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Endless cups of coffee, long hours: How Prez Xi’s 200-minute speech was translated

world Updated: Nov 17, 2017 21:59 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times, Beijing
President Xi Jinping,200-minute speech,translating Xi Jinping's speech

British citizen Holly Snape is a translator with China’s Central Compilation and Translation Bureau.(Courtesy: State Council Information Office )

Endless cups of coffee, long hours at office for days, and working in tandem with a group of elite Chinese translators.

That’s what British citizen Holly Snape went through to complete the official translation of President Xi Jinping’s 200-minute speech from Mandarin to English before he delivered it at the Communist Party’s congress in October.

It was a key speech (or a work report) at an important Communist Party event, closely tracked, and it was Snape and her team’s English translation, circulated soon after Xi delivered the speech, that was widely picked up and quoted worldwide.

It helped that all the effort was strung together – as Snape, 35, herself put it to Hindustan Times – with a sense of “mission” and her “love” for Chinese society, culture and, of course, language.

“It was a lot of hours and a lot of coffee. You know, it took a real sense of willpower, a real sense of dedication and I would say there was a sense of mission because I was part of a team and it wasn’t a big team you know…part of a very close team that worked together…and I think that’s key…these were incredibly skilful translators,” Snape told Hindustan Times after a rare interaction with a small group of journalists organised by the State Council, China’s cabinet.

“And, if you work with a sense of mission, you almost don’t have a sense of so much of the time,” she said, adding that the focus was on “getting the job done”.

The work on the long speech began a month before October 18, the day Xi delivered it at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

A draft in Chinese was circulated among select translators at the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau (CCTB) in September. It was then marked to separate teams designated to translate the speech and edit it in several languages.

British citizen Holly Snape is a translator with China’s Central Compilation and Translation Bureau. (Courtesy: State Council Information Office)

The project was confidential and those involved were not allowed to talk about it.

Finally, Snape and her colleagues got less than two weeks to discuss and debate and give final shape to the speech in their respective languages.

“What’s really interesting about this translation is that it’s really concise because often it’s very difficult to translate Chinese expression, to capture the meaning. It becomes a little wordy in English,” Snape said. “You will find there is a balance between the number of words in Chinese and the English translation.

“The trick is to try your best to understand the Chinese version, and once you have got that, then work on it to capture it in a concise way which is faithful to the original.”

That she has been able to do, no doubt.

At the CCTB since 2014, Snape, married into a Chinese family, has already worked on the translation of a book by “General Secretary Xi” - as Snape dutifully calls him - besides other Communist Party documents.

The busy man that General Secretary Xi is, he found time to meet the translating team after the congress, posed for a group photo and shook hands.

“He took the time to take a photo. I was delighted,” Snape said.

First Published: Nov 17, 2017 15:53 IST