Blue domain

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On 8/13/16, the Editorial Board of the New York Times published an editorial titled "China's Defiance in the South China Sea" that began with this colorful photograph:

The caption beneath the photograph translates the wording on the billboard thus:

"South China Sea, our beautiful motherland, we won't let go an inch"

That's so wrong that we may as well just start all over:

wǒmen měilì de lán sè guótǔ
Zhōngguó lǐngtǔ, cùntǔ bù ràng!!!


South Sea
our beautiful blue domain
we will not yield an inch of China's territory!!!

There's already enough misinformation and obfuscation circulating about the Southeast Asian Sea (aka South China Sea), so somebody tell the Times to issue a correction about their mistranslation of this poster that deals with a very controversial and sensitive issue affecting the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

[h.t. John Lagerwey]


  1. Josh Hickman said,

    August 15, 2016 @ 8:35 am

    Not sure I have a better term, but helpful to note that "domain" in the Chinese is made of the characters for "country" and "soil". Sounds odd they'd say it is blue if you don't know that, I think.

  2. Josh Hickman said,

    August 15, 2016 @ 8:38 am

    'Blue Homeland' might be a better translation because the 'land' part has the same contrast that contextualizes 'blue'?

  3. Daniel Weaver said,

    August 15, 2016 @ 10:17 am

    While the Times' translation isn't accurate, I don't know really see how it either misinforms or obfuscates?

  4. Jerry Friedman said,

    August 15, 2016 @ 11:17 am

    Why don't you tell the Times yourself, Prof. Mair? You certainly have the kind of status that they'd pay attention to.

  5. JS said,

    August 15, 2016 @ 12:27 pm

    Three occurrences of tu3 土; impressive.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    August 15, 2016 @ 3:28 pm

    Indeed, JS, especially since much of it consists of artificial islands constructed on submerged reefs in the middle of the ocean.

    tǔ 土 = soil, earth, ground, land

    An alternative translation to bring out the repetition of tǔ 土:

    South Sea
    our beautiful blue homeland
    China's sovereign land, we will not yield an inch of our land!!!

  7. Amy said,

    August 16, 2016 @ 5:37 am

    It's interesting to note that this is another occurrence of the term "motherland" in relation to China and its translation.

  8. John Lagerwey said,

    August 16, 2016 @ 8:51 am

    I strongly second the repeated use of "land", and especially, now "homeland" and "sovereign land". I note as well that, as far as I know, the Chinese never speak of "motherland" but of zuguo "ancestral land" or "land of (our) ancestors) [not "of our fathers"]

  9. flow said,

    August 17, 2016 @ 1:59 am

    @VHM your 2nd translation in the comment sounds more Trumpish, so given the context its probably the more appropriate one.

    And, by the way—
    South China Sea!
    Our beautiful blue homeland
    Not One Inch!
    China's sovereign land,
    We will not yield one inch of our land!


  10. Graeme said,

    August 17, 2016 @ 5:59 am

    At the risk of sounding ignorant and overly concrete… I assume mainland China (if not HK) would have had its own non-British imperial, pre metric system. I'm curious what the 'not an inch' assertion is, transliterated.

  11. JS said,

    August 17, 2016 @ 3:14 pm

    cùn /tsʰu̯ən/

  12. Anon said,

    August 17, 2016 @ 8:31 pm

    Considering the huge ecological damage of these man-made islands, it's more than ironic to refer to them as a "beautiful blue domain."

    It's the equivalent of referring to the thick air pollution in China as "fog."

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