Posts tagged: China Law Translate

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 ( 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, 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:

Project Unlock – What’s Up with Caging the Mentally Ill in China?

By , July 24, 2013

Over at the new blog – China Law Translate – Jeremy Daum has translated two recent mainland articles about individuals with mental illness and the impact of China’ new Mental Health Law (articles are here and here). 

On October 26, 2012, after working on a draft law for close to 27 years, China finally passed its first Mental Health Law; that law took effect on May 1, 2013.  Unfortunately, much of the focus of the foreign press about the new law has largely been on the changes to involuntary commitment and whether those changes will reduce the threat that political dissidents  will be wrongfully and involuntarily committed.  What’s been less of a focus has been the law’s impact on its actual target audience: those with diminished mental capacity. 

And that’s why Daum’s two translations – both recently published articles from the Chinese pres s – are interesting.  Both focus on the plight of the mentally ill.  Both examine the all too prevalent practice of caging severely mentally ill individuals. 

The pictures that accompany the articles – photos of individuals chained and in cages, some of whom are stark naked – are shocking to say the least.  And it would be easy to conclude that this reflects the callousness of a culture toward the mentally ill.  But nothing could be further from the truth – if anything, the caging of these individuals is a result of the dire situation of mental health care in China, especially in the rural areas. 

In “Cage People,” the Chinese reporter estimates that in Hebei Province alone 100,000 severely mentally ill individuals (usually considered people with schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, etc.) are kept in cages as their only form of treatment.  Although the reporter gives no citation for this number (thus use this number with caution), the use of restraints and cages has been well documented in other sources.  In a 2011 World Psychiatry article entitled Mental Health System in China: History, Recent Service Reform and Future Challenges which examined China’s first experimental national mental health program – known as 686 Program and adopted in 2004 – the authors note the need for the program to include support for unlocking and freeing mentally ill individuals and finding treatment for them.

Lack of Mental Health Professionals

More than anything, this caging is a last resort in a system that has provided little financial support and few specialists in mental health.  China estimates that over 100 million people suffer from some form of mental illness; 16 million of those suffer from severe mental illness.  According to Mental Health System in China, China only has 16,103 licensed psychiatrists and 24,793 licensed psychiatric nurses;  in other words, 1.24 licensed psychiatrists for every 100,000 people and 1.91 licensed psychiatric nurses for every 100,000 people.  China is far below the  global average, where there are 4.15 psychiatrists and 12.97 psychiatric nurses per 100,000 people.  Id.  As a result, it’s not surprising that 91.8% of all the mentally ill in China never seek help.  For those with severe mental illness, 27.6% never receive any type of help and 12.0% of the severely mentally ill only visited non-mental health professionals.  Id.  

Social workers, who are key in a community-based mental health care system, are few in China.  However, China is rapidly expanding its program, with the goal of training 3 million social workers by 2020.  See Renne C. Lee, UH Aids China in the Developing Social Work Profession, Houston Chronicle (Mar. 4, 2013).

Disparities between Urban and Rural Life in China – extends to mental health care

Disparity Between Rural and Urban Areas

But what makes that shortage even worse is that since the economic reforms, there has been a brain drain from the rural clinics to more profitable hospitals in the urban areas.  See Yanzhong Huang, The Sick Man of Asia, Foreign Affairs (November/December 2011).  Even though the Chinese government has recognized the need to institute a community-based care model for mental illness, where patients are not all hospitalized but instead are treated while remaining in the community, the Chinese government still expends much of its resources on psychiatric hospitals.  See Mental Health System in China.  This inherently means that money will flow to the urban areas. 

Lack of Adequate Insurance and Funding to Rural Health Care Services

Finally, even with the reforms of health care funding, especially in the rural areas, mental health care is still too expensive for many Chinese.  According to WHO, only 2.35% of China’s total health budget is spent on mental health (in the U.S. 5.6% of the national health care spending is on mental health – see Washington Post article);  as of 2011, less than 15% of China’s population had insurance which covered mental health (although 45% of US mental health patients cite cost as a major burden).  See Mental Health System in China. 

Due to these factors, many severely mentally ill in the rural areas have only their families to take care of them.  With little to no treatment, these families sit by while their relatives’ illness only gets worse.  As a last resort, these families resort to restraints, not because they want to but because they have no choice. 

Does the Mental Health Law Change the Current Situation?

Chapter IV of the Mental Health Law– “Rehabilitation from Mental Disorders” – creates a community based model of care which should limit

All for One, One for All – Community Based Mental Health Services

hospitalization to only necessary situations.  This type of model allows those with diminished capacity to be integrated into society and is in line with China’s commitments under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (which China has ratified and the U.S. still has not).  Rural and village governments are required to assist those families obtain the services they need.  This assistance includes financial assistance. 

Unfortunately, the law leaves the funding of what could be a useful framework to the local areas.  For already impoverished villages, they just don’t have the resources to carry out their responsibilities.  As Daum’s translation of “The Need to Promote the Mental Health Law” demonstrates, even when families apply for their legal mandated “Minimum Subsistence Allowances,” the local fund is often inadequate and does not enable them to seek the medical help their relative needs; there will still be out of pocket costs that are too high for many villagers.   

As Huang Xuetao, a lawyer at the Equal Justice Initiative, noted in the article, the hopeful prospects of the Mental Health Law are diminished by three things: (1) the lack of education to the people about the protections of the new law; (2) the lack of funding for mental health care and (3) the government’s  lack of attention to the matter. 

Until those factors change, especially the last two, China’s Mental Health Law will not achieve its objectives.  However, these frank articles in the Chinese press – soon after the Mental Health Law took effect – might be a positive sign that change is on the way. 

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