Trade and translation go hand in hand. Interpreters and translators used to ply their craft along the ancient Silk Road. And now that China is pushing for a new Silk Road (One Belt One Road), Mandarin translation experts — and anyone working as an Asian translator, or any type of translator for that matter — are bound to see an increase in work along this trade network, with the need for multilingual translations surging to impressive new levels.
The Old Silk Road and Impact on Interpretation
The original Silk Road (established during China’s lengthy Han Dynasty), which relied heavily on interpretation to grease the wheels of communication, trade and travel, helped bridge the gap (cultural, linguist and distance) between East Asia and the West. The route, which got its name from the profitable trade in silk, cut through Eurasia — and the various dynasties controlling those lands over the centuries — on its way to the Mediterranean.
This ancient network involved Chinese traders, naturally, as well as Arabs, Greeks, Indians, Mongols, Persians, Romans and many other peoples of varying backgrounds. Trade routes flourished until new sea trading routes were opened up during the Age of Discovery (along with some other factors that came into play) — although the need for multilingual translation and interpreting that had been established during the Silk Road’s heyday did not fade away, as Portuguese explorers landing in India and China quickly discovered.
China’s New Silk Road and Impact on Multilingual Translation
China’s new trade initiative, reaching through Central Asia all the way to Europe and beyond, is set to bring a trillion dollars, if not more, to the surrounding areas. At the heart of this endeavor are tens of billions of dollars of initial investments from China. During Beijing’s Belt and Road Forum, the One Belt One Road was described as the “shared commitment to building an open economy, ensuring free and inclusive trade, opposing all forms of protectionism.” And of course Mandarin translation and English Chinese translations (might as well throw in Arabic, German, French, Italian, Russian, Turkish and a ton of other languages in too) will play big parts in this possible realignment of how international trade works.
Yet this new Silk Road is far more ambitious than its predecessor. With enthusiastic backing from Chinese president Xi Jinping, the Chinese want to build a network of trade routes (roads, rail, ports) that reach from Asia to Europe, and Africa as well. So far, 70 countries have signed onto the initial stages of this impressive plan. With 70 countries involved, the need for multilingual translation will surely explode.
The potential blossoming of a new Silk Road means an Asian translator working in a translation office connected to the route (virtually, or geographically by region) will likely have his or her hands full with all kinds of burgeoning new translation and trade opportunities in the years to come. The same can be said for a translation office in North America, working with clients somehow involved with the One Belt One Road initiative.
And while there is some pushback against the idea of a new Silk Road, especially from India, if successful, human translation, Mandarin translation and multilingual translation will grow in significant ways as this complex trade route comes back to life — bigger than it ever was in the past.
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