Most of us don’t immediately associate the Black Lives Matter movement with China or Chinese culture, but it turns out that, just as it has for so many other cultures, the movement has made waves and brought up difficult subjects for Chinese people around the world.
The Chinese are currently dealing with a BLM-related controversy, and it all stems from a translation choice.
There is no single agreed-upon translation of “Black Lives Matter” in Mandarin. The most common choice roughly translates to “Black Lives are Valuable” or “Black Lives are Expensive”. But this translation, many Chinese-speakers have pointed out, is alienating, since it seems to imply that the movement’s message is that Black lives are more valuable than those of any other race.
There are some alternative translations, including my personal favorite, which roughly translates to “Black lives are lives”, but these aren’t used very often. Even media juggernauts like Netflix opted for the “Expensive” translation in subtitled shows.
Unfortunately, the problem isn’t just a case of mistranslation. Because of its negative and alienating implications, “Black Lives are Expensive” has been co-opted by racist Chinese groups in communities online and around the world.
The term is also sending a message to mainland China residents that the US Chinese community is against the movement. Fortunately, many Chinese activists have spoken out, correcting the mistake by posting photos of themselves participating in BLM marches on social media.
Still, the issue persists, as does anti-Black sentiment in some Chinese communities.
Read on to learn more about how BLM’s translation into Chinese is affecting Chinese communities around the world.
A Chinese-American man at a BLM march holds up a sign with alternative translations of “BLM” in Chinese.
Contact Our Writer – Alysa Salzberg