Into the World of Interpreting: China’s Latest TV Drama Hit The Interpreters

On May 25, the long-anticipated TV series The Interpreters (亲爱的翻译官) premiered on Hunan TV. The series immediately attracted a large audience and became trending on Sina Weibo. While the ‘mysterious’ world of translation and interpreting has got many viewers glued to the screen, professionals criticize the show for not corresponding to reality.

China’s new tv drama The Interpreters (亲爱的翻译官) has become a hit since it premiered on Hunan TV and two other online broadcasters. It is the first Chinese TV drama focused on the professional lives of people working in China’s foreign language sector. Under the hashtag ‘My Dear Interpreter’ (#亲爱的翻译官#), thousands of netizens are discussing the series on social media.

Millions of viewers

The Interpreters was adapted from a 2006 novel of the same name by Chinese female author Miu Juan, who was trained in Chinese-French interpretation. The story features a young French-language-major girl, Qiao Fei (Yang Mi), who just stepped into the world of interpretation. With the help of experienced and handsome male translator Cheng Jiayang (Huang Xuan), Qiao sets out on the challenging journey to become a professional interpreter.

The series immediately became a hit after its first airing. According to The Interpreter’s official Sina Weibo account (@电视剧翻译官), the premier had a national viewer rating share of 6.87%.

The topic The Interpreters (亲爱的翻译官) attracted over a billion readers within five days time. On the online video platforms Mangguo TV (芒果TV) and LeTV (乐视电视), the series has received more than 100 million views. On the Asian TV drama platform Viki, the series was rated with a 9.3.

Into the mysterious world of interpreting

One reason why The Interpreters is so popular is its leading actress Yang Mi (@杨幂, over 61 million Weibo followers) whose many devoted fans are eager to see her first appearance after giving labor.

But apart from Yang, it is mainly the world of translation and interpreting that has got many viewers glued to the screen. The drama’s spoken French lines, interpreting booths and conference scenes are the highlights of the show. Through these scenes, viewers can have a peek into the professional lives of interpreters, often considered an appealing and mysterious career by many Chinese. As one viewer said: “This is really a respectful and great occupation!”

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Being an interpreter is regarded an exciting and attractive job by many Chinese netizens, as the career generally involves much traveling and international contacts. But also the ability to master another language than Chinese is also often admired.

But those who actually work in the foreign language sector criticize the show for its depiction of the interpreting profession. Many point out that it makes no sense for French major students to exchange in a Zurich university, as featured in the show, since the official language of Zürich is German.

There are also other details that do not correspond to reality. Leading character Qiao Fei is, for example, seen doing simultaneous interpreting at an empty desk. In reality, interpreters are always equipped with pen and paper for note-taking.

realvsfakeThe ‘unrealistic’ scene from the show (top) versus reality, by Sohu News.

According to China’s state media outlet People’s Daily, many professionals were also appalled by the actors’ French lines, which they called “awkward” and a low level of proficiency.

This is not the first time that a Chinese TV drama depicting a certain professional life becomes a hit. ‘Fatal Case Group 6’ (重案六组) is a popular series about police and detectives. The 2013 series Obstetricians (产科医生) was also a hit, just as the 2003 Hong Kong TV series Triumph in the Skies (冲上云霄), which increased interest amongst Hong Kong young people to become a pilot.

As this show might also inspire more people to go into the world of interpreting and translating, Sohu Learning warns viewers that in reality, being an interpreter is much less glamorous than this TV drama portrays it. After all, Sohu writes: “A tv show is just a tv show, the reality is much different.”

– By Diandian Guo

Edited by Manya Koetse
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Author

About the author: Diandian Guo is a China-born Master student of transdisciplinary and global society, politics & culture at the University of Groningen with a special interest for new media in China. She has a BA in International Relations from Beijing Foreign Language University, and is specialised in China's cultural memory.

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