Last August you might have read Howard French’s New York Times article on Chinese subtitle teams, which explains who these seemingly anonymous people, who offer Chinese viewers timely, subtitled versions of popular TV shows such as “Desperate Housewives,” “Prison Break,” and “Lost.” The NYT article got a lot of attention from Chinese netizens as well as the media, for example in this recent Chinese article delves further into this subject and works as a good follow-up to French’s article.
The article has slightly more details about the entire process. For example, the team might include Chinese students in the US, who FTP the show to China (via Korean servers, sometimes). Then someone has to put up the English subtitles so that it matches the dialogue, and then, for an hour long show that has 45 minutes of footage, you get about four translators to do about ten minutes each, and this they can do in about 2 hours. In the interest of time they don’t really speak to each other while working. If there’s something they don’t get, they consult Google.
When French says in his article that rival translation groups are locked in fierce battle with each other, he’s not joking. One example given in the Chinese article: A “Prison Break” episode that was received in China at around 9:30 in the morning, and was completely translated and posted on the internet at 4:02pm that same day. Why are they so pressed for speed? Well, the rival group finished that episode about 3 hours later, and only got 1/10 the number of downloads of the first group.
These people don’t do it for the money, but for the love of the shows. One group, called the TLF (we want to believe it stands for “Television Liberation Front,” though that’s probably just indicative of our political leanings), has had over 500 people working for them worldwide and currently has 100 active members.
Even though these people know what they do is somewhat illegal and are therefore skeptical and reluctant to talk to the media, they have gradually become less underground than before. In fact they are now hiring, but aside from love of TV shows and grasps of English you have to know a lot about BT and download programs that we’ve never even heard of. We think it’d be an interesting experience, even though we probably wouldn’t qualify for the job. Just to say that I, yes I, was once a renegade DVD subtitler.
On a somewhat related note, we were just reading this Chinese guy’s blog, where he says that he went shopping for pirated DVDs at one of Shanghai’s two largest markets for pirated DVDs, which is at or around a particular light-rail (line 3 or 4) station. In his blog, he uses x’s where the name of the station is. Does anyone know what that place is? And since he says that’s one of two, where’s the other place?
Photo from MFinChina’s Flickr page