> And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land. (Exodus 2:22)
The Chinese name of Stranger in a Strange Land is 《异乡异客》. When I first saw this name I parsed it as four parts, literally meaning “strange country, strange guest.” But it can be taken as two parts, meaning “alien land, stranger” (Wenlin’s translation). This strikes me as a very nice translation. But does it keep any of that Biblical reference? I was curious.
The original “stranger in a strange land” quote comes from the King James Version. In the New American Standard Bible, for example, the quote becomes:
> Then she gave birth to a son, and he named him Gershom, for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.” (Exodus 2:22)
(Yeah, not quite as catchy.) So I didn’t think there was much hope of the Chinese book title matching the Chinese Bible verse, but I thought I’d check anyway. I checked two different online Bible versions. Results:
> 西坡拉生了一个儿子，摩西给他起名叫革舜，意思说，因我在外邦作了寄居的。 (出埃及记 2:22, source)
> 她生了一个儿子，梅瑟给他起名叫革尔熊，因为他说：「我在外方作了旅客。」 (出谷纪 2:22, source)
Not even close. That satisfied my curiosity. I still like the name 《异乡异客》 anyway.
The other translation I was interested in was the name of the Foundation series. I kind of suspected what it would be, but I hoped it would surprise me with something cleverer. Nope. The Chinese translation is 《基地》 (literally, “base”).
Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me that this translation falls a bit short. The whole premise of the “Foundation” is that it is an organization that will become the foundation of the new galactic empire. Yes, the Foundation starts out as a base on a planet, but by giving the Foundation the Chinese name 基地, you’re just calling it “base,” and without the abstract, far-reaching implications. (The abstract meaning of “base” is a separate word in Chinese–基础–which can also be translated as “foundation” but would never work as a book/series title… It would be like calling the series “Basis.”)
OK, so I can’t think of anything better, but “Base” is just lame. Boo, translators. Hiss.
Also, what’s up with translating Brave New World as 《美丽新世界》 (literally, “Beautiful New World”)?
At least no one tried any funny business with the translation of 1984 (《一九八四》).