Mafalda in Chinese

In my latest book shopping spree, I picked up these two Mafalda (瑪發達) books.  These are comic strips by the Argentine named Quino, and they have been translated into Chinese by the late female writer San Mao (三毛).


Here, I'll have to explain my affinity for Mafalda.  I have maintained a presence on the World Wide Web since 1996, so I am at least ten years old now.  Since there are statistics for every page that I have ever written, the natural question is: Which is my most popular page ever?  That would be a page about Mafalda, which I will discuss later.  I can tell you that the page has been viewed at least 300,000 times, by a mostly Spanish-reading audience.  Even Mafalda's creator Quino is aware of that page.

But before then, let us get back to the Mafalda books in Chinese.  Translation is not just going from one language (Spanish) into another (Chinese), it also involves shifting the context from an Argentine one into a Chinese one.  When Mafalda talks about a uniquely Argentina context, it will have to be moved into a context that the Chinese can recognize and identify with.  This is particularly difficult for Mafalda, since its enduring value for its audience is that it is a socio-politico-cultural work.  So does it work in Chinese?

Here is an example where it doesn't:

The first three panel contains examples of Spanish compositions for which numerous typographic mistakes are present (and I suspect that this was not deliberate).  The panel on the right contains a composition in Chinese, translated as: "The loud and rhythmic sound made it hard for us to shut our eyes and sleep on the train.  As the dark night slowly faded, the girl used the microphone to wake up the travelers: 'Chiayi is here!' ..."  What do you think is going on?  What is the point of the strip?  You are going to have to know that the boy on the right is a notoriously lousy student and so that leaves you with three interpretations: (1) if he was Argentine and lousy to begin with, giving him a Chinese text would make it impossible; (2) if the children were all Chinese-reading, then the other students were given a foreign language text to read but this student could not even handle a Chinese test; (3) for him, any text in his native language might as well as be in Chinese.  Which is it?  You may even have another idea.

Panel 1: "Alright!  15 Across.  There has to be 12345678 ... 11 letters."
Panel 2: "15 Across.  The hint is 'sacrifice.'"
Panel 3: "Maybe: War hero?"
Panel 4: "Why can't a person say whatever they want to say?"

The technical problem here is that this is a Spanish-language crossword puzzle based upon letters which do not exist in Chinese.  Unless you know Spanish (or English) and have seen a crossword puzzle, this is incomprehensible.

Here is a strip that really would not go over well with the Chinese.  In the right panel, the words are: "No wonder the Chinese with slant almond eyes want to change the world."  Okay, we have to be talking about hurt feelings again ...

Panel 1: "Felipe, did you watch the movie on television about the war against the Chinese Communists?"
Panel 2: "It was the war against the Japanese, not the Chinese Communists!"
Panel 3: "You go read the newspapers!  The newspapers say that the Chinese Communists are bad people.  I was talking about bad people.  So it was the Chinese Communists!"  "It was the Japanese!"
Panel 4: "But in yesterday's movie, it began immediately with shooting.  Nobody was selling cassette tape recorders?"

This strip shows the aged nature of the translation.  This translation by San Mao was published in 1980, and San Mao had passed away in 1991.  When was the last time anyone made a movie about the war between the Nationalists and Communists in China?  Now I can go through the rest and come up with plenty of examples about how the introduction of new contexts in the Chinese translation are now dated and inappropriate.

But let me get back to my particular short essay.  It is titled Mafalda and Soup.  I wrote: "The brilliance of Mafalda lies foremost in the quirkiness of this little girl. She hates (that is an understatement) soup, cares deeply about humanity, loves the Beatles and has a bunch of equally quirky friends (Felipe, Manolito, Susanita, Libertad, Miguilito)."  So how did the bit about soup-hating get communicated in the Chinese version?  A newcomer whose first experience with Mafalda is with these two books may not be able to discern this central characteristic because the soup-related pieces are scattered all over the 900 plus pages.  Here are some examples.  You will note that they usually have some socio-political overtones (such as matters of parental authority).

Translation: "Soup and children are like democracy and communism.  They cannot co-exist!"

Panel 1: "Mom, what are you clipping?"  "A recipe."
Panel 2: "Is it good?"  "Fish soup."

Panel 1: "Hmmm ... I wonder if it is possible ..."
Panel 2: "... that maybe you mistook 'fly-bred' (
蠅養) for 'nutrition (營養)."

While this one was a play on two similar sounding Chinese words (
and ), I would have to wonder what Quino wrote originally.

Postscript: Now a reader Fernando Martínez Llamosas wrote to say that she actually said: "¿y no será que confundes alimentación con alimentaje?"  This is a little tricky because the word alimentaje does not exist in Spanish.  But what would a Spanish-speaker think upon encountering that sentence?
There is a famous Spanish phrase: "no confundir libertad con libertinaje" that asks people not to confuse 'libertinism' with 'liberty.'  Now you all know that 'liberty' is 'freedom' but you may not know too much about 'libertinism.'  Well, 'libertinism' is the state or quality of being a 'libertine' which is defined as 'a dissolute person (remember the Case of Liu Zhihua?), debauchee, philanderer, swinger, tramp, rake, adulterer, profligate, fornicator, womanizer.'  Without getting into 'libertinism' is morally good or bad, we can agree that it is not a universal value of the order of 'liberty.'
Because of the familiarity with "no confundir libertad con libertinaje," the Spanish speaker would know "¿y no será que confundes alimentación con alimentaje?" is about the confusion between 'nutrition' and some perverse and misguided notion of 'nutrition' (like eating soup, in Mafalda's mind).

All in all, I read through the Chinese translation and I did not feel the essence of Mafalda.  Something is missing in the translation process.  But I don't have a clue what I could do otherwise (except to learn the Latinoamericano language and culture).