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Pet Sins February 2001

Mistranslated English subtitles in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon give wrong impression of Chinese culture

I was watching Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon in the United States. I listened to the Chinese dialogue and read the English subtitles at the same time. There are a couple of instances in which the translator of the subtitles seemed to purposely create examples of Chinese culture's sexism when there was no such connotation in the actual Chinese dialogue. I don't know if this is just an innocent mistake - after all the original script was English, which was then translated to Chinese - or is it something more sinister?

In the scene where Yu Jiaolong (mistranslated as Jen. Jiaolong actually means "pampered dragon") steals the Green Destiny sword, the security guard shouts, "Stop the thief!" in Chinese. Now "Stop the thief!" has absolutely no connotation of gender in Chinese, but the English subtitles say, "Stop him!".This mistranslation introduces something that is not in the story - the idea that the security guard assumed the gender of the thief, thereby reflecting the sexism of Chinese society.

In another scene, Shulian (transliterated as Shu Lien in the English subtitles) and the aristocrat Jiaolong have a conversation about Jiaolong's impending arranged marriage. Jiaolong expresses her envy for the older woman's lifestyle. She imagines that Shulian must be carefree and uninhibited, being unmarried. Shulian just tells her that in her youth, she too was arranged to marry a man. Her fiance was later killed while defending Li Mu Bai. Although Shulian and Mu Bai fell in love later, they did not even confess their love to each other because they felt obligated to honor the memory of Shulian's late fiance.Jiaolong responds that this should not be an inhibition to Shulian and Mu Bai's love. Shulian replies: "Social customs and duties are not observed only by those in the Government Official class. Others out in the world have to honor social protocols and morals too". Shulian is referring to Jiaolong's background as the daughter of a prominent government official, and her own working class background. But her speech about class differences and social duties was translated as "A woman's duties still have to be done" in the English subtitles. As you can see, the actual Chinese speech has NO reference to gender at all.

I think whoever is in control of the contents of the translation (not necessarily the translators themselves) has an agenda to reinforce European American stereotypes of sexist China.


Comment from 'Ed.'
This American trend of deliberately making great effort to portray Chinese society as sexist is also present in Disney's Mulan.