Su Nong—Translator of the Simplified Chinese Philosopher’s Stone—Doesn’t Exist!

I’m currently falling down another translation rabbit hole—Chinese this time—and I came across a really interesting bit of trivia! The translator of the Philosopher’s Stone in PRC is not a real person! The two characters which read “Su Nong”:

苏农

is, in fact, a blend of two translators’ names!

According to the Taiwanese publication 雪花新聞 (xuěhuā xīnwén), ‘Snowflake News’ Cao Suling (, cáosūlíng) started the translation but for some reason pulled out. Ma Ainong (马爱, mǎ’àinóng), who we know from later translations, continued the translation.

It’s fascinating that they would create this blend rather than credit the individual translators who don’t even appear on the copyright page! I wonder how common a practice this is.

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3 responses

  1. Z says:

    This is so intriguing. I was searching for another topic when I stumbled upon this post. It is not an uncommon practice in the past but exactly how common I have no idea. For the moment I can think of two similar cases:
    1) In the 1960s, Cao Suling was one of the four contributors who translated Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (伊凡・杰尼索维奇的一天). Together, the translators were under one name 斯人 (Sī rén, meaning “that person” in Classical Chinese or Literary Chinese), which is a homophony of 四人 (Sì rén, meaning “four persons”). A nice wordplay since there indeed were four translators.
    2) In Taiwan, the first four Harry Potter books were all translated by 彭倩文. But the last three installments respectively published in 2003, 2005 and 2007 were credited as 皇冠編譯組 (Editing and translating group at Crown), no individual name or names were given. Not until recently did I discover 皇冠編譯組 likely consists of six members: 吳俊宏, 李佳姍, 林靜華, 莊靜君, 彭倩文 and 羅源祥. They were credited (at last) in the newly released Traditional Chinese 20th anniversary edition of OotP.

    I really wonder why, whether the individual was reluctant to put their name on the cover or the publisher asked them to remain anonymous. Some interesting trivia I found though: Cao Suling was already 70 years old when translating Philosopher’s Stone in 2000. It is said that due to health, age and other concerns, she decided to pull out after translating the first eight chapters. Ma Ainong later took over Cao’s job and translated the rest of the book. It is also said that Cao was not very comfortable with this kind of children’s literature, and thought the magic stuff and the fantasy world would indulge young children in wild daydreaming (“鼓励小孩子去想入非非”), according to an interview in 2016 with Ma Ainong. Sadly, Cao passed away in 2014, so what her concerns were we may never know.

    《伊凡・杰尼索维奇的一天》published in 1963, translated by 斯人, no ISBN in China at that time: https://book.douban.com/subject/3040283/ (Chinese only)
    Ma Ainong’s 2016 interview: https://www.jiemian.com/article/1034954.html (Chinese only)
    OotP Traditional Chinese 20th anniversary edition book info: https://www.books.com.tw/products/0010891632 (English site available)

    • PotterGlot PotterGlot says:

      Thank you so much for this insight! I really appreciate it! As you I’m sure you’re aware, trying to research topics in another language with only Google Translate to help is challenging!

      And thank you for the information about the Crown translators! I always find that a little frustrating when individuals aren’t credited. Especially when websites selling books don’t think including the translator is important. 🙂

      I’m currently working on some more complex Chinese mysteries that I might harass you about. 😉 I hope you don’t come to regret commenting! 🙂

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