Sat, 06 Mar 1999

Misleading translation

Harry Tjan Silalahi made a serious mistake when he said that the word huachiao literally means a bridge to China (see article titled Encouraging pluralism would create a richer RI culture on Feb. 14, 1999). Any first year student of Chinese Studies Program would have learned that the word qiao as used in huaqiao does not mean "bridge" because the radical of the word is "person". The word qiao which means bridge has "wood" as the radical. (Please note that Chinese words are very complicated; they not only have sound and tone but also "radical".) Thus, huaqiao has nothing to do with a bridge to China, and consequently does not convey the idea that overseas Chinese are a bridge to China. The word huaqiao literally means "Chinese sojourners" or Chinese who live abroad.

A similar mistake is repeated when Harry Tjan explains that "Republic of China" is an acceptable and correct translation, instead of "Republic of Tionghoa". He should know that the Chinese designate their country as Zhonghua renmin gongheguo which literally translates as "People's Republic of Zhonghua."

Unfortunately, English dictionaries do not list the word Zhonghua or Tionghoa, only the word "China". As a rule, I think, we cannot use English translations as a standard for Indonesian translations. While it is possible to translate Zhonghua renmin gongheguo into English as "People's Republic of China", it would be misleading to do the same in Indonesian. I am suggesting that the current Indonesian translation (Republik Rakyat China) should be amended immediately; what I am arguing against is the reckless way of doing translations, which could lead to serious, unintended consequences.


Chinese Studies Program

The University of Indonesia