TED To China: An Inside View

Today, we’re fea­tur­ing a guest piece by Tony Yet, a Chi­nese stu­dent, who is help­ing lead an effort to bring TEDTalks to Chi­na. This is part of a larg­er TED Open Trans­la­tion Project, which wants to move  TEDTalks “beyond the Eng­lish-speak­ing world by offer­ing sub­ti­tles, time-cod­ed tran­scripts and the abil­i­ty for any talk to be trans­lat­ed by vol­un­teers world­wide.” Tony speaks very elo­quent­ly about how he got involved with this project and what he hopes to achieve, and how the con­nec­tions between East and West can hope­ful­ly become clos­er. Take it away Tony and check out his web site TED­toChi­na

I have been watch­ing TEDTalks for near­ly three years. I orig­i­nal­ly found them by serendip­i­ty on iTunes. The very first few talks (notably from Al Gore, David Pogue and Sir Ken Robin­son) grabbed me like a mag­net, and I could­n’t resist watch­ing them again and again. There were quite a few sen­tences and phras­es in each of these talks that fell on a deaf ear for me, as I could­n’t quite under­stand some slang Eng­lish. I worked with the TED videos at home with a com­put­er and a note­book. And yes, I’ve got to admit that I am tak­ing each TED screen­ing as a valu­able learn­ing expe­ri­ence, and they did help me in broad­en­ing my hori­zons and enrich­ing my under­stand­ing of the world.

Then, in the sum­mer of 2008, I decid­ed that mere­ly watch­ing was not enough, at least not enough in com­ing to a full under­stand­ing of the talks, as many of the mean­ings are hid­den in the seman­tics. Thus I embarked upon a project to trans­late TEDTalks into Chi­nese. I start­ed with some famil­iar ones, like Erin McK­ean’s talk on redefin­ing dic­tio­nar­ies, and Alex Stef­fen’s talk on a bright green future. It proved to be a mind-enrich­ing expe­ri­ence. Before mak­ing any attempt to trans­late a talk, I would probe into the depth of the back­ground of the speak­er and rel­e­vant con­cepts and ideas. This was a great learn­ing process. It helped me build up a clear pic­ture of the talk and its sig­nif­i­cance, and also reshape my under­stand­ing of many ideas across the whole spec­trum of arts and sci­ence.

As I was push­ing for­ward with my endeav­or, I found that it would be bet­ter if we can have more peo­ple join­ing in this joy­ful jour­ney of intel­lec­tu­al min­ing through trans­la­tion. So I post­ed the mes­sage on a com­mu­ni­ty web­site for trans­la­tors. Then it start­ed to get kicked off. Peo­ple jumped in the boat and offered help. It was a most grat­i­fy­ing expe­ri­ence to know that your efforts in spread­ing the idea of TED gen­er­at­ed so much ener­gy and so rich a wel­com­ing response.

We then decid­ed to run a ded­i­cat­ed fan site around the idea of TED, and we called it TED­toChi­na. The idea is to bring the most mind-blow­ing talks and inspi­ra­tions to Chi­nese read­ers through the sim­ple act of trans­la­tion. The site went online in Novem­ber 2008. It is run by the com­mu­ni­ty and loved by the com­mu­ni­ty. We hope that we can do some trans­la­tions from Chi­nese to Eng­lish, and to bring some of the dynam­ics of con­tem­po­rary Chi­na to the rest of the world by show­ing its local inno­va­tions and sto­ries. This will be a long-term project, and we hope that through these efforts, a bridge of under­stand­ing between the east and the west can be cre­at­ed, and a glob­al reser­voir of shared knowl­edge and insights can also be made pos­si­ble.

Some of the TEDTalks have huge res­o­nance with the Chi­nese peo­ple, most notable among which are Dave Eggers’ talk on one-on-one tutor­ing, Jose Abreu’s talk on music edu­ca­tion, and Sug­a­ta Mitra’s talk on the pos­si­ble future of “out­doc­tri­na­tion”. You might have noticed that all of these videos are relat­ed to the theme of edu­ca­tion. Then you are right. TED­toChi­na is more of an ini­tia­tive to bring the insights and ideas from the US to Chi­na, and not a mere trans­la­tion effort. In the past, great ideas were either blocked or it took a long time for these ideas to arrive and take root in Chi­na. Now, with the help of Inter­net, this process can be short­ened, with efforts from social trans­la­tion. It is hoped that peo­ple can come to a clear­er under­stand­ing of the whole pic­ture by tak­ing in more than one uni­fied chan­nel of opin­ion, and TED is just the per­fect exam­ple of this.

Tony Yet is a native of Chi­na. He speaks Man­darin Chi­nese, Can­tonese, Eng­lish, Ger­man, and a lit­tle bit of French. He is cur­rent­ly a senior stu­dent major­ing in Eng­lish lan­guage and lit­er­a­ture in Sun Yat-sen Uni­ver­si­ty. He lives in the coastal city of Guangzhou.


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