International law is merely a tool for the powerful”. Discuss (or Why last was a sad week for civil liberties)

“International law is merely a tool for the powerful”.

Discuss with reference to the US approach to the law on the use of force or human rights.

This was one of the questions put to us in the final exam of a post-grad course on International Law over a couple of years ago. Can’t remember exactly how I came out of it, but I probably went on blathering about how International Law is used by the US and other major hegemons to advance their own self-interest. Nothing new, nothing surprising but a topic that hits us every day with more intensity.

Last week I felt particularly sadden and angered by a number of events that took place across the globe, which again brought the above question-statement to the fore:

1. The threat by British authorities to arrest Julian Assange from the Ecuadorean Embassy after the Latin American country granted him political assylum.


Beyond the manhunt against Wikileaks founder for obviously orchestrated allegations of sexual misconduct in Sweden (see this article for a rundown on the sequence of events put together from a number of leaked police reports and other witnesses’ accounts), what’s angered me is the biased media coverage against Assange, the lack of support from his own government (Australia), and the blatant use of threats against cilvil liberties and international law from major governments.

2.The incarceration for two years of three members of the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot, after a judge decided that the band’s actions were notivated y religious hatred when they staged an anti-Kremlin protest at the altar of Moscow’s Chris the Saviour Cathedral.

3. The Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine massacre in South Africa that left 34 dead and 78 wounded when police open fire at the crowd of striking miners as result of a week-long strike over demands for a wage rise (the average pay for one of these miners being US$500 a month).

Never stop questioning

All three cases highlight and remind us of both the fragility and the biased nature of International Law in the hands of powerful political and private interests – the protection of military and state secrets, the mocking of an autocratic ruler and his paraphernalia/machinery and the defense of private interests at any cost including the loss of the lives of underpaid and overworked workers. But I won’t go into any more details as I’m sure you’ve had enough of the media circus that surrounds all of them.

What I want to do is to stress once more the need to keep on questioning the institutions used to govern us, to judge us, to teach us, to lead us. Because, as Noam Chomsky reminds us we “need to be able to detect forms of authority and coercion and challenge those that are not legitimate”. If we forget that and accept what’s served to us by governments and by the media, we will help further the interests of those in control.

We need to remember that liberal values are shown to us to be at the core of the purpose and mission of the dominant western democracies in the world – they need to be seen to promote human dignity and spreading democracy (whether that is true or whether the merely advance corporate interests). But in reality, what happens is that once these ideas have been recognised, once they have normalised and accepted  as valid by their own citizens and the countries in the periphery, the impression of dominance disappears entirely, we believe their legitimacy and stop questioning them.

So, today, I just want to remind us that International Law (as other institutions and norms that are presented to us as necessities for a civil society) in as much as it may have been founded on principles of fairness and protection of basic human dignity, it is pervasively albeit discretely used as a tool of the powerful to protect their hegemonic power and their legitimacy. How?

How does International Law get abused/neglected/reshaped?

The use and abuse of International Law (and by default in many cases, the abuse of civil liberties)  by the powerful comes in many shapes and sizes.


Sometimes, we see a withdrawal of the powerful from the very institutions of International Law (as in the case of the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto Protocol) they formulated and helped shape. Take as a example the case of the United States versus the International Criminal Court. After campaigning  for the formation of an international tribunal and being one of the main participants in the formation of  the Ad Hoc Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (and later the ICTR to deal with crimes perpetrated in Rwanda) and their important role in a preparatory committee in 1996 to conclude a draft earlier presented by the International Law Commission for the formation of an International Court of Justice, the United States refused to ratify the Rome Statute. The Bush Administration embarked on a campaign against the establishment of the ICC as in theory according to the statute, the ICC would have jurisdiction to detain US citizens (and those from other non-signatory nations) without the consent of the US directly or through its agreement with a Security Council decision. The emergence of an international institution capable of detaining US officials hence capacitated to restrict their power to employ military forces at will beyond US borders, did not sit well with the US administration.


In other cases, we see a forceful change in International Law. For instancein the last 15 years, the US have advanced claims for new rights to use force in the following areas:a right to unilaterally enforce Security Council authorisations in the interventions in the former Yugoslavia and Iraq; a broadened right to exercise self-defence against terrorist attacks in the missile attacks on Sudan and Afghanistan and later the war in Afghanistan; and a bold right to pre-emptive self-defence, so far only cautiously invoked in the war in Iraq.


And in other cases, we see a blatant attempt at disregarding the power of International Law and human liberties. For instance, WikiLeaks has revealed since its inception the seemingly indiscriminate killing of Baghdad civilians by a United States Apache attack helicopter; details about the true face of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; the Obama administration’s pressure on other nations not to prosecute Bush-era officials for torture; and many other thorny secrets. These reports have angered certain factions in the US and in fact, the US Justice Department has recently confirmed that there was a continuous investigation against WikiLeaks, and just-disclosed Australian government documents from this past February state that “the U.S. investigation into possible criminal conduct by Mr. Assange has been ongoing for more than a year.” WikiLeaks itself has published e-mails from Stratfor, a private intelligence corporation, which state that a grand jury has already returned a sealed indictment of Mr. Assange.

If Britain denies safe passage for Julian Assange to Ecuador and he is eventually extradited to the United States, the consequences will reverberate for years around the world. As filmakers Michael Moore and Oliver Stone explain, given the fact that Assange is not an American citizen, and none of his actions have taken place on American soil, charging him with espionage or terrorism against the US could open an international can of worms because, by the same logic, other countries like Russia or China could demand that foreign reporters anywhere on earth be extradited for violating their laws.

So, for those that question Julian Assange’s innocence or for those that believe the Pussy Riots should not have gone that far, or for those who think unrest in a mine results in a loss of profit for many and it needs to be suppressed at any cost, remember:

I am not talking about conspiracies, I am talking about instruments used to establish and consolidate hegemony and legitimacy of the powerful. Using the tools already available to them, creating tools that suit their purpose, working with propaganda, the powerful distort the important information and create illusions that make the population believe what they are told and away from the truths behind the political process.  

In Noam Chomsky’s words: “At this stage of history, one of two things is possible: Either the general population will take control of its own destiny and will concern itself with community interests guided by values of solidarity and sympathy and concern for others, or alternatively there will be no destiny to control.”

So, never stop questioning.

China’s firm grip in Africa – a lesser of two evils

 Reblogged from China Daily Mail:

China’s firm grip in Africa – a lesser of two evils

We heard a somewhat mystifying comment from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last week warning of a “new colonialism” in Africa from foreign investors and governments interested only in extracting natural resources to enrich themselves.

No culprits mentioned in that statement, but a day earlier Clinton urged scrutiny of China’s large investments and business interests in Africa to prevent…

La estética de una página web japonesa

Si efectuasemos una rápida (e hipotética) encuesta de internautas internacionales acerca de sus impresiones al ver una página web japonesa por primera vez, probablemente la mayoría de ellos utilizarían palabras como ‘caos’ y ‘confusión’, para describir la pantalla ante la que se encuentran. Si, por el contrario, custionásemos a un grupo de internaturas japoneses sobre su reacción ante páginas web no escritas en lengua japonesa, seguramente la mayoría de ellos las calificarían de insípidas y sin ningún interés visual.

Páginas web japonesas – ¿tienes una sensación de mareo?

Personalmente, creo que hay ejemplos de diseño de páginas web excepcional con atractivo internacional en todas partes. Pero también soy firme creyente en la necesidad de localizar la interfaz de usuario y redactar el texto de manera que refleje la cultura e idiosincracia específica del país o region. En el caso de la mayoría de las páginas webs japonesas la tendencia parece ser un tipo específico de formato que incluye:

• Lo que a los no-japoneses nos podría parecer una cantidad excesiva de texto extremadamente condensado.
• Al menos dos, pero por lo general, tres columnas de texto.
• Imágenes de tamaño más bien pequeño.
• Un uso poco acertado del espacio.
• El uso de iconos y personajes animados.
• Colocación de texto en cajas para ser realzado.
• Una dinámica y sensación de lo que para los desconocedores de la lengua y la cultura japonesa podría definirse como anarquía. Es decir, algo como la siguiente página:

A primera vista, lo que vemos nos parece una composición sin sentido, que guarda semejanza a los torpes diseños occidentals de finales de los noventa. Pero lo cierto es que nos sentimos abrumados debido a nuestra falta de familiaridad con la estructura común de las páginas japonesas y nuestro desconocimiento de las características de la lengua.

Por un lado, incluso intentar describir la escritura japonesa puede llegar a ser problematico ya que si dijese que se compone de tres alfabetos distintos, estaría mintiendo. Un alfabeto, tal y como nosotros lo entendemos, está compuesto por letras que representan un sonido. El idioma japonés se compone de dos silabarios (cada uno con 46 “letras” o sílabas) que se combinan con logogramas importados de China. Cuando se nos presentan en un página web tales sistemas de escritura, tan diferentes a lo que nuestra vision está acostumbrada, parecen no tener ningún tipo de coherencia ni lógica, ni la homogeneidad de, digamos por ejemplo, el alfabeto latino que nosotros utilizamos. Los silabarios hiragana y katakana son caracteres de menor tamaño que los caracteres chinos. Se suma también el problema que, en muchos sitios web, los caracteres chinos aparecen en fuentes demasiado pequeñas y esto hace que sean casi imposible leerlos.

Por otro lado, la lengua japonesa escrita puede ser leída en un número distinto de direcciones: de derecha a izquierda, de izquierda a derecha y de arriba a abajo. Al combinarse todas estas posibilidades en una interfaz web, no es de extrañar que los lectores no japoneses lleguen a experimentar una sensación parecida al mareo frente una página japonesa (exagero, claro :))

Páginas web japonesas – la otra cara de la moneda
El diseño de páginas web japonesas se encuentra en la actualidad en un interesante proceso de evolución. Los diseñadores profesionales deben enfrentarse todavía a una serie de cuestiones importantes, como por ejemplo, el uso por parte de la mayoría de internautas japoneses del muy anticuado navegador Internet Explorer 6 y una cantidad excesiva de memoria flash en gran número de páginas. Sin embargo, si te interesa crear una página web japonesa, es esencial entender las limitaciones y dificultades con las que debes enfrentarte. Ante todo, consulta con los profesionales del sector en Japón, y sigue las pautas culturales, lingüísticas y de formato que te recomienden y conseguirás una página que cumpla con las expectativas japonesas.

El amor japonés por la belleza y la estética se refleja en dos palabras, (la calidad del concepto de belleza en Japón es simple, sutil y discreta) y Kawaii (“ternura”). Ser Kawaii es una cualidad estética muy valorada en la sociedad japonesa y se dice que hoy en día ha pasado a sobrepasar el valor que se le deba al antiguo concepto más refinado de la belleza.

Además, aunque que los consumidores japoneses saben apreciar los productos occidentales y se interesan por los temas y personalidades más allá de sus fronteras, también se sienten muy orgullosos de su propia cultura (Shi). La combinación de factores perfecta es la que les ofrece marcas, ideas y productos occidentales en bandeja japonesa.

Los siguientes son algunos de los ejemplos de las cualidades de la estética japonesa a las que me refiero:





Todas estas páginas se merecen una visita. Y si eras de los que se sentían algo confusos ante el diseño japonés, espero que estos sitios te muestren la otra cara de la moneda.

Aesthetics of a Japanese website

If you were to do a quick survey of non-native Japanese speakers into what their first impressions when looking at a Japanese website are, the majority of them will probably use words like ‘chaotic’, ‘confusing’, ‘shocking’, etc. If, on the other hand, you were to question Japanese Internet users about their reaction towards non-Japanese sites, most of them will consider these to be too barren and uninteresting.

Japanese websites – feeling dizzy?

I personally feel there are examples of outstanding design with international appeal everywhere. But I’m also a staunch believer in localising User Interface and copy appropriately. There is no denying that Japanese websites seem to prefer a specific type of format that includes:

• What may seem like excessive amounts of jammed up text
• At least two but usually three columns
• Smallish sized images
• Poor use of white real estate in the site
• URL colouring
• Use of icons and animated characters
• Use of boxes to contain text
• A general feel of what may seem like chaos to the untrained eye

The result, then, is something like this:

At first glance, it may look like a nonsensical composition that takes you back to the clumsy design of western websites in the late nineties. But if you think about it, the lack of familiarity with the structure and format of the language probably does contribute to feeling overwhelmed.

On the one hand, even describing the Japanese script is problematic for us because if I were to say that it’s composed of three different alphabets, I would be lying. An alphabet is composed of letters that represent a sound. The Japanese language is composed of two syllabaries (each with 46 “letters” or syllables) that combine with Chinese imported logographs. When these extremely different writing systems are presented in a website they appear to be lacking in the consistency and homogeneity of, say, for instance, the Latin alphabet we are used to. The Hiragana and Katakana syllabaries are generally smaller sized than the Chinese characters which, in many websites, appear in fonts that are too small and cause them to look  like a scramble of strokes with no rhyme or reason.

On the other hand, the Japanese written language can be read in a number of directions; from right to left, from left to right and from top to bottom. Combine all these possibilities in a website interface and there is no wonder non-Japanese readers feel dizzy!

Japanese websites – now, let’s flip the coin

Japanese site design currently finds itself in an exciting process of evolution. There are still, a number of issues to confront, mainly the use by the majority of Japanese people of a very outdated Internet Explorer 6. And yet, if you make the best of what you are given (and that’s usually an excessive amount of flash throughout the page), follow the advice of a professional native Japanese person and take a number of cultural and formatting guidelines into consideration, you might come achieve a successful site that conforms to Japanese expectations.

The Japanese love for beauty and aesthetics is captured in two words, Shibui (the quality of the concept of beauty in Japan which is simple, subtle and unobtrusive) and Kawaii (cuteness). Cuteness is a highly valued aesthetic quality in Japanese society which is said to have taken over the former more refined concept of beauty.

Further, while Japanese consumers are very appreciative of western products, western lifestyle and western celebrities, they are also very sensitive to their own culture (Shih) and want western brands, ideas, and products, but presented on a Japanese platter.

The following are some examples of these two qualities of the Japanese aesthetic:





They are all well worth a visit. And if you were previously confused by the somewhat intimidating design of many Japanese sites, these art pieces will surely show you the other side of the coin.

Multi-hatted professionals – Translation project managers

In my earlier post on Transcreation, I discussed the fact that as professional translators today we are asked to wear many hats in order to ensure our survival in the field. One day we localise, the day after we proofread, we transcreate, we train others, we handle a wide range of CAT tools, and most importantly, we are often asked to step up and manage translation projects.

And yet, not everyone is cut out to or has had the adequate training to manage a group of clients, translators, tasks, tools, datelines, rates, human errors, technical problems, levels of expertise and jargon, glossaries, style guides, workflows, software, validation tools, quality analysis, and many other common factors in the life of a translator/project manager.

In this article I will try to briefly clarify the duties of the translation project manager and introduce some of the translation management software available out there to facilitate your task. So, if your career path is taking you in this direction, or if you are thinking about giving your translating career a new twist, this could interest you:

1. Initial project planning. Set up a briefing session with your client/department (in person or over the phone/net) to discuss the requirements of the project.

2. Resource mapping.  Your main task is to optimise allocation and implementation of staff resources to make sure the agreed budget and delivery dates are attained in the most cost-effective manner. So, taking scope, time and budget into account, you need to determine what type of human resources the project will need. Consider:

  • the number of team members that are required based on the size and time frame of the project,
  •  the number and type of languages involved -are they minority languages or are they commonly translated language?
  • the type of resources that will be required for the project -linguistic, engineering and/or production (desktop publishing) and the requirements expected from each of these type of resources: expertise in a specific field, industry, level of translation skill, specific knowledge.  Are the resources easily available or do they need to be contracted from outside the company/country?

All of these will need to be factored into the project schedule.

3. Task sequencing. Decide priorities; what needs to be done and in what order. A simple mistake here          can cost you, the company or the client quite a lot of money.

4.  Project proposal development.At this point, most project managers will make use of their project management software in order to track the project budget according to calculated requirements and resources. They will also need to set up a project schedule and define the client’s expectations within the project specifications.

5. Set-up a project management file. You and your team of experts will need to establish how are text and graphics formatted and what type of software and resource will be needed for production and multilingual desktop publishing. For instance, are files formatted in unstructured FrameMaker, or XML? Are there any typographic specifications for different languages, i.e. Japanese, Chinese, Arabic (or other languages which are not scripted in a Latin-based alphabet).

6. Create a set of project instructions for the resources involved and instruct your team. Your plan needs to have clear, well-written instructions and milestones for your team to refer to.  Provide examples, glossaries and other useful documentation.  In the briefing, ensure that subject matter experts and specialists on the team may identify and flag technical issues that need to be brought to the client’s attention. Pay particular attention to common and more specific localisation issues and bring up any ideas that the client might have missed and you, as the expert, need to make him/her aware of.

7. Project issue escalation. As translation project manager you are the person responsible for escalating any problems that may hinder the scheduled delivery of the project and propose which resources will be able to achieve the resolution swiftly.

8. Client/team communications. Project managers also need to keep clients/senior management up-to-date on project progress either through automated status updates or personalised project reports, etc and are often expected to interpret and discuss highly technical issues based on feedback from team members and remote linguistic vendors.

9. Project delivery and quality assurance. Project managers will ensure files are ready to be delivered to clients through the initially specified channels.

10. In-country review.  Many translation projects require a client’s internal review or even in-country review (ICR). The client might come back with various edits and it is your job to collate any requested changes and circulate the comments and corrections back to the translators. After revisions have been implemented, you will be tasked with returning the final updated files to the client.

Client feedback, as always,  is essential. If something went wrong along this fairly complex process, you need to ensure that clients’ opinions are appropriately documented and redressed in future projects.

But don’t worry, you are not necessarily alone and at the mercy of the elements in this competitive environment driven by shorter product lifecycles and faster product launches. Technology, as much as it can certainly make our life very complex, and it does, in this case, it comes to the rescue of the translation project manager  and becomes our ally.  So, I have put together a list of translation management software that could be useful in helping achieve the hard metrics you and your team are supposed to deliver.

1. ClockingitA simple,  free project management tool, which allows you to set up translation vendors and assign them tasks, track file status, set deadlines, track tasks time, see graphics, etc.

2. Projetex, an efficient low cost solution, best suited for small to middle-size agencies. It presents server-client architecture and  Firebird database.

3. QuaHill: Sold in sets with different modules, this web-based project management solution is best suited for middle-size to large translation agencies.

4. Project Translation: Suitable for all translation agency sizes, this web-based project management system features  free and open-source (PHP) system core and a range of extensions such as the Freelance or the Financial Reports extension which have to be purchased separately.

If you are experienced in other Translation PM software and would like to recommend it, please feel free to comment below.

Transcreating – Thinking global, acting local

Those of us involved in the translation industry have had to embrace technological advancements in our field, and generally in the world around us, for quite some time now. Not only in relation to the way we work and the technologies we need to use to research and deliver our final products, but also in relation to the way we seek employment, the way we deal with our potential clients as well as the type of work we do and the fields of expertise we are made to engage with. It’s a case of adapt or perish.

In our case, we are generally forced to adapt once others have reacted to specific changes. Multinationals, publishing houses, localisation agencies and other players in the game, take a step to ensure their survival and we have no choice but to adapt to their changes. Consequently, translators today no longer translate the old fashion way, we also localise, we proofread for others, we have become experts in a wide range of CAT tools, and, interestingly as well, we transcreate. We translate and we recreate.

Translation and recreation = Transcreation

I’m going to be extremely simplistic about this process but I want to quickly highlight how was it that transcreation became a necessity for most of us.

When it comes to companies making a decision to expand overseas, generally, at least in the earlier days, they had to opt for a standardisation all of their products and services and embrace a single marketing strategy for all countries, or on the other hand, they have to consider each local market independently and create a marketing mix and a series of strategies and campaigns designed to fit each and every one of their unique characteristics. It generally comes down to either a standardisation of products and documentation to save costs or a market adaptation to tailor to the cultural needs of each market. As I argued in an earlier post, most companies, in the end, tend to opt for an adaptation to cultural and other differences to avoid alienating customers.

Although it is often argued that with globalisation the international market has become too homogenised and that multinational companies can market their products and services the same all over the world by using identical strategies, the truth is that people in different countries speak different languages and abide by different rules and regulations. There are different economic conditions, political stability, customs, aesthetics, legal systems. There are far too many aspects to throw everyone in a single basket and hope that the message that is delivered and the way it’s delivered will make sense for everyone on this planet.

Having recognised diversity as a key element in their marketing programs and budgets, companies needed to find an effective way to persuade people in multiple cultures to buy their product or service. And after repeated cross-cultural marketing blunders, they finally realised that is not enough to be aware of the diversity of their markets, it is also essential to get the message they intended to convey delivered professionally. Copy is key in translating marketing messaging and a review of the marketing material by a native speaker just want fit the bill any more. Markets have become far too sophisticated and companies and advertisers need to look towards bilingual professionals who have a complete mastery of the intricacies of at least two languages to deliver the nuances they planned on delivering originally in English: “Think global; act local”.
So, enter the former translator (with a flavour for creative writing), now transcreator, trying to balance the demands imposed by having to promote a brand that is recognised around the world, while tailoring an advertising message for a specific local market. Not an easy task. He or she will be charged with creating a promotional text based on the English (in most cases) original, in a way that brings the intended emotions to life, intriguing audiences, luring them and, ultimately, prompting them to buy into the concept. Copywriting, you ask? Yes, that’s right.

Transcreation = Copywriting?
So, wouldn’t it be easier for a company to merely hire a copywriter/s in the target country who can produce the text from scratch? Well, most clients will want the ‘feel’ of the original text to be maintained, which requires someone who has an intimate knowledge of the source language – they will have to understand why the message works and produce something that is localised for the target language.

The difference here is that the transcreator does not really have to transfer the meaning from a source text to a target text. No, the transcreator is scavenging for identical reactions and emotions as in the source language. And yes, lots of you would have already rolled your eyes and argued that a good translation should always try to reflect these aspects of the source text. And I agree (to an extent, of course, because some types of texts, like technical texts will usually not contain many emotions and cultural references). Transcreators dig for identical reactions derived not only from the message, but from the style, the cultural nuances, games of words, sense of humour, images, metaphors.

Marketing and advertising copy often contain puns or references to imagery used specifically by the particular company the transcreator is working for. Generally companies will have a unique Tone of Voice to adhere to, a specific way to communicate with customers, which can go from casual, to mentoring, to instructional, to masculine, etc. And they will also want you to convey your message taking into consideration demographic differences and target groups, not just consumers, but also other external stakeholders and resellers and stakeholders.

So, if you still want to go ahead and add the title of transcreator to your CV, you need to be creative and possess a superior knowledge of both the source and target languages and their respective cultural backgrounds. Learn to love the product you write about and write about it enthusiastically. Transcreators are also expected to provide cultural advice: they should tell the end client when a specific translation or image does not work for the target audience.

And also, importantly, don’t forget that the advertising world needs your brochure transcreated by yesterday, in two or three different versions and with a back translation to help the end client understand the options you have provided. If that fast-paced working environment is your thing, then, welcome to the world of transcreation.

Creating a website for Chinese audiences – Optimising, linking and sharing

If I discouraged you with my earlier post on setting up a properly localised website in China, it wasn’t my intention. Although there is no denying that the language, cultural and bureaucratic barriers in China may seem to outweigh the final benefits for you and your business, the nature of the Chinese audience as it is now and as it is evolving towards the future, could very well be a deal breaker for your online business.


Because of the power of viral reaction in China.

Similarly to many Asian countries, Chinese online users love highly interactive websites and web 2.0 functionality that allows them to directly participate in the site. As such, blogs, forums, comments, ratings and similar features are very popular. Besides, Chinese audiences tend to be very brand driven and focused viral campaigns seem to work particularly well in this vast country.

This could very well be result of the long term orientation ingrained in Chinese consciousness, also known in this society as 关系 (guānxì). The strength of the community and the past links that bind them together result in relationships where they invest a good deal of effort to ensure they remain harmonious and reciprocal for life. An emphasis on long-term relationships is key to the development of trust, another very important component in the development of a solid network.

Search Engine Optimisation
MKT China estimates that in the last quarter of 2010 there were 4.02 billion search queries in China of which local search engine Baidu had a market share of 56.6%. So, it is very important for your newly arrived business to consistently achieve high rankings in this search engine primarily, as well as in and

1. Keyword Research
If language limitations prevent you from doing the appropriate research to make sure you use the most effective keywords for your site in China, try to find a reputable Chinese online marketer to help you:
• define those keywords
• submit them to major international and Chinese search engines,
• submit them to relevant Chinese online business directories
• develop an efficient link strategy.

A good translator can also help you integrate your keywords into the copy as part of the translation process.

2. SEO Optimised copy
But remember that your marketing messaging needs to be equally compelling and persuasive and cause the initially intended emotive messaging. This time, however, the message needs to be conveyed in the Chinese language, to Chinese audiences. For this purpose, you would be better off engaging the assistance of a professional SEO copywriter to help you place the right keyword phrases in the right density in the right places. This person should be well informed about search engines guidelines in order to avoid penalties incurred by keyword stuffing and spamming. But equally important, he/she should deliver quality SEO copywriting that entices visitors to respond to the various Calls-to-Action proposed by the company.

Link and pay-per-click
A simple pay-per-click campaign, which works the same way in China as everywhere else, will help you gain an initial stronghold in the Chinese online market while your website is waiting submission in the local search engines. Your traffic will receive an early traffic boost and get important information on the performance and potential profitability of your website. Again, the advice and assistance of local online marketing experts will be invaluable to help you approach the main pay-per-click platforms in china (Baidu, Google,, and Bing), because, although the process is fairly similar for English and Chinese pay-per-click campaigns, the language and cultural barriers could be far too overwhelming and slow if not halt your attempt altogether.

Remember that, ideally, your Chinese marketing campaign should not be ‘translated’ from English, but developed from scratch and supervised by linguistic and market experts. Use your successful English online marketing strategy simply as a reference point but try to develop a local presence that make logic to the Chinese audience. Besides, the focus of your website and pay per click campaign, when handled by capable local professional, can be tailored towards the products that will be most profitable in China. A good pay-per-click manager may be able to find less competitive keywords and niches to increase your ROI.

When choosing potential working partners in China, try to find somebody you can rely on, trust and communicate with.

Your share strategy in China
As impenetrable as it seems, the notorious Great Firewall of China, has succeeded at blocking some international high social media profile sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter but it has not managed to keep this vast community from diving into social networking. Today, more than 500 million Chinese citizens are online reviewing, complaining, raving and overall, sharing what’s there to share with whomever is there to share it with. Of all of these users, 30% log into at least one of their favourite social media sites and most of them spend an average of  2.7 hours online per day — second to only the Japanese.

Cleverly enough, Chinese nationals have found a way to imitate the international social networks that are not allowed in China: Renren and Kaixin001 replace Facebook and Weibo replaces Twitter.
Youku is a video hosting platform, which only vaguely enforces copyright laws, while Jiepang is the most popular location-based mobile app, with Foursquare-style checkins.

The much talked about potential for foreign entrepreneurs breaking into the massive Chinese online market is certainly there. But the entry strategy needs to be carefully planned, researched and respectful of local customs, language and culture.

If you have relevant experience and want to share with those who are thinking about entering China but not daring to give the first step, let us know your thoughts.

Creating a website for Chinese audiences – Cultural and copy aspects

China is a major economic power with a highly untapped business potential.

A tagline that gets repeated regularly by government departments, businesses and other interested parties. Companies look towards the Far East and see over 1.3 billion Chinese potential customers/users/readers/buyers actively using the Internet as a source of information, to purchase a large range of goods and services and to share that information on those goods and services with their extensive lists of contacts.

But why is it that a potential online market of such magnitude is still being approached with great caution and vigilance by foreign companies? Why are foreign investors slow to take an early advantage on a country with the world’s largest number of Internet users? Is it fear of the unknown? Inability to break the language and culture barriers? Too many restrictions?

In this post, I’d like to raise a few issues for you to consider if you are thinking about approaching this giant that is the Chinese online community.

1. Be aware of online registration procedures and filtering restrictions.
Start by registering a Chinese (.cn) domain name and find data hosting that is physically located in China. This is a good idea from an SEO point of view, to make sure that Chinese search engines looking for geographical location are able to find you easily, but also to stress your commitment to conduct legitimate business in China with Chinese nationals and. Registering a .cn name might not be an easy task, and in fact, you need to be very careful of possible scamers. Try finding an accredited company with a reputable history. They might also be able to get you an ICP licence, which is needed for your site to go live. And remember that once your site is up, you will be faced by the GFW (Great Firewall of China), established to filter information that the Chinese Government considers to be unsuitable for the public ( not exclusively pornographic material but any news item, services and products that could be sensitive or contradictory to the Chinese Governments view). So, take advice from your provider from the start.

Another good option is to hire a webmaster that is native to China, usually marketing themselves in freelancing websites. Offer a weekly or monthly rate to register and maintain your site and look after any other aspects of the registration process like calling customer and technical support, and taking care of whatever other localised business you need done.

2. Cultural aspects to consider in your UI design.
Whenever you create a new version of your site in a foreign market, it’s always important to take cultural aspects into consideration to make sure your intended message gets interpreted and displayed appropriately and successfully. This is particularly true in the case of a market like China. It’s easy to become complacent and simply opt for translating your original design (and copy) to Chinese. That will not work. You should not assume that a UI design which has shown to be effective in your country will also work in China (or in any country for that matter). It is very important that you do your research (or use someone with more knowledge in this field to do it for you) and rebuild the different features of your site accordingly to adapt to Chinese cultural practices and standards.

• Chinese typography: the Chinese script is composed of over 40,000 ideographs (although the average person will considered to have an acceptable degree of literacy when capable of reading around 2,000 characters), each of them made up of at least one stroke and a maximum of 60 strokes. Such complexity makes Chinese a much more difficult language to read than most Latin-based scripts.

Chinese characters are blockish and dense and they need to be presented in a font at least 12 px to ensure ease of read. To improve readability, Chinese sites tend to divide the space available into multiple smaller cells or content blocks, so that the length of each line of writing is shorter and easier for the mind to process. Also, in order to improve user experience, Chinese sites tend to increase spacing between lines or use font colours with lower saturation and contrast. It is also important to maintain distributed alignment (text aligned to left and right margins).

• Chinese site layout:
It’s a good idea to visit some of the more popular Chinese websites such as Rayli and Chinaren to get an idea of the preferred layout and distribution. But my advise is to take into consideration that the state of the Chinese internet connection will be improving in the very near future and this will most certainly mean that Chinese users’ browsing behaviour will change. Lots of sites are currently using flash adverts for various reasons, mainly to cash out as much profit as they can, but also because they want to give the impression to be enjoying a booming trade and don’t want to loose face (Mian Zi), a key factor is Chinese collective behaviour.
This doesn’t mean, however, that Chinese users don’t enjoy simplicity and prefer a site overflowing with links and ads. Many are often seen complaining in Baidu and Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Google and Twitter, about the complexity of Chinese sites and the poor user experience they are forced to endure (in fact, many Chinese users apply a nifty little tool called 360 safeguard which allows them to filter and skip adverts).

It’s also very important to think about the range of colours used in your design. Colours do have different significance to visitors from different cultural backgrounds. It’s very easy to convey the wrong meaning by getting the colour choice wrong. Even the tone of the colours is important, as some Asian countries seem to prefer to use pastel cool tones like greens and blues as opposed to the brighter shades commonly used in Western sites.

I personally like to use Lush as a point of reference for successful localised layout and typography and colour localisation.

3. Cultural aspects to consider when copywriting and localising

  • Tone of voice:  Stop and think about your audience from a cultural and generational point of view before you embark on the task of translating (or writing) copy and localising. You need to discuss with your translator what’s the most appropriate tone of voice: If your main customer base is composed of generation X and Y, you need to find a way to get your message across to Chinese younger audiences avoiding certain formalisms that could simply contribute to making the sight sound outdated and unapproachable.Get a native speaker to review the final copy to pick on human errors or more subtle cultural blunders that may not have been picked up by the translator. But if you really want to cause the same emotive reaction you get from other markets from your Chinese audience, you might need to spend some more time and money employing someone who is able to transcreate, not merely translate. For more details on how transcreation works, visit my post:
  • Political and historical subtleties: Apart from the various and obvious restrictions imposed on the type of content broadcast in websites in China, you need to ensure your translator or writer are using the correct type of characters. Taiwan and Hong Kong prefer to use traditional Chinese, a much more complex version of the written language, while China introduced simplified characters in the 50s and 60 in an attempt to increase literacy. Make sure you are addressing Chinese people with simplified characters as using the traditional version could make it not only a lot harder to read for most people, but also completely inappropriate and ultimately a waste of your time and money.
  • Localisation of numerical data (weights and measures, dates, currency, fractions and time are often represented differently), pricing (make sure your prices reflect the local Chinese currency and taxes) and preferred payment methods. The most preferred online payment instrument in China currently is remittance (debit transfer), collection (credit transfer) and collection with acceptance (debit transfer) market. Also, its third party platform is highly competitive with 40 companies offering fairly similar services.
  • Specific legal regulations: You need to be aware of and compliant with the different privacy and antispam laws established by the Chinese government.
  •  Customer support: If you are an Ecommerce site you need to provide localised customer support for each country. Your online and offline support personnel must speak Mandarin, be available at the right hours, and be reached by local or low-cost phone numbers and email communications.