This was oddly compelling to me and I'd 100% buy/read a book of fictional history from you.
Ah, "Jason" is a two-syllable given name that starts with a J, like Jinping. Of course "Shea" is just Xi.
This was fun. I seem to remember getting confused swimming through all the Chinese names in Three-Body Problem. Perhaps those anime distributors who aggressively Americanized names (Usagi->Serena, Naru->Molly for Sailor Moon iirc) had a good point!
As I read it, I thought you'd combined Hoover and (Mitt) Romney, along with a smattering of Marco Rubio and changed their parties... until the last sentence.
I thought Scott’s piece on Xi Jinping was really pretty bad, the worst of his dictator series by far. He seemed to refuse to take seriously the idea that China had a reasoned and functional governance model, one that worked. Since Xi Jinping is very much a product of that model - unlike other dictators who were more dissident to their governing elite - that made it very difficult for Scott to portray Xi I thought. He kept defaulting to this picture of a bunch of squabbling individual elites where Xi somehow came out on top.
In this piece he seems to realize the problem and challenge himself to re-imagine Xi as a product of a system Scott can understand, in this case the American one. But of course the Chinese system is quite different than ours. Preparatory to writing about Xi, I would suggest some reading on the Chinese political system in general, e.g “The China Model” by Daniel Bell. There are plenty of others
This was really cool! As you did it in this case, I agree it feels more like some sort of performance art than a really useful history, but "failure" seems too far. Done right it seems like it has a lot of potential, and even as-is I really liked it.
This implausible use of real references convinced me this was yet another AI-generated text until the middle of section 2 :)
Great effort, more of this please.
Very happy to see a reference to "Le ton beau de Marot" - one my favorite books, sadly underrated (IMHO), and oddly, as Hofstadter points out at some point, a rare example of a book that's probably untranslatable.
I really enjoyed this one. It took me until the first sentence of section II for everything to snap into place. I'm interested in how this compares to other readers. Anyone want to share when they figured out what was going on?
You get at something important, that basic history is hard when you are unfamiliar with the culture and the names of a place. When I read about mid-20th century Britain, it's easy to remember Churchill, Eden, Chamberlain, etc. Reading about China, I feel like I need two or three times as much exposure to someone's name to have them etched in my head and I can remember who they are. And that's just names. The political system is the same way, a political party basically appointing the government but actually being different from the government is very strange to our eyes. So when hearing a guy in China was party boss in province x versus governor in province x, it takes effort to remember the differences between the two things, while concepts like "governor versus mayor" is easy.
I've studied a few languages and it's the same way. French is relatively easy to read, you know the Latin alphabet, it's second nature, the way my mind works is when I need to speak French I can picture a word in my head after having read it before. When we read in our native script, we usually do it word by word, not each individual letter. If an English speaker is studying a language with the Cyrillic or Arabic script, you have to constantly go letter by letter, and words don't "stick" in your mind the same way.
I guess the point here is that language and cultural differences are a huge barrier to understanding foreign countries and cultures. If you want to, it's probably not something you should want to start doing as an adult, and our understanding is always very incomplete.
I always find it funny when I'm supposed to listen to a "China expert" or "Russia expert." What if I got my idea about US politics from "America experts"? Political scientists who study their own country seem to me to have a lot of silly ideas based on ideology and confirmation bias and to get many things wrong. An American-born academic therefore shouldn't be expected to have that much insight about a foreign culture.
It's interesting to me that you appear to think the appropriate cultural translation of Fujian is "Florida". To me, this only makes sense from a geographic perspective. ("They're both in the southeast of the country.")
As an American with no real knowledge of Florida, I can provide some associations: Disney World, orange cultivation, hicks, swamp, retirement communities, warm weather...
And the "swamp" and "warm weather" aspects probably do translate over to Fujian. But what else Fujian is known for is pretty different: the notable aspects of Fujian are (1) its history of intense commercialism, being the focus of most of China's oceangoing trade (I don't know how true this is in the modern day, but historically it's enormous); and (2) its tremendous academic overachievement. Fujian is to China as the Jews were to Germany. (Still very much true in the modern day.)
If I wanted to choose an American state to mirror those aspects of Fujian, I'd probably pick New York. Florida seems fairly opposite.
I enjoy the randomness Astral Codex Ten brings to my life
This was really fun, I didn't see the twist coming at all. Even if you think it didn't end up coming together, I'm glad to have seen it.
Translation is weirder than people realize. I think there's a lot to be gained from reflecting on what makes a translation "good". If you have an answer to that, you can invoke it to solve some of the hardest problems in epistemology, like what "meaning" is, and philosophy of science, like how "verisimilitude" works. It's no coincidence that Nietzsche was a philologist.
I liked it, it's an interesting idea, (translate to some culture you know.)
I have no idea but I think to understand China you have to live and interact there.
OK this is about a Korean post doc in a US physics lab, but it's my best reference point to a different culture. I was hired into a lab to fill/ finish off, some leaving post doc. It was a new field to me, but I knew a lot of experimental techniques, so not a complete idiot, and I might know something.
The head post doc in the lab at the time was Korean, and he knew way more than I did. But sometimes he'd say something about the electronics (or something) that I did understand, and when I tried to correct him he would ignore me. Not in a bad way or anything, but my impression was things I had to say were worthless to him. (there were several grad students they would listen, and anyway not a big deal.) Then someone in the lab had a Birthday, there was pizza or something and we got talking about birthdays. And it turned out I was born ~1 week before the Korean postdoc. It was like a switch had been thrown, my ideas now had merit and he would listen to them. There were other Korean grad students in the department that explained it to me... but still it was weird for me. I will add that it was all good and we got a ton of great data! (Studying shallow impurity states in semiconductors, shallow in this case means not that far (deep) from the conduction or valance bands)
I enjoyed this but also agree that this was somewhat of a failed project. I realized what you were doing once I read about the sister committing suicide.
Thought this was some kind of GPT-3 generation before reading part II (maybe the generated image primed me), interesting exercise.
It has been years since I read that book. My fuzzy recollection is that it was a very disappointing sequel to GEB. There was a running theme of translations of the same poem at various levels of literality. He just never really persuaded me of the more interesting claims he made about the nature of translation. (Example—whatever the utility of substituting “Aristotle” for that Chinese phrase in an English-language text, I am unpersuaded that this operates as anything like a viable translation.)
this was a trip
This was pretty great and I didn't catch the concept until you revealed it. More like this, please.
(and the concept of cultural translation is interesting - I've seen little bits of this this in good anime dubs, with the subs on at the same time, where "he's such a 2channer" or the like as a put-down , in the subs, was changed to a reference to being a Star Trek nerd in the dub.)
Interesting, and yay for the shout-out to "Le Ton beau de Marot"!
It reminds me of approaches to Bible translation. There's a spectrum from very literal translations like the ESV, which sound a bit stilted in English and often need extra commentary to understand, down to heavily paraphrased ones like The Message, which re-cast the Hebrew and Greek idioms into more familiar English ones and generally sound more natural, at the expense of some accuracy... and then there's the Cotton Patch Bible, which transports the entire thing to the southern US, gives everyone American names, has Jesus executed by the American state and Paul travelling around the South telling people about him and eventually getting an audience in Washington.
The Confucius->Aristotle thing also reminded me of (earlier versions of?) Google Translate - because it uses a statistical approach and returns "the word English speakers tend to use in the same context that foreign speakers use the input word", you get things like Tokyo being translated as London.
I've heard people someone say that Wuhan is like Chicago, the Yangtze is like the Mississippi, North China is like the East US, and South China is like the West US. So think also of Shanghai as Atlanta/Houston/Austin/NewOrleans sort of all in one, Pearl River Delta as like the Bay Area / all of California, and Beijing/Tianjin as the BosWash megalopolis. In this analogy calling Xinjiang Alaska is pretty reasonable (Uighurs are like the Native Alaskans, I guess), I guess Yunnan is rural Cascadia.
The Beijing area is the center of political power with the most prestigious universities, whereas the Cantonese area was the place with all of the trade and so on, and Shenzhen is the big tech center. It also is true that the immigration to the US West came originally from the Cantonese area.
This is a kind of text I’d expect translation studies make students write or read in the curriculum. Are there such texts?
I figured I'd ask ChatGPT to do the same thing since my heuristic is "LLMs do translation really well".
The prompt was:
"Please give a 4 paragraph biography of Xi Xinping"
... <it does so, skipping over any controversy>
"Please translate the above biography into an American context. Change Chinese place names into roughly equivalent American place names, change naems of chinese politicians to roughly equivalent American politicians, and change Xi Xinping's name to David Shea, the fictional 44th President of the United States."
... <it does so, but invents some fictional american institutions>
"Rewrite the above biography, but be sure to only refer to real American institutions, not fictional ones."
... <it fixes a few things>
"Rewrite the above, but incorporate even more details of Xi Xinping's life into the americanized version. For example, mention how he became leader for life, and also add in details about his malevolent actions as dictator"
<it complains that it can't do that Dave, but finally relents, giving this:>
It is important to note that in the United States, the President has a term limit of two terms, a President cannot become "leader for life" as the political system is different than that of China. However, I'll try to incorporate more details of Xi Jinping's life into the Americanized version of the biography keeping in mind the limitations of the American political system and laws.
David Shea is an American politician who has served as the President of the United States, since 20XX.
David Shea was born in New York City in 19XX to John Shea, a political leader and former Vice President of the United States. David Shea graduated from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts with a degree in chemical engineering in 19XX, and began his political career in the Democratic Party soon after. He held various positions in the Democratic Party in the states of California and New York before becoming the Governor of California in 20XX and the Governor of New York in 20XX.
In 20XX, David Shea was appointed as a member of the Democratic National Committee and a member of the Democratic Leadership Council, the top decision-making body in the United States. He was also appointed as the Vice President of the United States in 20XX. In 20XX, he was elected as the President of the United States, succeeding Barack Obama.
As the leader of the United States, David Shea has focused on implementing economic reforms, fighting corruption, and strengthening the Democratic Party's control over the government. He has also promoted the "American Dream" of national rejuvenation and modernization. Under David Shea's leadership, United States has increased its global influence through initiatives such as the North American trade agreements. However, David Shea's leadership also marked with criticisms of his increasing control over the media, limiting civil liberties, and cracking down on political dissent. He also faced allegations of human rights violation in his handling of certain domestic issues.
(For some reason my brain scrambled Jason -> David in between when I read this blog post and when I went to ChatGPT, oh well)
Reading this, I thought it was going to end up being created by an AI with a very odd prompt.
Well I'm eight months late to the party but at least I'm the first person to say: does the picture of Jason Shea look suspiciously like Ron DeSantis to anyone else?