NPC Delegate Proposes To End Foreign Language Translation

« previous post | next post »

Last week at the Chinese National People's Congress (NPC; the annual two-week meeting just ended), a delegate submitted a proposal to end foreign-language translations at press conferences and major events in order to "safeguard the dignity of the Chinese language".

"Chinese legislator proposes banning foreign translation at government press conferences"

Move could promote Chinese culture and cut out inefficiency, the deputy says in one of 506 motions submitted to National People’s Congress this year

But the deputy, a city mayor, claims foreign ministry has already stopped foreign language translation, which is not the case

Sarah Zheng, SCMP 5/27/20

Here are some of the major points cited in Sarah Zheng’s SCMP article:

The motion raised by Yang Weiguo – the mayor and deputy Communist Party secretary of Zhuzhou, a city in central China’s Hunan province – at the national legislature would showcase China’s cultural confidence and improve efficiency at major diplomatic events and press briefings, he told the party mouthpiece People’s Daily.

“Language is a medium for civilisation, and to a large extent carries our national culture and spirit,” he was quoted as saying. “By cancelling foreign language translation at official press briefings and conferences, this would help effectively promote the spread of Chinese culture across the world, elevating the appeal and influence of the Chinese language, as well as increasing China’s initiative and right to speak in international discourse, further showing our confidence in Chinese culture.”

In his proposal, Yang said that foreign reporters needed to “follow the local customs” by mastering Mandarin, and that eliminating foreign language translation would “uphold the principle of reciprocity” since press events abroad did not provide Chinese language translation.

Similar proposals to limit the role of English in China have been put forward in the past, but have never resulted in the elimination of translation into English at the NPC or the prohibition of English and Roman letters in Chinese writing.


Selected readings

[Thanks to Robert S. Bauer]


  1. Jenny Chu said,

    June 1, 2020 @ 12:02 am

    Are national press conferences in other big, non-English-speaking countries (Brazil? France? Russia?) translated into English?

  2. Philip Taylor said,

    June 1, 2020 @ 2:41 am

    Such linguistic attitudes are not restricted to the PRC. Many years ago we had a French speaker (a French citizen) as a keynote speaker at a conference in the UK. Despite the fact that he was a fluent speaker of English, he apologised for the fact that he was not allowed (presumably by French law) to deliver his paper in English.

  3. Michael Watts said,

    June 1, 2020 @ 4:07 am

    Does French law purport to govern what happens at a conference in England?

    My first assumption would be that his employer was prohibiting him from presenting in English, not the law. But I could be mistaken.

  4. Philip Taylor said,

    June 1, 2020 @ 5:15 am

    The speaker said (according to the interpreter) "according to French law". I don't think that anyone believed him (the speaker, that is, not the interpreter) but nonetheless that was what he would have us believe. I am fairly certain that he worked for a French university at the time, and I would expect universities to be rather more enlightened in this respect. I think, to be honest, he was just seeking to make a point.

  5. RachelP said,

    June 1, 2020 @ 6:51 am

    The University speaker was referring to the ‘Toubon’ law of 1994 which mandates the use of the French language for all government-financed institutions (plus broadcasting etc). There are specific regulations concerning the use of French at academic conferences, but these are largely disregarded and unenforced by now, due to being totally impracticable.

    Possibly in the years immediately following the introduction of the law, the enforcement was strict, and this is what the speaker was worried about.

  6. colin mclarty said,

    June 1, 2020 @ 7:13 am

    Besides that the Toubon regulations concerning French at academic conferences are largely disregarded and unenforced, they only ever aimed at conferences in France.  See references 10 and 11 at  .

  7. Philip Taylor said,

    June 1, 2020 @ 7:50 am

    Thank you, Rachel/Colin — all understood.

  8. Bob Ladd said,

    June 1, 2020 @ 10:11 am

    Now that we've clarified the situation with French language laws, I would be interested to know if anyone has an answer to Jenny Chu's question at the beginning of the comment thread.

  9. Thomas Rees said,

    June 1, 2020 @ 3:17 pm

    Saturday Anne Hidalgo tweeted "Pendant ce long week-end, des distributeurs de gel hydro-alcoolique mobiles sont à votre disposition aux entrées de plusieurs parcs, sur les berges de Seine, au bassin de la Villette et au canal Saint-Martin : n’hésitez pas à les utiliser !”
    Although she’s the mayor of Paris, she was born in Spain. But a Spaniard would say “este largo finde”.

  10. D.O. said,

    June 1, 2020 @ 6:40 pm

    Kremlin provides it's own translations for Putin events. I don't know whether they do it synchronously.

  11. D.O. said,

    June 1, 2020 @ 6:40 pm

    Kremlin provides it's own translations for Putin events. I don't know whether they do it synchronously.

  12. Philip Taylor said,

    June 2, 2020 @ 2:13 am

    OT, but still intrigued : is "Saturday Anne Hidalgo" <predicate> idiomatic in <Am.E> ? I ask because each time I read it, I think of all three words as her name, whereas I assume that in fact "Saturday" refers to a day of the week. In <Br.E> we would say (e.g.,) "Last Saturday, Anne Hidalgo …" or "On Saturday, Anne Hidalgo …" (comma optional in both but preferred), whereas a bare introductory "Saturday" would sound very odd to us indeed.

  13. cliff arroyo said,

    June 2, 2020 @ 3:05 am

    "Saturday Anne Hidalgo" idiomatic in ?"

    I (AM Eng native user) think it would be a lot better with a comma (it would have to be set apart intonationally if spoken) "Saturday, Anne Hidalgo…" or re order it "Anne Hidalgo tweeted Saturday:"

    "On" is okay in both but not necessary.

  14. Rodger C said,

    June 2, 2020 @ 8:36 am

    Even with "Saturday, Anne Hidalgo …" I'd call that journalistic syntax. Date first.

  15. Jenny Chu said,

    June 2, 2020 @ 10:18 am

    I was going to bring this up to my teenage son for comment but I am afraid he might quip, "Does Australia provide translations of their press conferences into English?"

    And then I wouldn't know whether to answer, "Yeah, nah, yeah…" or "Yeah, nah, yeah, nah…"

  16. Thomas Rees said,

    June 2, 2020 @ 1:03 pm

    Philip Taylor; cliff arroyo:
    Mea culpa. Originally I started with “Anne Hidalgo”, but decided the “when” was required. I thought of putting “On Saturday comma”, but I was editing on an iPhone and couldn’t be arsed.
    I shall henceforth think of Mme Hidalgo as “Saturday Anne”. No doubt a relation of Baron Samedi.

  17. Coby Lubliner said,

    June 2, 2020 @ 5:26 pm

    The fact that "week-end" happens to coincide in meaning with its English counterpart (unlike footing, pressing, recordman etc.) does not make it any less of a French word. Quebecers may prefer "fin de semaine" but that's their choice.

  18. Philip Taylor said,

    June 3, 2020 @ 2:48 am

    "Quebecers may prefer "fin de semaine" but that's their choice" — L'Académie française aussi, Coʁy !

  19. Philip Taylor said,

    June 3, 2020 @ 3:32 am

    Sorry for the turned-R in your name, Coby — not really sure how it got there.

  20. Rose Eneri said,

    June 3, 2020 @ 8:11 am

    It seems to me that not providing an official translation opens the door to all manner of mis-translations, either mistakenly or intentionally. The NPC delegate seems to care more about the vehicle of the message that the message itself.

    Philip Taylor does not say what the topic was, nor the audience makeup, at his conference in the UK. If the audience is known to be multi-lingual, then speaking in French seems fine. But if I were attending a conference, I would expect all talks to be given in the language of the host country, unless otherwise specified. Again, what's more important, the vehicle or the message?

RSS feed for comments on this post