What kind of translation of Chinese idioms do you want?


When watching C-dramas - especially wuxia and historical dramas - with Eng subs, what kind of subbing approach do you prefer?

You want a literal translation with Chinese cultural flavor? Or just a fluid translation that is concise and makes sense in English?

For example, a Chinese idim “扮猪吃老虎”, literally “one disguises him/herself as a pig in order to eat a tiger”, which means “one pretends to be weak and vulnerable in order to confuse his/her enemies and then beat them”.

As an Eng sub appearing on the screen, what kind of approach do you prefer?

“Disguises him/herself as a pig in order to eat a tiger?”

Or just

“How hypocritical!”

Very appreciated for your reply.


I’m replying to this, although I am not a habitual watcher of Chinese dramas, because I think that the question also applies to Japanese, Korean, Indian as well.

There are various instances of preserving cultural flavor.

  1. Proverbs and expressions. I personally like the proverbs translated literally.
    If they are self-explanatory (as yours), they don’t need any notes. In other cases, a note might be needed.

  2. Titles. I like them non-translated and explained in a note the first time they appear. Examples: senpai (senior in Japanese), Hyeong (older brother in Korean), didi (older sister in Hindi)

  3. Cultural references. To historical characters, to local happenings… By all means, let them as they are. I don’t want American equivalents which sound quite odd in the mouths of Asians.

  4. Special expressions with no equivalent in English. Examples from Japanese and Korean: “Have you come?” (to a person who is obviously in front of your eyes). “I have come” (to someone who is not blind and sees you coming in). “You’ve worked hard” (said by inferiors to superiors: this is particularly odd for Western ears). “Eat a lot” (why should one eat a lot and get fat?). I am ambivalent about these expressions, which have no meaning in English nor in other European languages. I would prefer them substituted by an equivalent like “Hello”, “Goodbye everybody”, “Hi, I’m here”, “Good evening” “Bon appetit”.
    (“Thank you for the meal” is ok, though, one could say it in our countries as well.)

  5. Word order, I you translate Asian languages word-by-word, the result is a very awkward English which often doesn’t make sense. I HATE this. The Eglish should be fluent English.

That’s what I do as a translator and editor, and that’s what I like to see as a viewer. Of course opinions may differ.

P.S. I rather think that you should delete your similar post in General Discussion, otherwise you’ll get two different conversations on the same topic. Or, if you cannot completely delete it (only moderators can do that) at least you can delete most of the content and add a link to this one so that everybody will post replies here.

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Sorry for having created two similar topics.

People interested in this topic, please share your opinion here https://discussions.viki.com/t/what-kind-of-approach-of-translating-chinese-idioms-do-you-want/17576/6?u=laura_fairytale

Thank you!