For the last week, the whole Chinese world was transfixed by the trial of Bo Xilai, the fallen star of the Chinese Communist Party. Among the lurid details of crime and corruption that emerged, perhaps none has elicited greater excitement than Bo's revelation that his wife, Gu Kailai (already convicted of the murder of a British businessman named Neil Heywood), and his "top cop", Wang Lijun (already convicted of treachery and treason), carried out an illicit love affair.
The expressions Bo used to describe the romance between his wife and his chief of police have challenged the translation skills of China's journalists.
Bo told the court that they had an ànliàn 暗恋 and that they were rújiāosìqī 如胶似漆. The external department of Xīnhuá shè 新华社 ("New China News Agency") translated those two expressions into "was infatuated with" and "were stuck together like white on rice". The first translation is too tame and the second one is incredibly lame
After netizens criticized both of the translations, the editors conceded that "had a crush on" might be better for the first item, but then went back to sticking with "was infatuated with". As for the second item, the British English specialists at the agency stated that it could also be rendered as "They were together like honey and bee", while the American English experts stuck by "They were together like white on rice." Since nobody outside of Xīnhuá shè knew what was meant by this, the editors gamely explained that "white" here refers to "egg white" (!!), because when egg whites are poured on top of white rice, the whites will envelop each grain of rice and they will be difficult to separate. They added that "when used in a short phrase, 'egg' is generally elided."
Here's a link to a screen shot showing this explanation.
Honestly, I don't think that "was infatuated with", much less "together like white on rice", was what Bo Xilai had in mind.
The expression ànliàn 暗恋 may be rendered as "unrequited love; secret love; clandestine love", where 暗 signifies "concealed; secret; hidden; covert; dark; gloomy".
It is much more difficult to convey the essence of rújiāosìqī 如胶似漆. Literally, it may be translated word for word as "like glue like paint / lacquer / varnish". Together that would mean that Bo thought Gu and Wang were "gluey; tacky; sticky; gummy; adhesive; viscid; treacly" with each other.
You get the picture.
[Thanks to Fangyi Cheng]