Bruce Humes undertakes Chinese-to-English literary translation and China media research, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tibet Travel Piece
by Bruce Humes
Revamped for Chinese Eyes
Newly accessible from Beijing via a luxury train ride, Lhasa and a few other sites in Tibet are the subject of a travel review just published in the New York Times. Author Joshua Kurlantzick will no doubt be touched to see an extract of "Tibet, Now" appear almost simultaneously in Chinese in the December 12 edition of Cankao Xiaoxi.
He may be surprised at how it has been repackaged, however.
Predictably, politically incorrect references to the Dalai Lama, the Cultural Revolution, Tibet's unique Sky Burial (the corpse left at high altitudes to be devoured by vultures) have been deleted, and there are no mentions of Tibet-related web sites blocked by China.
As noted in my last update on Cankao Xiaoxi, this daily newspaper is a respected Chinese-language digest of the world press with a long history. Unlike many publications in China, Cankao Xiaoxi implements strict standards for translation: Virtually no English is used, no content is added to the main text, and even touchy retro terms such as the Republic of China are translated faithfully. Such practices make for a good read and have endowed the brand name with an air of authoritativeness over the years.
But there are three areas in which Cankao Xiaoxi takes liberties: It pens its own headlines, creates its own captions, and routinely deletes references deemed unbecoming to China's image.
Kurlantzick's longish travel review consists of three parts: Impressions of Lhasa, visits to monasteries in central Tibet, and lists of info for travelers on dining, lodging and background reading. Only very select portions of the section on Lhasa have been extracted for the Chinese reader of Cankao Xiaoxi, arguably understandable given the short length of a typical extract.
"Triumphant Advance of Tourism Industry Benefits Tibet" (旅游业高歌猛进造福西藏), reads the Chinese headline. The seven-paragraph Chinese extract goes on to paint a rosy picture of Tibet-as-tourist-destination:
* Growing Chinese fascination with Tibetan Buddhism
* New Beijing-Lhasa train which hits 4,876 meters above sea level
* 1.2m tourists in 2004, and estimates of 10m by 2020
* Higher-end accommodations
* Scenery that makes America's "Big Sky Country" (Montana) look "cramped" (局促 狭小) by comparison
* Foreign tourism experts setting up shop in Lhasha to "empower" (造福) the locals
In sum, Cankao Xiaoxi's extract regales the benefits of the opening of Tibet to visitors - foreign and domestic - with nary a mention of the contradictions and concerns that pepper Kurlantzick's original.
Most interestingly, a close look at the two texts shows that most of the Chinese copy is lifted paragraph-by-paragraph from the original. But in most cases, 1-2 sentences from each paragraph have been deleted. Here are those deleted sentences which apparently contain content that Cankao Xiaoxi censors deem unfit for the Chinese reader:
* "...and workers had to build special features into the [Beijing-Lhasa train] cars, like oxygen tanks for passengers gasping at such high altitudes."
* "...as we approach 16,000 feet, some Chinese train riders ruin their clothing by lying on the floor, moaning as their heads ache from the thin air."
* "Next year, a company called RailPartners plans to introduce $1,000-per-night cars that will include private suites, butler service and haute cuisine."
* [10 million visitors may come] "...potentially threatening conservation efforts. Unesco has warned that China is allowing the destruction of Lhasa's traditional buildings."
Let's close with a look at one paragraph in the English original that was not translated in full or in part for readers in China:
The Potala [Palace in Lhasa] exit sends me into a sea of vendors selling prayer beads. Though they are selling Tibetan objects of worship, most vendors seem to be Chinese migrants. "The Chinese tourism just allows migrants to take tourism jobs - Chinese businesspeople mass-produce Tibetan jewelry and they run the jewelry shops in the Barkhor [older part of Lhasa]," says one Tibetan guide.