Self-Organized Citizen Translations of Harry Potter 7

(yWeekend)  University and Secondary Students Were The Main Forces in Citizen Translations of Harry Potter Book 7.  By Xu Fan (徐帆).  July 26, 2007.

 [in translation]

On July 21, 2007, <Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows> (hereafter abbreviated to <Harry Potter 7>) was released around the world simultaneously.  An unprecedented Harry Potter mania then seized the world.  Since the initially released version was the English-language version, many people who could not read English began to search for translations on the Internet.

Our reporter researched the subject and was surprised to learn that 

When the reporter went to search for Chinese-language translations of <Harry Potter 7> on the Internet, he found out that the most popular version might be the one by the <Harry Potter 7 Bar Translation Team>.  This team is also known as the Hogwarts Translation Academy or the Hogwarts Translation Team.  In their electronic book, there are signatures for the translator, editor and reviewer (usually Internet aliases) in front of each chapter.  If you click on the "refresh" button, you can get to the latest revision.

The person who was in charge of recruiting the translators and publishing the updates was the Baidu bar operator of the <Harry Potter 7 Bar>.  His nickname is Ziyang Xiami.  When the reporter reached this bar operator, he was astonished to find that it was just a first-year high school student who preferred the reporter to call him Fellow Student Xiao Wang.

He told the reporter: "Based upon past practice, whenever a new Harry Potter book came out, there were many spontaneously organized translation teams.  Most of the volunteer translators are not very good with their English and it is hard for a single person to complete the task.  But the Chinese-language translation from the Humanities Press usually take almost 3 months before it comes out.  Few Harry Potter fans could wait that long.  We did this spontaneously on a voluntary basis because we want the Harry Potter fans to read the book earlier.  Since 2003 when <Harry Potter 4> came out, translation teams have appeared on the Internet.

"Actually, we had obtained a MS Word file of the English-language original on July 18.  But some of the core administrative members of the team reached the consensus that we will respect the original.  Therefore, we held back and began only on July 21 when the book was released officially around the world."

When did the <Harry Potter 7 Bar> begin to prepare for the translation team?  Xiao Wang said: "Since July 2, the three or four core members had been working separately to make posts on the Internet for volunteer translators.  During the earlier recruitment process, we came across another translation team.  I spoke to the person in charge over there, and we decided to coalesce into a single team.

"My principal duty is in recruitment.  On an average day, about 30 people leave their QQ numbers to join.  About 200 volunteers have contacted me.  We had to give tests to these people.  The test material came from English-language paragraphs about Harry Potter taken from overseas websites.  Those paragraphs do not appear in the Harry Potter novels themselves.  Afterwards, we checked the quality of the translation.  We recruited two waves of people, in which about 60 people passed the test.  We set up a work schedule of based upon division of labor.  Basically, there are four or five people per group.  The translation in each chapter has to go through translation, editing, proof-reading and final review.  This is to ensure the quality of the translation."

So why kind of English-language skills must the translators have?  Our reporter asked Xiao Wang to go through the list.  Xiao Wang looked at the names and said: "These people are mostly university students.  They are basically second- or third-year students."

The reporter naturally conjectured: "More from the English Department?"  Xiao Wang replied: "No.  We have fewer from the English Departments.  These applicants have basically stated that they passed Grade Four or Grade Six in university English.  The English majors tend to go for Specialty Grade Four or Specialty Grade Eight, and they don't go out for Grade Four or Grade Six.  Actually, people outside the English Department can do translations.  Take me as an example.  I am still a first-year high school student, but I have no problems with reading the original novel.  There are some terms that I have to consult the dictionary for, but I can basically read the novel fluently."

It was even more astonishing as Xiao Wang went through the other translators: "There are about 20 high school students.  They are mainly third-year high school students who are on summer vacation after taking the university entrance examinations.  Among us, there are about seven or eight who have previously participated in translating Harry Potter books.  For the majority, this was their first participation in a large-scale translation project.  Previously, they had only done some translations for practice during their spare time."

The <Harry Potter 7 Bar Translation Team> was obviously not the only group who were turning passionate Harry Potter fans to do spontaneously organized translations.  This reporter went to a number of Internet forums with large concentrations of Harry Potter fans and found several stylistically different versions of uneven quality.

At Baidu's <Harry Potter 7 Bar>, the reporter went through more than 60 pages of posts and found out that there are five or six Chinese-language translations of the ending of <Harry Potter 7>.  For the curious Harry Potter fans, they were most concerned about the ending for Harry Potter and his friends.  Therefore, the postlude from the middle-aged Harry Potter nineteen years later may be the earliest part that was translated and posted on the Internet.

The reporter turned over the various versions that he had gathered to Beijing's Hengjin Hengtai Information Technology Limited Company so that they could used a newly developed software for document search.  The conclusion was that the first appearance was at a translation post at <Energy Bar> by ID "TONYMAK" at 20:09 on July 16.

When the reporter interviewed Xiao Wang, he said that the best translation of the ending was a post at <Energy Bar>.  The translation was the same one that the reporter found.  When the reporter asked: "Could he be the first Chinese person to translate the ending of <Harry Potter 7>?  Xiao Wang said: "Very likely.  Very likely.  The <Energy Bar> is a community which is mainly about Harry Potter and it is very timely on information related to <Harry Potter 7>.  Based upon the circumstances surrounding the post, this person posted the Chinese translation of the ending of <Harry Potter 7> at 20:09, July 16.  He made certain improvements over the next few days.  The final version was dated July 20."

Xiao Wang was talking to the reporter by telephone while he was browsing the Internet.  Suddenly, he cried out: "Heavens!  There is a problem at <Energy Bar>.  They are carrying our work without authorization."

Upon inquiry by our reporter, Xiao Wang explained: "We have a community in which we publish the latest translations.  Only our workers are authorized to enter the area.  We are presently telling the world that we have translated up to Chapter 14, but we have actually completed the entire translation."

The reporter was shocked.  At noon on the same day, the reporter was in contact with Xiao Wang and he said that they had not yet finished the translation.  But now Xiao Wang said that he had misspoken.  He had to explain that they acted responsibly and did not want to release the news prematurely.  He said: Our steps are to translate, edit, proof-read and review.  We have gone through all 36 chapters with the translation and editing steps.  We are almost done with the proof-reading and reviewing of chapters 15 to 36.  We are relatively slow in our release because we want to act responsibly towards our readers.  If we wanted to release as soon as we were done with the translation, we could have done so on Monday evening."

The reporter pressed with the question: "As of now, how many times has this version been downloaded?"

Xiao Wang said: "We do not have the numbers for now.  There were too many people downloading on Monday evening.  We were forced to shut down the server due to excessive traffic.  This server is a personal space with about 100M per day allowed.  The book runs around 100K.  This means that after 10,000 people downloaded the book, the traffic quota for the day will be exhausted and late coming netizens will no longer be able to download.  Since the hit rate is so high, we now have several different downloading addresses.  Over the past couple of days, we were checking the Internet.  About 80% of the versions were our translations.  I can say that we have the Chinese-language translation that is getting the highest attention on the Internet."

Due to his high level of attention, their work has been "pirated."  Xiao Wang told the reporter: "In each chapter of our electronic book, we have the names of our translation team.  Some people downloaded the book, reproduced our contents while deleting the names and then they posted to the Internet again.  We are helpless because this is beyond our control.

So has Xiao Wang considered that their efforts may also make the People's Publishing House which owns the rights to publish the translation of <Harry Potter 7> feel helpless?

Xiao Wang had obviously been asked this questions many times already: "Earlier, netizens spoke to us about this and we consulted the relevant laws and regulations.  There was one that says: For purposes of appreciation, exchange, learning and discussion, translations may be made without the authorization of the original authors.  But the name of the original work and the name of the author must be made known.  We have definitely done that.  I don't think that there will be a lot of trouble.  I have personally called the Humanities Press."

But the response from  Humanities Press was somewhat vague, and this reporter can tell that Xiao Wang has some worries: "Many translation posts are disappearing without explanation.  The situation is worst at Baidu's "Harry Potter Bar."  Things are slightly better at the "Harry Potter 7 Bar" which has probably not received the highest level of attention.  We are not posting the original text, just the hyperlinks.  How shall I say?  They are protecting their rights, while we only wanted to let Harry Potter fans read the book earlier.  We are doing this purely out of passion and not for money.  Some of our translators keep working until 3am.

"Actually, I feel that we have very little impact on the official translation of the book.  Genuine Harry Potter friends will always want to buy the official version, because the quality is better and they want to collect it.  I had done a poll at the <Harry Potter 7 Bar> about how Harry Potter fans want to read <Harry Potter 7>.  More than 100 persons participated, of which almost 70 want to buy the official Chinese-language translation.  Only 2 persons said that they will only read the Internet translation."

Through the technical search on the person "TONYMAK" at <Energy Bar> as well as the opinions of veteran Harry Potter fans, that seems to be the best person who translated the ending of <Harry Potter 7>.  This reporter was able to reach him before the article deadline.  His translation was praised by netizens as being fluent and excellent.  The surprising thing was that he was just a second-year high school student in Guangdong province.  "The school will start tutorial lessons in a couple of days, so I am trying to do my summer homework right now."

When the reporter informed him that he may be the first person who translated the ending of <Harry Potter 7>, he sounded befuddled: "I don't know about that.  Actually, on July 15 or thereabouts, I saw someone post a translation of the scan image of <Harry Potter 7>.  I thought that it was very fuzzy with lousy translations in some places.  When a clearer version came out, I made a revision.  I only wanted people to see the Chinese-language translation earlier."

This was not the first time that TONYMAK translated <Harry Potter 7>.  In 2005, when the English-language version of <Harry Porter 6> went on sale, he was a third-year junior high school student and he bought a copy of the book.  At the request from fellow students, he began to translate the whole book.  "It was very demanding work to do the translation.  I translated chapter by chapter.  By the time that I reached about two-thirds of the way, I could not go any further.  I have no plans on translating all of <Harry Potter 7>.  I have a lot of homework to do, and the summer tutorials will start soon."

When people like TONYMAK translate the ending of the leaked version of <Harry Potter 7>, is he guilty of violation of intellectual property rights?  Lawyer Zheng Yan of the Beijing Haotian Xinhe Legal Office told this reporter: "Suppose that <Harry Potter 7> was released prematurely by overseas booksellers and that overseas netizens obtained the scan images of the original book through legal means.  If the translation is done by netizens who include their own creativity and knowledge and they are not doing this for profit, there is no rights violation."

Previously, the media had interviewed the People's Publishing House about whether the Internet translations violated their rights.  Director Sun Xunlin of the Planning Department said that most of the Internet translations are not doing so for profit and therefore they cannot be censured.  But many of the websites that disseminate those translations do so for profit.  Therefore, the Internet service providers should be deleting those posts.  Sun Xunlin expressed his worry that the enthusiasm of Harry Potter fans may be used by commercial pirates to make money for themselves, thus affecting the sales of the official Chinese-language edition.

(New York Times)  Lots of Harry Potter books in China, not all of them by the author.  By Howard French.  July 31, 2007.

China could not wait for the official release date of the seventh book in the worldwide Harry Potter publishing franchise, a little more than a week ago. It came out here with an identical title a full 10 days before the official worldwide English language release - in a wholly unauthorized version.

Chinese writers and their fans are not having it with the idea that the seventh installment is the last word in the best-selling series, either. No one can say with any certainty what the full tally is, but there are easily a dozen fake Harry Potters on the market here already, and that is counting only bound versions of the mystery/adventure stories that are sold on street corners and can even be found in school libraries. Still more versions exist online.

Although they may bear her name, the proliferation of Harry Potter books here has nothing in common with the originator of the series, the British author J.K. Rowling, save for the appropriation of her famous characters' names. Here, the global Harry Potter phenomenon has mutated into something altogether Chinese: a combination of remarkable imagination and startling industriousness, all placed in the service of counterfeiting, literary fraud and copyright violation.

Wang Lili, editor of the China Braille Publishing House, which published "Harry Potter and the Chinese Porcelain Doll" in 2002, one of the numerous knockoffs here, said: "We published the book out of a very common incentive. Harry Potter was so popular that we wanted to enjoy the fruits of its widely accepted publicity in China."

The attitude reflected in Wang's comment goes a long way toward explaining not only the explosion of unauthorized Harry Potter literature in China, but also the much larger problem of rampant piracy in China, where travelers can find six different knockoffs of Viagra - without prescription - on display at airport drugstores, and where fake DVDs, fake Picassos, fake bottled water, fake cellphones and even near-identical copies of automobile models are widely available.

China has recently stepped up efforts to rein in the production, and especially the export, of fraudulent, dangerous and substandard goods, in the face of strong criticism from the United States and the European Union. Authors and editors say, however, that the sphere of literature and publishing is, at best, an afterthought.

Wei Bin, editor of the Writers' Publishing House, which investigates book piracy, said that his group's last survey, in 2001, showed that as many as 30 to 40 percent of the books on sale in China may be pirated.

"The focus of the government is not to fight against piracy," Wei said. "It seems they fight harder for banned publications, like pornography, political books, such as things written about the leadership, the government, and historical matters like the Cultural Revolution, the Anti-Rightist Campaign.

"They maintain tight control over such things, but as literary books, such as the ones we identify as being pirated, when we report the matter to the relevant authorities, they settle matters by leaving them unsettled."

An Boshun, editor of one of the biggest-selling works of Chinese fiction in recent years, "Wolf Totem," whose author has maintained his anonymity, said there were at least 15 million fake copies of the book in circulation here, compared with two million legal ones.

"I once even got a call from someone who said that he represented two pirate book businessmen and they wanted him to say thanks to me for my work," An said. "They wanted me to know that 'Wolf Totem' had brought many job opportunities to country folks working in printing shops in Hebei and Shandong Provinces."

The zest with which the Potter series has been copied can be seen in the titles available for sale in China.

These include "Harry Potter and the Half-Blooded Relative Prince," whose name in Chinese closely resembles a genuine title in the series, as well as many others that are pure inventions, blending everything from story lines lifted from J.R.R. Tolkien, to plots and snippets taken from famous kung fu epics and characters from Chinese literary classics, like "Journey to the West."

Although not exhaustive, the list includes "Harry Potter and the Hiking Dragon," "Harry Potter and the Chinese Empire," "Harry Potter and the Young Heroes," "Rich Dad, Poor Dad and Harry Potter," "Harry Potter and Leopard-Walk-up-to-Dragon," "Harry Potter and the Big Funnel," "Harry Potter and the Golden Armor," "Harry Potter and the Crystal Vase," and on and on.

In a story heard from one publisher after another, Wang said she was introduced to an aspiring author by a third party.

"I did not believe it at first, since it only took the person 20 days to write 200,000 words," she added. "But after reading it, I found that it was not bad. The author did not plagiarize Rowling's novels because the story was full of his own imagination. There was creativity and even magic in some of the plotting."

The iterations of Potter fraud and imitation are so copious they must be peeled back by the layer.

As in some other countries, there are unauthorized translations of real Harry Potter books and sometimes more than one version of a particular title may be available here.

There are books masquerading as works written by Rowling. There are copies of the genuine items - both English and Chinese - scanned, reprinted, bound and sold for a fraction of the authorized texts.

There are Harry Potter books published under names, real or assumed, of Chinese authors. There are books published under the imprint of major, established Chinese publishing houses, which the publishers themselves claim no knowledge of. And there are books by budding Chinese writers hoping to piggyback the series' fame and make it as authors, sometimes only to have their fake Potters copied and distributed by underground publishers who, naturally, pay them no royalties.

"I bought Harry Potter 1-6 for my son a couple of years ago, and when he finished reading them he kept asking me to tell him what happens next," said Li Jingsheng, one such author, a manager at a Shanghai textile factory. "We couldn't wait, so I began making up my own story and in May last year I typed it up on my computer. I had to get up early and go to bed late to write this novel, usually spending one hour, from 6 to 7 in the morning and 10 to 11 in the evening to write it, averaging about 3,000 words a day."

The result was "Harry Potter and the Showdown," a 250,000-word novel, the final version of which he placed recently on Web sites, followed by a notice saying he was looking for publishers. The book quickly logged 150,000 readers on a popular Chinese site,'s Harry Potter fan Web page.

"This is fantastic," Gu Guaiguai, an admiring reader, wrote online about "Showdown." "I wonder if Rowling would bother to continue to write if she had read it."

Another reader was even more breathless. "You are the pride of our Harry Potter fans," he wrote, adding, "We expect you to go on and write Harry Potter number eight," which Li has in fact already begun to write. Its working title is "Harry Potter and the Unquiet World."

For all of the reader enthusiasm, no publishers contacted Li, a 35-year-old high school graduate who grew up in rural Henan Province and said that he and his wife, who works at the same factory, together make about $600 a month.

But that didn't stop his book turning up for sale in a bound version on the streets of Beijing, Tianjin, Dalian and Shenzhen under the imprint of the People's Literature Publishing House, the official publisher of the Harry Potter series in China, which says it had nothing to do with the title.

"No, we didn't publish Li Jingsheng's novel," said Sun Shunlin, director for business development of the People's Literature Publishing House. "You are not supposed to use the name of Harry Potter anywhere else other than J.K. Rowling's own books. Online novels about Harry Potter are not consistent with copyright concerns, not to mention bound books."

Not all book editors hewed to this strict interpretation of copyright, however. Lu Jia, whose Ba Shu publishing company acknowledges printing one knockoff, "Harry Potter and the Chinese Empire," but is widely believed to have printed several others, initially said she did not wish to talk about Harry Potter. "It had problems of intellectual property violations," she said.

Moments later, though, Lu reminisced, almost wistfully, about the experience.

"Everything would have been fine if they hadn't made the cover so obvious, even if you copied some sections of the original story," she said. "But the cover was so outstanding, and foreign people care a lot about things like that."