The Great Translation Movement

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Yesterday, in "Malign Woodpeckers and Other Hegemonic Behavior" (4/18/22), we became briefly acquainted with "The Great Translation Movement" (TGTM).  Today we will probe more deeply into what it is all about.  Suffice it for the moment to say that TGTM deeply unnerves the CCP.  In addition to "Twisted in translation: Western media, social groups set up language barriers by intentionally misreading, misinterpreting Chinese materials", by Huang Lanlan and Lin Xiaoyi, Global Times (4/14/22), which was the main basis for yesterday's Language Log post and in which TGTM played a key role, TGTM was also featured in these recent Global Times (GT) articles:

"How China can counter translation bias", by Tang Jingtai, GT (4/12/22)

"GT Investigates: Behind the online translation campaign are a few Chinese-speaking badfaith actors fed by antagonistic Western media", by GT staff reporters, GT (3/24/22)

Here's a Global Times article in Chinese against TGTM where we learn that the Chinese name for it is "Dà fānyì yùndòng 大翻译运动" ("The Great Translation Movement").

What is this all about?  Why is the Chinese government so vexed by this newly arisen citizens' uprising concerning something so ostensibly anodyne as translation?  We can learn a lot about the origins of the movement and its aims in this article from The Diplomat:

"The Great Translation Movement Shines a Spotlight on China’s Propaganda:  A decentralized social media campaign challenges CCP propaganda by revealing its dark narratives to a global audience." By Chauncey Jung, The Diplomat (April 05, 2022).

The article begins thus:

Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, China has been actively promoting an alternative reality that pushes pro-Russia and pro-Putin messages. On heavily censored social media platforms in China, a significant group of internet users started to share their support for Russian President Vladimir Putin, with messages advocating for Russia to use nuclear weapons. Documented by the New York Times, online opinion in China is mostly pro-Russia, pro-war, and pro-Putin.

Those radical ideas and opinions certainly do not represent the views of all Chinese residents, but individuals and messages speaking against the war and supporting peace are severely censored by China’s cyberspace authorities. On the other end, despite the murky official position from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chinese censors appear to side with views that support nationalism and Russia, and have demonstrated a very high tolerance for messages that belittle Ukraine (including calls for young Ukrainian women to be brought to China to marry Chinese bachelors).

A group of Chinese dissidents has had enough. They decided to take action to name and shame those who praise Putin, the unjustified invasion, authoritarianism, and the spread of far-right nationalist ideas on social media. Calling their social media campaign “The Great Translation Movement,” this group of anonymous dissidents created a Twitter account to collect social media messages that support radical ideas and Russian war activities, and translate them to English, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, and other languages. The campaign also has the hashtag #TheGreatTranslationMovement available in different languages for Twitter users to join the movement, share content, and attract more attention from the general public. On its official Twitter account, the Great Translation Movement has a thread that informs potential participants about the ways to support the campaign.

Clearly, what TGTM is revealing is interfering with the PRC's Ukraine-Russia narrative.  Just where China stands on the Ukraine-Russia war is difficult to fathom, since China is fully aware that most of the world sides with Ukraine, and China doesn't want to be the odd man out or on the wrong side of history.  On the other hand, for all sorts of ticklish, geostrategic, ideological, and other reasons, the CCP feels compelled to partner with Russia. Hence, China is trying to play both sides against the middle.  Such a duplicitous approach almost never works in the long run, so it's no wonder that TGTM's exposure of China's propagandistic modus operandi is getting under the skin of the CCP.

For further information on TGTM, go to China Digital Times (CDT), which has an in-depth article and podcast on the subject.  Since they are in Chinese and CDT has means for circulating in China, despite the harsh censorship, the CCP is all the more aggravated by the unwanted divulgence of TGTM.


Selected readings

[Thanks to Mark Metcalf]


  1. Christian Weisgerber said,

    April 19, 2022 @ 12:31 pm

    […] deeply unnerves the CCP.

    Is there anything beside complete stasis that does not unnerve the CCP?

  2. AntC said,

    April 20, 2022 @ 12:54 am

    “Rise! Those who refuse to be slaves,” now unnerves the CCP, because it's trending on Weibo amongst those protesting the lockdowns in Shanghai.

    Inconveniently, this is the first line of China's national anthem.

    'A censor's lot is not a happy one, happy one.'

  3. Vampyricon said,

    April 20, 2022 @ 12:39 pm


    Perhaps it is my love of irony, but I've always felt like the Hong Kong protests made a huge misstep in not embracing the Chinese anthem. Though I suppose the democratic-patriotic position has become increasingly unpopular.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    April 21, 2022 @ 5:12 pm

    From Don Keyser:

    Die Zeit explains the "Great Translation Movement," not without a certain glee. It quotes an unidentified member of the collective as noticing fewer instances of putrid racism and "hateful" material in Chinese official and social media since it began exposing the tone and content of Chinese-language commentary.

    Ein Onlinekollektiv karikiert Pekings Friedenspropaganda

    Eine anonyme Gruppe übersetzt Kommentare chinesischer Medien ins Englische und in andere Sprachen. Man will damit zeigen, wie verroht die politische Tonlage im Land ist.

    Von Fabian Peltsch
    21. April 2022, 18:21 Uhr

  5. Phil H said,

    April 25, 2022 @ 1:21 am

    The position on Russia-Ukraine is pretty nasty. I do some English teaching, and a 9 year old girl came in the other day and asked me if the war in Ukraine was still going on. I said it was, and she said, "America's still causing trouble, then." I was like, wot? Turns out her teacher in a Chinese public school had told all the children that this war is apparently incited by the bad old USA. She can't locate Russia or Ukraine on a map, but she already "knows" that it's America's fault.

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