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The Translation Detail Everyone Missed in the China Internet’s Incredibly Surreal Anthem

Below is an edited version of “The Translation Detail Everyone Missed in the China Internet's Incredibly Surreal Anthem“ by Jason Li, originally published on the blog 88 Bar and republished here as part of a content-sharing agreement.

In case you missed it, the New York Times, ProPublica, the Guardian and the Atlantic all wrote about this incredibly surreal but voted best of event anthem celebrating China’s glorious Internet. Thanks to ProPublica, we have a subtitled YouTube video above.

As James Fallows at the Atlantic pointed out, one of the most stirring phrases in the song that is repeated eight times during the chorus is 网络强国. The New York Times and ProPublica both translated this as “Internet power,” while Fallows points out that:

English speakers might think of “Internet power” as comparable to “soft power” or “girl power” or “people power.” But to my amateur eye there is a more explicit connotation of China’s becoming a national power in cyberspace. I’m sure Chinese speakers will tell me if I’m wrong to read 强国 as meaning a powerful country, as in “rise and fall of the great powers” etc. Thus the refrain would emphasize “a powerful Internet country.” The impression I got from this was of a strongly nationalistic message about a supposedly borderless medium.

I wanted to add to the translation and confirm Fallows’ viewpoint by examining one of the lines from the chorus:

网络强国 告诉世界中国梦在崛起大中华

Both the New York Times (Paul Mozur) and ProPublica (Sisi Wei and Yue Qiu) translate this to some variant of: “An Internet power: Tell the world that the Chinese Dream is uplifting China.” (Emphasis mine.)

Actually, the line in Chinese does not end with the phrase “China” (中国) but “the greater Chinese” (大中华). Not only does “the greater Chinese” sometimes mean Greater China, but it also hints at overseas Chinese people (华人 or 华侨) and, as Fallows put it, the “borderless” greater Chinese culture/civilization.

  • Zhuubaajie

    强国 in Chinese can be both a noun and a verb. As a verb it means to make the nation strong. 网络 means network, of which the Internet or WWW is a part of. Therefore 网络强国 can also mean to use the network to make the country strong.

  • Zhuubaajie

    It is clear from the lyrics that the song is NOT about bragging that China IS a strong Internet nation, but that it exhorts the Chinese to use the networks to help make China a force. Telling is the repeated phrase 一个我在世界代表着国家 – literally translated, “[the] one me represents the nation to the world”.

    The Chinese are mostly amused and befuddled by how Westerners, who do not take the time to understand the Chinese language, just harp on their China threat theories. Granted the ditty is not the most glorious of musical composition, and the lyrics are sort of ADD (it talks about anti-corruption also, I guess as the meme of the week) and unfocused. Overall it is talking about (a) the network (presumably the Internet) can be a very useful tool; (b) it is reaching out like clean (as in the opposite of corrupt) sunlight, and (c) Chinese netizens don’t forget that you represent that nation [when you are online]. That is definitely not an UBER ALLES type of nationalistic.

  • Zhuubaajie

    “Internet Power” and “An Internet Power” mean VERY DIFFERENT THINGS. The first would be more in line with the literal translation of 网络强国 (network [to] make the nation strong), as the lyrics in general idealizes what the networks can do (thus the word “power”; shame that there is no mention in the song of the favorite American use for the Internet, of course, as the Chinese remain prudish).

  • Zhuubaajie

    In Chinese grammar, if one is to say “An Internet Power”, you’d HAVE to say 一个网络强国 (literally “one Internet power”. Skipping articles corrupts the actual meaning.

  • Zhuubaajie

    The translation detail (right there before your eyes) that the author has missed is the ORIGINAL TITLE of the song – 网信精神 – “Network Trust Spirit” , or the spirits (beliefs) of network trust. The lyrics make a lot more sense in that light.

    Learn Chinese. There are more folks in China learning English than there are Americans. Understanding what the other guy is saying reduces misunderstandings.

  • Zhuubaajie

    The translation detail (right there before your eyes) that the author has missed is the ORIGINAL TITLE of the song – 网信精神 – “Network Trust Spirit” , or the spirits (beliefs) of network trust. The lyrics make a lot more sense in that light.

    Learn Chinese. There are more folks in China learning English than there are Americans. Understanding what the other guy is saying reduces misunderstandings.

  • Zhuubaajie

    大中华 as a concept can mean a lot of things. Extending it to mean “great Chinese-ness” would be appropriate.

    Does the author have a problem with the anthem asking the Chinese to use the network to nurture “great Chinese-ness”? Imagine someone making a comment like that if it is a Jewish song (and there are many that preach the uniqueness and need to stick together). Does political correctness only apply to certain folks, and it is open country when it comes to the Chinese??

  • Da Ji Ba

    We need to nuke China.

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