The Great Translation Movement translates Chinese social media, public opinion

A team of anonymous Chinese speakers is attempting to shine light on misinformation and propaganda on Chinese-language social media. The group launched The Great Translation Movement in March 2022, gaining more than 145,000 followers in just a matter of weeks, in the hopes of “raising awareness about the state of public opinion in China.”

The account is run by a group of Chinese speakers based around the world who remain anonymous out of concern for their safety. According to a recent piece in NBC News, the account has placed a particular focus on Chinese sentiment regarding the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, highlighting the ways in which the level of access to information in a given language can greatly skew public opinion on political events.

“Whether it is purely the result of spontaneous interactions of the Chinese people or a result of government censorship, manipulation and propaganda, we want the outside world to know what is going on inside there,” one of the translators told NBC.

The account has highlighted viral posts on social media platforms that support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, translating them into English and other languages to give a sort of “inside look” into public opinion on the invasion. The Chinese government, however, has taken a neutral stance in public messaging.

Most of the account’s posts translate social media postings with high engagement from Mandarin Chinese into English, however the account has also translated posts into Spanish, Japanese, Arabic, Korean, German, and French. Skeptics of the account argue that, because of censorship in China, posts that get high engagement do not necessarily represent public opinion in the country. Additionally, one representative of the Chinese Embassy in Washington argued that this account is simply stoking anti-Chinese sentiment.

Of course, this isn’t an issue limited to China or the Chinese language. Language can represent a sort of bottleneck with regards to the dissemination of information on current events and history. Since the vast majority of the world’s languages represent a fairly small percentage of the internet’s content, the information that is readily available in one language can be vastly different from the information that’s available in another, perhaps more widely used language.

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Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.

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