Translating “The Economist” Behind China’s Great Firewall

Andy Baio writes about The Eco Team, volunteers in China who translate each issue of The Economist and distribute it, by PDF, to their audience:

It’s an impressive example of online collaboration with simple tools, a completely non-commercial effort by volunteers interested in spreading knowledge while improving their English skills.

In the process, they’re taking a political risk in translating controversial articles about their homeland behind the Great Firewall.

Their operation is quite sophisticated. Each week, the table of contents for the current issue of The Economist is posted to the group’s website, and members choose which stories they’ll translate. Once their work is done, they post the translated drafts, and others leave comments to suggest corrections or help with complex passages.

Each article weaves together paragraphs of the original text and its translation, while other volunteers suggest their corrections in the comments. The lead editor incorporates all the comments, eventually arriving at a final draft ready for publication.

Once the translations are complete, the team publishes a new edition of Eco Weekly, their PDF publication. Click the image above to see the cover page of a recent issue.

The project carries with it some risks, because The Economist is sometimes critical of China, and there are rumors that critical articles are ripped out of copies before they are sold in newsstands. But the group is careful about its work, publishes the translations in a forum that’s blocked from search engines, requires login, and warns members to exercise judgement in publishing articles on sensitive subjects.

The Economist’s take on this:

[Shi] Yi [the team’s current leader] said the Eco Team was granted official permission to do translation in their forum exclusively, since it’s an entirely non-profit and volunteer effort.

For an entirely volunteer effort, it’s an impressive example of collaboration, effective use of technology, and consistent focus on producing a reliable product:

“Like the forum name says, producing a Chinese version of The Economist is our goal. But we’re still young and immature; very amateur, not professional. So what? Because we are young, we have the fervor, the enthusiasm, the passion. Because we are amateurs, we’ll double our efforts to do our best. As long as we wish, we can be successful and do a good job!”

Via Daring Fireball.

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