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Chinese Language Learning Program Encourages Students to Learn Chinese Cultures by Comparing Literature Translations

Delicious food itself is a kind of art which is not isolated but tightly tied with other arts and emerged together into a stereo and comprehensive art. People who are learning Mandarin in China may hear about that there are many descriptions about delicious food in A Dream of Red Mansions, one of the four famous classic literature works. Translations for these foods are not that easy. A group of students in Chinese language learning program studied some typical translations of the delicious food mentioned by this book and chose two model translations to compare and analyze.

One of the most impressive translations is “小荷叶莲蓬儿汤”that Bao-yu wants to eat after he is beaten. The cooking method is that to make some flower-shaped wet flour pieces as small as beans in silver mould, then boil these small pieces in special soup. Because this dish has the taste of lotus leaf, it is called “莲叶羹”. The creation of dish shows the author’s extraordinary literary and artistic talent. Two of the translation editions that students of Chinese language learning program found are quite similar. Both of them are word-for-word translation, for we can find matched words in target language from the literal aspect. However, the literal meaning is a little bit different from its real meaning, when we see through the context.


Here are the two editions provided by students in Chinese language learning program. One is: But I’d like some of that broth you once had made with small lotus leaves and lotus seeds.

The other one is: …unless——I did quite like that soup we had once with the little lotus-leaves and lotus-pods in it.

The central word “汤” of this dish is translated as “broth” in the first edition which is closer to the original context than the translation “soup”. We can imagine that Bao-yu is the center of the whole Jia’s Mansions and the beloved grandson of Grandmother Jia, the “汤” he drinks is not the ordinary soup but the rare “chicken broth” for common people. While seeing from the cooking method of this dish, people who have learnt mandarin in China for many years felt that these two translations don’t deliver the real quality and color of the delicious food that the original text wants to present.

The Chinese language learning program provided an opportunity to experience Chinese traditional foods for students. They finally found that the “莲叶羹”is not made from real lotus leaves and seeds. Therefore, the two translations don’t deliver the real meaning completely.

The absolute equivalent translation actually is an ideal which is hard to reach and translators can only try their best to realize the principle. Such as the following example,


Students of Chinese language learning program have different opinions for the translation of 茄鲞. Some of them support the translation: “Give her some fried egg-plant,” proposed the Lady Dowager with a smile. While the others are in favor of the translation: “Give her some of the dried aubergine,” said Grandmother Jia.

Of course these students have their own reasons for the two translations, for the Chinese language learning program has taught them a lot. However, the author thinks that the second translation “dried aubergine” not only shows the feature of“茄鲞”is dry, but also presents the delicious taste of it. This one is better than the former.

The purpose of translation is to be loyal to the original text. Many translations have their own characteristics and advantages. They all need us to find and improve. learning Chinese from translations maybe is a very good learning approach.

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