The job of the interpreter was one of the most interesting features of the recent talks between China and the US if the reaction from Chinese social media is any guide.
Zhang Jing, a seasoned professional, was praised for her fluent translation of the opening remarks made by China’s foreign policy chief Yang Jiechi in Anchorage, Alaska last Thursday, while some internet users tried to draw comparisons with her American counterpart.
Zhang’s translation of Yang’s 15-minute speech during the testy opening exchanges was also commented upon by those taking part in the high-level talks.
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One said it would be a “test for the interpreter” while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken drew laughter by replying “we’re going to give the translator a raise”.
Yang, whose opening speech was far longer than the agreed-upon two minutes, complained that his US counterparts had overrun their allotted time and touted China’s success in tackling poverty and containing Covid-19 while the US was still battling the pandemic.
He also said many Americans have little confidence in US democracy, and cited the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Reuters reported that Yang’s comments included a reference to the “slaughter” of African-Americans, but the word was omitted from Zhang’s translation.
A diplomatic source said it was a long-standing Chinese practice to tone down harsh remarks in translation.
“The Chinese interpreter Zhang Jing showed an outstanding professional proficiency and a high EQ,” a commentary on the Shanghai-based website Guancha.cn said. “She eased tensions and gained many fans.”
Some social media users made comparisons between Zhang and her American counterpart, although few of those commenting knew much about the latter.
“The Chinese translator is so graceful, neither humble nor arrogant,” read one post on the social media platform Weibo.
Some posts suggested the American woman’s translations into Chinese had a different tone compared to the original.
At one point Blinken said: “[A rule-based international order] helps countries resolve differences peacefully coordinate multilateral efforts effectively and participate in global commerce with the assurance that everyone is following the same rules.”
The translation omitted the word “commerce” and instead said that the US would strive for peace and work to solve problems through a multilateral system that had been agreed by the world.
Several users on Weibo also complained that the American translator’s striking purple-dyed hair was inappropriate.
But Pang Zhongying, a professor of international affairs at the Ocean University of China, said personal choices like this had nothing to do with diplomatic protocol.
“Nowadays, the importance of the translator has been reduced significantly ,” he said. “Both sides have officials who know the other country’s language well. The chance of misunderstandings is rather small.”
Pang also said that while some of the talks were open to the media, it was possible that officials had deliberately tried to send different messages to the foreign and domestic audiences.
Zhang, a native of Hangzhou, has worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 2007. Chinese media reports have focused on her looks as well as her professional abilities, describing her as “China’s Most Beautiful Interpreter”.
Her name has become one of the top searches on Weibo and video montages of her have scored tens of millions of views online.
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