Authors: Nancy Tsai
Due to the historical implications of colonialism and civil war, three distinct Chinese identities emerged: The People’s Republic of China (1949-present), the Republic of China (1912-49 in China; 1949-present in Taiwan), and Hong Kong (a British colony from 1842-1997). As a result, how the Chinese language was exercised diverged according to the culture, politics, and dialects of each locale. The naming of foreign persons, in particular, provides valuable insight into their respective political, cultural, and linguistic ideologies. Since Hong Kong has been returned to China in 1997, this paper will focus on the different naming practices of China and Taiwan, the basis of their character selections, and the arguments that support their respective choices. The naming of the American president, Barack Obama, will be used as the primary example since it became a relatively high-profile case when the US embassy in China attempted to “correct” his assigned Chinese name before his first visit to China in November 2009.
In the course of reviewing the respective approaches favored by China and Taiwan, which at a glance seem to both proceed from a phonetic basis, this paper will also attempt to point out that notions such as “accuracy” or “objectivity” are in reality conceptual constructs that better enable the exercising of power and advancement of self interests, whether they be political or cultural. Though straight-laced pragmatic thinking, in an effort to avoid confusion, would favor standardization in the translation of names, this paper, in the end, would like to argue that different translations have valid reasons to exist within the context of cross-strait relations between China and Taiwan, in which a translation no longer just functions to denote the foreign, but acts as an indicator of identity and a certain political and cultural stance.
translation, transliteration, power, domestication, ideology, standardization