From China: Another Translation Request


There it was, another heads-up notice that my WeChat message box was in need of checking.

Glancing down, I saw it was from Bruce, yet a twelfth time in the last 3 days.

“We have another translation needs your advice,” he wrote, using the plural “we” in reference to the school.

Oh, joy. Here we go again!


From the previous post, you know that I was asked for help from Bruce Lu, one of our English teachers who has been assigned by administrators as the school’s official translation expert. The former reported translation task was for a special Wall of Honor where student and teacher accomplishments would be displayed. For our college’s overseas partner representatives, whose visits will hopefully be resuming next year, the school officials are requesting all prominent Chinese signs around campus to have corresponding English translations.

After numerous back-and-forths between myself and Bruce, headings were finally agreed upon. The following were chosen with faculty and leader approval: Wall of Distinction; Student Honors; Faculty Honors and Student Work Display.

I was pleased that Bruce had felt my small offerings were do-able and acceptable, although it took us awhile to get to that point. I will say there was a huge sigh of relief on my part when Bruce took my suggestions and agreed with them. No more “back to the drawing board” for either of us. Whew!

New Request

This next ask was a bit more challenging, not to mention daunting.

Bruce was wanting the new school motto to be translated.

“We have different versions,” Bruce wrote. “Which do you like?”

He included the motto in Chinese ( 崇 德, 博学, 尚 俭, 笃行 ) and the English counterparts. His 3 choices were:

a). Morality, Erudition, Frugality and Action

b). Advocating morality and frugality , and Pursue erudition and action

c). Be moral, be erudite, be frugal, and be scrupulous

“Which do I like” he asked me? Hmmm. Well, none of them.

Numerous Hours Later

I am by no means a Chinese language scholar. Despite all my years in China, my language skills are limited to your average daily transactional use, not so much to academia. After several hours of consulting with Bruce, using various Internet translation tools, plugging into synonym mechanisms for better vocabulary choices, and re-arranging, re-thinking English structures to reach a better couplet format to match the Chinese, this is what I came up with:

  1. Championing Morality and Prudence; Pursuing Knowledge and Diligence
  2. Upholding Morality and Frugality; Pursuing Knowledge and Effort
  3. Upholding High Principles through Prudence; Pursuing Knowledge through Effort
  4. Achieving High Morals through Prudence; Pursuing Knowledge through Active Effort

Requesting Assistance

As of yesterday morning, I was still waiting to hear from several of my Chinese friends who are fluent in both English and Chinese, with the hope that they could add their 2-cents worth. After all, we’re talking about a world-wide audience here, not merely something contained to the campus.

This motto will be placed on letterheads and seen throughout the college’s website. It will hold a place of honor in campus buildings or be lettered on announcement boards. It will be printed on diplomas, embossed on faculty and student awards, and be featured on powerpoint presentations. It will be seen by English speaking scholars from other educational institutions who have a relationship with our school, and I can guarantee, despite others’ cultural tolerance, our college will be judged by what that motto says. Misspellings, odd word choices, grammatical errors . . .. The Chinese administrators want to present an impressive image, not just through the visual improvements of the campus but through a high standard of intellectual presence being portrayed as well.

Correct English translations are imperative to reach that holistic stately image goal.

The Finalized Head-nod

While I’d like to take credit for the final translation, which both Bruce and I are raving over, I must turn over that honor to Rev. Franklin Wu and his wife, Jean. Both worked many, many years in the China Program through the Presbyterian Church and were my orientation leaders and supervisors during my early years with Amity, 1991 – 94. Their dedication to their denomination, and to the China Amity Program, were a monumental blessing to all of us who went through their loving, tolerant and wise expertise when it came to us newbies living, working and engaging in our Chinese communities. I, and others, are eternally grateful for their guidance and advice given those many years ago.

While now retired, in their 90s, both are still very active in US church circles as Chinese-American scholars. Who better than Jean and Frank to add their two-cents worth to what Bruce and I were struggling with for several days?

Here is the note from Jean Wu, sent to me and forwarded on to Bruce:

Dear Connie,
Sorry for the delay in answering your emails!  These mottos are Confucian values and need much pondering!  The following are Frank’s translation:

崇德 – Embracing Virtue

博學 – Broadening Knowledge

尚儉 – Honoring Frugality

篤行 – Practicing Diligence 

If you do not like Frugality, how about Simplicity?
Frank likes the idea of adding “ing” to the verbs to make them more dynamic.  It is in the spirit of Confucius “The Great Learning” that said “止於至善,ending at the utmost goodness.”  In other words, it is a process that we keep working on, never stopping.
Take care! Jean

Bruce’s Pitch to the Administrators

Bruce and I both agreed “Simplicity” best met the needs of a foreigner’s understanding. Thus the Luzhou Vocational and Technical School’s motto will read as:

Embracing Virtue; Broadening Knowledge; Honoring Simplicity; Practicing Diligence

Below find my college’s website. Although in Chinese, there are so many pictures of our fairly new 5-year-old campus, including new additions since I was there over a year ago. Be looking for that motto to spring up in the next month or so. And know that Bruce and I had a hand in it all.

Here’s wishing you Peace ( 平安, Ping-An) for your day, everyone!

About connieinchina

I have been in the Asia region for 30 years as an English language teacher. 28 of those have been spent with the Amity Foundation, a Chinese NGO that works in all areas of development for the Chinese people. Amity teachers are placed at small colleges throughout China as instructors of English language majors in the education field. In other words, my students will one day be English teachers themselves in their small villages or towns once they graduate. Currently, this is my 13th year in Luzhou Vocational and Technical College. The college is located in Luzhou city (loo-joe), Sichuan Province, a metropolis of 5 million people located next to the Yangtze River .
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to From China: Another Translation Request

  1. Kate Lindsay says:

    Connie, good work twist you and Bruce with the assist from Frank and Jean! I know how much effort you put into this motto…..having experienced only a very very very small request of this nature from Chinese students. Well done!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s