Category: Translations

Do We Still Need to Translate China’s Laws? An Interview With Jeremy Daum

By , April 20, 2015
China Law Translate's founder Jeremy Daum

China Law Translate’s founder Jeremy Daum

In the past ten years, the number of Chinese-speaking foreign scholars of Chinese law has increased dramatically, and the number of Chinese lawyers who speak and read English has increased even more. Inevitably, this raises the question of whether translations of Chinese legal materials are still necessary and likewise for American laws translated into Chinese.?

For Jeremy Daum, the creator of China Law Translate (www.chinalawtranslate.com) and Senior Research Fellow at the Yale China Law Center in Beijing, a community-based translation website, the answer is yes, and more so now than ever. China Law Translate (“CLT”) uses internet resources and a volunteer army of netizens to translate various legal documents – laws, regulations, articles, interpretations and news stories from Chinese into English and vice versa.

Over the last two years the site has become an important resource as foreign interest in Chinese law continues to grow. Cited by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the United States Congress, China Law Translate is a novel attempt at crowd-sourced collaboration for this kind of translation. To understand its success and impact, China Law & Policy interviewed CLT founder Jeremy Daum to better understand the site and its planned future.

[In the interest of full disclosure, China Law & Policy is a proud participant of China Law Translate’s community translation project.]

************************************************************************************

EL: What caused you to create China Law Translate?

JD: Pure selfishness–I use our translations constantly.

In creating the site, I had three goals. First, to allow experts, students and other interested folks to contribute their time and efforts without making a big commitment. At the same time, I hoped to incorporate technological tools to make translation easier. Finally, I also wanted to create a forum for discussing the accuracy of the translations, so our group could begin to standardize commonly used, but uniquely Chinese legal terms.

Also, while it sounds hokey, I honestly believe that communication leads to increased understanding, and hope that

China Law Translate - making it as easy to translate like pushing a button!

China Law Translate – making it as easy to translate like pushing a button!

the site helps contribute something to foreign legal professionals’ understanding China’s situation and vice versa.

In 2013 when I started the site, there were a number of major new laws and interpretations released, not the least of which was the revised Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) with its 290 articles, the Supreme People’s Court’s accompanying 548-article interpretation, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate’s accompanying 708-article interpretation and the Ministry of Public Security’s 376-article implementation regulations. That’s a lot right there, and even reading through it can take an enormous amount of time.

There are a lot of us translating various documents, but we too often translate the same work, duplicating efforts constantly but rarely sharing the successes in any meaningful way.

EL: In introducing this interview I mentioned that with the increased number of bilingual experts, translation might be less relevant. The positive response to your site indicates that you aren’t alone in valuing translation—so, why is translation still important?

China Law Translate's mascot, Judge Bao, a general in 1000 AD but also a symbol of justice.

China Law Translate’s mascot, Judge Bao, a general in 1000 AD but also a symbol of justice.

JD: It’s a legitimate question, but I suspect that anyone who has ever practiced or studied law in China knows that language can still be a barrier. Translating legal texts requires a big skill set- not just excellent language ability, but also an understanding of both the Chinese and foreign legal systems. Law itself is already a kind of second language, and ensuring accurate communication across national languages and legal systems is not so easy.

The number of foreign nationals and organizations involved in China is still increasing, and they all have a practical need to understand Chinese law. At the same time, Chinese law is becoming more and more sophisticated, and this also makes translation more important. Where a quick summary might once have been enough to get a feel for the law, it is now necessary to actually parse the text and follow through to read its interpretations, local implementing regulations and so on. If China’s ongoing legal reforms are to be taken seriously, you have to understand what they really say.

EL: Your site has been used by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Congress. Have you been surprised by the response to your site?

JD: Well, we get fairly steady traffic of readers despite slow service times behind the firewall, but only about 1% of visitors have ever even opened the translation panel to contribute. Still, that the media and various governments find the translations useful means we are making a contribution.

One thing that has surprised me is the percentage of readers who are Chinese speakers coming to read Chinese

If only this guy had come to China Law Translate first!  This tattoo means "Chicken Noodle Soup"

If only this guy had come to China Law Translate first! This tattoo means “Chicken Noodle Soup”

language materials. That is to say, about 20% of the traffic is people in China, with their computer set to Chinese, reading Chinese law in Chinese. Sometimes when you set out to solve one problem you end up meeting another need entirely. My only guess as to what’s going on is that other online versions of Chinese laws just aren’t as searchable as ours are—they are often divided up into several pages and you can’t just search the text easily. We always talk about access to law—well, the site seems to be accidentally helping some Chinese people access their laws.

EL: What have been the most important or most cited translations?

JD: I sometimes say that instead of “China Law Translate” the site should be called “China Law Translated”, because in addition to straight translations, we do also provide explanations, commentaries and a real-time newsfeed. These include blog posts and original articles by me, (and anyone else who wants to submit) and also annotations made through a great comment system called Factlink that lets people make sidebar comments on specific chunks of a law.

So, some our most heavily trafficked pages have been translations of draft laws that other places aren’t likely to bother translating: The draft domestic violence law and the draft counter-terrorism law have both been among the site’s busiest pages. Others have been original pieces like an explanation I wrote about the crime of provocation (“ picking quarrels”) a poorly understood offense that has been used to detain a number of prominent activists. We’ve also had a lot of traffic on important case documents of interest to a wider foreign audience, such as the verdict of Xu Zhiyong.

EL: What’s the benefit of CLT’s translations over more formal and traditional processes, like a law school hiring a translator?

Don't get lost in translation!

Don’t get lost in translation!

JD: I love it when law schools, NGOs, governments etc. hire translators to create reliable bilingual versions of laws and documents to share with everyone. It just doesn’t happen very often. Translation is expensive, and usually still requires expert staff time to review if quality is to be assured, so its takes time on top of the translation fees. We avoid a lot of that by working together.

Also, those few translations that are shared publicly aren’t usually kept in a single location where everyone can find them all. But CLT isn’t just a repository for translations either, it’s truly collaborative. Once something is online, it keeps evolving, getting better through contributors comments and additions.

Finally, there are a few pay services that put out translations of key documents, but the pay wall limits the number of people who can use them, and honestly, I think we match them for quality. More importantly, they tend to cater to a different audience, focusing on documents involving business and transactional law, rather than the public law materials CLT emphasizes.

EL: Just to explain it to those who may not have ever seen the site, how exactly does it work?

JD: The documents on the site are broken into single sentence units of meaning for translation purposes. When you open the translation/editor mode, you can click on any of these translation units to make changes, and after you approve the change, it changes the way everyone coming to the site sees that translation.

Even if you don’t want to make changes, you can also use the translation mode to compare the translation to the original language. In reading through translations, I’ve found that I generally see at least one typo that I want to correct, so I encourage others to do this too.

On the off chance that vandals come through and change all the text of the translations, a record is kept of every change to every block of text, and they can be rolled back without any heartache.

EL: If you start translating a law, do you have to finish it? What’s the time commitment for your volunteers?

Not a big time commitment

Not a big time commitment

JD: There is no minimum or maximum time commitment; it’s an ad-hoc ongoing collaboration. And there is certainly no need to finish a translation in one sitting – many of the translations on the site are works in progress, and any portions that haven’t been translated just get displayed in the original language.

It’s a funny thing, I made the site precisely because nobody has time to translate everything by themself, but lots of colleagues still say they’d love to contribute if they only had the time. My thought is this, if you are looking for a certain part of a law, check our site, see if we have it and if that part of the law has been translated yet. If not, translate it so it’s there for the next person.

If you are really devoted, you could translate a random sentence or two a day, it’s a great way to practice language skills!

EL: What if someone who does a translation wants credit for it? Are you willing to allow that person’s name to appear on the translation?

JD: As long as you log in to the site, any translations you make are attributed to you, and anyone who looks at the translation history of a given translation block will see what you did. Most people seem to want NOT to be detected, and translate anonymously by not logging in.

If someone submits a completed full-text translation, I’m happy to put it up with their name (or logo) clearly indicated and an explanation that they submitted it. I do like to keep the entire site editable, so I would probably also put up a PDF of the document as originally submitted so that nobody would wrongly attribute any subsequent changes to the donor.

For folks who consider themselves active members of our community, we have a system where frequent users earn points for visiting the site and commenting and can earn badges or even t-shirts. Of course, if a regular participant wants to put their CLT participation on their resume or what have you, I’d be happy to vouch for them.

EL: How do you guarantee accuracy?

JD: Oh, hah, I don’t. We do our best, and I’ve corrected a few obvious mistakes more than once, but at least at CLT every reader can correct mistakes they see.

As I mentioned above, the secondary goal of the site, beyond creating translations, is creating a forum for discussing translations. There’s room for disagreement about what terms mean even between native speakers discussing their own language’s legal terminology, and it only gets worse when you start translating.

If something on the site seems wrong or bizarre, bring it up in the comments and see if others have something to contribute. This is a conversation that needs to be happening for the benefit of both Chinese and English speaking users.

EL: China Law Translate has been around for a little over two years. Where do you see it going in the future?

JD: In addition to trying to expand our translator and editor base, I’m trying to encourage other organizations doing translations to let me cross post their content. I know that lots of groups do translations for a meeting or case that they only use once, maybe not realizing the value that these documents have for a wider audience. This is just one more way to make the site more complete and collaborative.

EL: Well, thank you again Jeremy first off for creating such an amazing resource and this interview. In case any of our readers are inspired by this interview, they should go to www.chinalawtranslate.com, right?

JD: Yes! Go to China Law Translate to translate your first sentence today!

To help get you started, here is the intro video that guides you in how to translate on China Law Translate:

Translation: Speech by Mo Shaoping Discussing the Dangers for China’s Lawyers

By , February 16, 2011

Human Rights Lawyer, Mo Shaoping

Last July, Caijing Magazine – an independent, hard-hitting financial news outlet in Beijing – convened its first ever conference on the status of lawyers in Chinese society.  Titled “China’s Lawyers at a Crossroads” (summary of the conference can be found here – in Chinese), the conference featured notable criminal defense and human rights lawyers and professors such as Professors Jiang Ping and Chen Guangzhong of the prestigious China University of Politics and Law.

Through a series of speeches (conference website here – in Chinese), the panelists seemed to agree that the road China’s lawyers have been forced to walk in recent years has been rough and full of pot holes.  Rights-defending lawyer (or in Chinese weiquan lawyer), Mo Shaoping, known more recently for representing Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, provided a clear analysis of the regression of the legal profession these past few years.  Below is an English translation of his fascinating, if not depressing, speech.  The Chinese original can be found here.

Ultimately, Mo provides some hope for China’s lawyers – a far-off, distant hope, but hope none the less, echoing some of the sentiment found in Bob Dylan’s “Paths of Victory” (trails of trouble/roads of battle/paths of victory/we shall walk).  In all, his speech provides an interesting insight into how one of China’s most prominent lawyers views the development of the profession.

China’s Lawyers Confront Systemic Dangers
By Mo Shaoping
Speech presented at Caijing’s Forum on “China’s Lawyers at a Crossroads”
July 10, 2010

I think I will discuss the legal profession and the rule of law from a macro perspective.

First, what is the present situation concerning lawyers and the legal system?  I agree with both Prof. Jiang Ping’s and Ms. Jin Liping’s views: at present, there has been a regression for the legal profession and the rule of law.  And this is not an ordinary regression; the movement backwards has been very great.

You can see China’s current regression from a rule of law from several angles.

1.  Originally, the path and direction of judicial reform was for judicial independence.  Now, this isn’t mentioned; instead, “[The Doctrine of] the Three Supremes” is promoted.

2.  The original direction of reform was to bring professionalization and specialization to the judges, but now the emphasis is on the decades- old “Ma Xiwu” adjudication method of following the masses.

3.  Originally, there was emphasis on judicial neutrality and passivity: the judiciary should be passive and neutral.  Now, the emphasis is on the active initiative of the judiciary.  I myself consider this a step back; even though there are very intense and different opinions in this debate, I consider a more active judiciary a regression.

4.  Originally, there was the emphasis that lawyers associations would be self-regulating, autonomous organizations.  But now, the leaders of our Ministry of Justice want lawyers to “pay attention to politics, take into consideration the overall situation, and observe proper discipline;”there is no mention of the word “law,” there is no mention that lawyers should follow the Lawyers Law when providing service to clients.

Second, does the legal profession exist in an environment and system of rule of law?  I believe that the legal professional environment and system does not exist under a rule of law.  Even though we have emphasized rule of law for many, many years and have regarded a [creating] a rule of law country as the goal, I believe our current system and environment is not one that relies on rule of law, rather it relies on the law of the Party [the Chinese Communist Party].  From the selection and appointment of [Party] cadres, we are under the Department’s control.  Our armed forces are under the absolute leadership of the Military Commission of the Party and thus absolutely obeys Party leadership; our ideology is under the increasingly strict control of the Propaganda Department, including the judiciary’s ideology.  The Political and Legal Affairs Committee of the Party is in charge of the People’s Courts; of course, it’s not only just the courts, it also includes the People’s Procuracy, the public security bureaus and the judicial administration bodies.  From a theoretical legal perspective, China itself does not follow a principle of judicial independence in organizing its judicial system.  From a reading on the 126 articles of the [Chinese] Constitution, it’s the People’s Courts that exercise judicial power; administrative bodies, societal groups, and individuals are not suppose to interfere with the courts’ judicial power.  But you cannot say that about Party interference and thus we have a Party-run political-legal justice system.  China’s 1954 Constitution is better than this current regulation.  The 1954 Constitution was clear and simple: only the independent courts administered the judicial power, and the courts only answered to the “law.” It was very clear, there was no mention of administrative bodies’ interference, or society groups of individuals.  So did Party organs have the right to interfere [under the 1954 Constitution]?  No.

Third, under this system and environment, is the legal profession one with true freedom of speech?  My answer is similarly “no.”  Right now, criminalizing speech can be found everywhere.  Prof. Jiang Ping has paid particular attention to the case of Liu Xiaobo.  From hundreds of articles with over two million words, I can pick six articles and over 674 words to maintain that you are inciting subversion of state power [the crime Liu Xiaobo was convicted of].  A few days ago, I ran into a Hunan professor.  He requested that the Supreme People’s Court conduct an investigation of the lawyer perjury provision of Article 306 of the Criminal Law;  [the request] was signed jointly by other lawyers.  Allegedly, the local justice ministry and local lawyers association disciplined him.  From the perspective of the Legislation Law, not even a lawyer, but rather any regular person can request that the National People’s Congress conduct an official examination of any law, but when a lawyer, who has a closer relationship with the law, asks the people’s court to conduct an investigation, he is punished.  Thus, our profession is not one with freedom of speech and expression.

Fourth, are our lawyers associations self-regulated and autonomous?  That’s also not the case.  Prof. Zhang just mentioned that we are not able to have confidence in our lawyer associations, these lawyer associations sometimes, I myself think do not protect lawyers’ legal rights.  Instead they work to help judicial administration bureaus punish lawyers.  Of course, from another perspective, a country that uses a branch of its government to control lawyers’, this is rarely viewed as a true democratic, rule of law country; very, very rarely seen as such.

Just raising in passing the problem of lawyer fees, I hold a very negative view of the regulation concerning attorney fees.  The regulation on attorney fees lacks an adequate basis in law and violates the Price Law.  The Price Law includes nothing more than three kinds of prices: government-set prices, government-guided prices, and market-set prices.  There isn’t sufficient basis in the law to say that attorney fees are government-set or government-guided, but at the same time, [China’s] regulations standardizing attorney fees runs counter to the rest of the world.  In many countries, there is a limit on the lowest amount that can be charged – this prevents vicious competition – but there is no limit on the maximum that can be charged.  In practice, this method is difficult to operate.  Moreover, this causes some excellent lawyers [to leave], for example, criminal defense lawyers abandon the criminal defense bar.

Fifth, what should China’s lawyers’ next step be?  To be honest, I also don’t know what the next steps should be.  Of course, I still firmly believe that [China] will inevitably move toward democracy, rule of law and constitutionalism; this is the tide of history.  To borrow a phrase from Dr. Sun Yat-sen: in the majestic tide of history, those who follow the current shall flourish, those who go contrary to it shall perish.  Although the road will be very tortuous and dangerous, China will eventually become a democratic, rule of law, constitutional government and no one can stop it.

Panorama Theme by Themocracy

%d bloggers like this: