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Legal translation provides Chinese solution to global governance

Author  :  Dong Xiaobo     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2018-07-17

Legal translation is a cross-legal system and cross-language communication between the ideas, languages, cultures, norms and texts within the field of law. An important means by which Chinese legal discourse system “goes global,” legal translation is not only conducive to further exploring the connotations of Chinese law but also to contributing Chinese solutions to tackling the world situation that is undergoing constant changes.

As French post-modernist Michel Foucault put it, “Power is diffused and embodied in discourse.” He contended that the form of history is mastered by the hands of those with power and knowledge. For a long time, the international legal discourse system has been dominated by the West. Western countries are the places where global legal discourse is produced, and they control the channels by which legal concepts are communicated. The manipulations of legal content and tools have enforced Western hegemony over discourse.

An overview of the history of Chinese legal translation that originated in modern times shows that legal translation differs from other translations of practical texts. The effective transmission of information is the fundamental aim of translations of science and technology, economy and trade, news, advertisement, tourism, political theory and other types of practical translations. The functionality of the text is realized through the fluent expression of target language and the application of certain translation skills.

But legal translation, as a unique branch of practical translation, is not only an act of cross-language and cross-cultural interaction, but also an act of communication between the legal systems of the source and target texts. Accuracy of meaning expression, formality of style, and the professionalism of the words constitute the main linguistic features of legal translation.

This requires the translators not only to have an excellent mastery of language skills but also a sufficient knowledge of the law and legal logic. One pressing issue that legal translation in China faces is a lack of high-quality talent with a diverse range of skills.

It is already difficult to become proficient in either a foreign language or law. It is even more a challenge to excel in both specializations while having rich experience in both translation theory and practice.

As the scope and depth of China’s international communication expands, the world is expecting a growing amount of information from China, which presents itself in an all-dimensional way to the international society. To tell China’s stories and make China’s voice heard, it is crucial to effectively promote China’s international communication, which requires higher standard for the job of translation, especially the translation of Chinese into foreign languages.

First, it is necessary to take it as a long-term, systematic undertaking to improve the ability of legal translation and cultivate higher-level talent in this field. Overall planning should be formulated for the allocation of education resources, discipline setting, and major national translation program, translation industry management, evaluation system and authoritative document release. The departments of legislation, judiciary, law enforcement, foreign affairs, foreign trade and economic cooperation, and publicity should closely cooperate with academic research institutes and establish inter-departmental coordination mechanism. In addition, standardized reference texts for law and regulation translation should be compiled.

Furthermore, cooperation with the overseas sinologists, law experts, translators who have long been dedicated to Chinese language translation is important. On the one hand, experts and scholars should be encouraged to come up with more novel, original research fruit which reflect the realistic condition of China. The refined portions of traditional Chinese legal culture should be further studied to draw salutary lessons from them. On the other hand, cooperation with the world-class colleges of translation and legal translation institutes should be strengthened so that a mutually beneficial mechanism for sharing resources between Chinese and international scholars can be established.


Dong Xiaobo is from the Research Center for International Rule of Law Trend of Jiangsu Province at Nanjing Normal University.


(Edited and translated by BAI LE)

Editor: Yu Hui

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