Chin Interpreting Team in Action Interpreting for President Xi – “He smiled”!

We’d like to reflect on one of our most significant projects of the century, as it is now a milestone for the team and we learned a great deal from it!

In November 2014, President Xi Jinping, Madam Peng and a large delegation of ministers and businesspeople descended on Australia and a trade frenzy began. With President Xi and a large entourage in Australia, the days were like a moving sedan chair with events staged at the Brisbane G20, in Canberra, Sydney and the fantastic day in Hobart. A retinue of politicians, businesspeople, minders, leaders, reporters and, of course, interpreters played important roles in bringing the visit to life. At Team Chin, we were busy translating agendas, menus, media releases, speeches – even wrap around newspaper coverage to commemorate the visit of President Xi. Our interpreters were spread around all the cities and events. By far our largest contingent of Mandarin Interpreters headed off to Hobart and looked after the language at every point from the airport to the top of Mount Wellington.

Chief Interpreter- Professor Charles Qin

“Ten years ago, when Australia and China embarked on FTA negotiations, I remember being at the table interpreting and since then I’ve been involved in more rounds, as well as interpreting on trade missions, for senior visits as well as looking after technical and specialised translations. So it brought nice closure to be back in Canberra again when the deal was finally done. During President Xi and Madam Peng’s visit to Hobart, I acted as the Chief Interpreter and worked closely with the Tasmanian Government. With a team of ten interpreters to assist, training, briefing and preparation were very important – congratulations to Team Chin for their dedication and enthusiasm.”

Interpreter – Bruce Song

“I was the interpreter for the Lieutenant Governor of Tasmania. In the executive council room, the top officials of the single biggest nation in the world sat in line with President Xi and Madam Xi at the front, and by chance as a result of the last minute rearrangements of seating mandated by the Chinese protocol team, all of a sudden I was at the top next to the Lieutenant Governor and facing the President. I felt nervous, but then the years of training kicked in for a smooth outcome and he smiled.”

Interpreter – John Zhou

“I was the interpreter for the Official Secretary of Government House, Mr David Owen – the Mr Carson of Downton Abbey, if you will! I was responsible for the interpretation of all communications between Mr Owen and the Chinese delegation and as the MC for the official lunch. It was a fanatical day. Mr Owen had to be in charge of every little detail. Running from place to place to ensure the right person was at the right place at the right time! The most important part was to introduce the President and Madam President and the Tasmanian officials prior to the lunch. We had a discussion beforehand and I suggested to Mr Owen that it might be culturally appropriate to introduce the Chinese President and Madam President first as they were the guests. Also, to ensure I used the correct terms in Chinese to address the President and Madam President was especially important in this instance, for example, the President’s wife is Madame Peng, but in Chinese, she is referred to as Xi Furen (习夫人 – Mrs Xi) or Zhuxi Furen (主席夫人 – Mrs President), not Peng Furen (彭夫人 – Madame Peng). Therefore, although it is not a problem in English, when interpreting into Chinese care must be taken.

Overall, it was a long and busy day, but it was also tremendously rewarding to be part of such an important event. And meeting the President and Madam President up close? Priceless!”

Interpreter – Peter Pei

“Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Australia coincided with the first Australia-China State/Provincial Leaders Forum, which was held in Sydney on 19 November. I was engaged to facilitate communication between Chinese and Australian leaders. I felt extremely lucky to be a member of the Chin team and had a horizon-broadening opportunity to use my interpreting skills at such a high-profile event, during which I was assigned to interpret for the Premier of Queensland and the Deputy Premier of NSW during their meetings with different Chinese Governors or Mayors.

I was able to get a glimpse of Diplomatic Interpreting, which is quite different from our usual interpreting in Australia, as clients of diplomatic interpreting are usually Government officials and VIPs, and the expectations and requirements of an interpreter for such an occasion are also different. An interpreter interpreting for formal discussions between politicians of two countries should not only be accurate, fluent and swift during the interpreting, but should also mind their voice, intonation, demeanour and other non-language skills. Since you are exposed to the press and cameras, the interpreter should know where to stand when the leaders are having photos taken. ”

Interpreter – Marcus Liu

“I was the interpreter for the Bacon family led by Mrs Honey Bacon in their meeting with the President and the First Lady. You may recall that it was former Tasmanian Premier the late Jim Bacon who brought the Sister-State relationship to China (with Fujian Province). I was very fortunate because Mrs Honey Bacon has worked with interpreters before. However, it was probably the first time for any of us to meet a person of such importance and influence in the world. Even the order of entry to the room has to be considered and I realised that it’s actually often the case that in such circumstances the interpreter is more experienced than the actual interlocutors. I was happy to assist in getting it right and all of us in the right order…

As shown on Chinese Central Television and on most other media, the President and his wife were both very happy to see seven-month old Ruby, especially Madame Peng – with a big, motherly smile she started to ask questions in English! It appeared that both the President and Madam President had good English proficiency, but chose not to use it probably for political or diplomatic reasons.
It was a great experience. I certainly learnt a lot.”

Interpreter – Kelly Tang

“My role was to assist with security checks at the gate of Government House along with government officials and police commanders. The Tasmanian government put a lot of effort into security by deploying a strong security force to every spot President Xi and the delegation might reach. Only those who had an authorised badge and were on the name list were permitted to enter Government House. From my conversation with both government officials as well as the locals we ran into, President Xi’s visit was hugely welcomed in Tasmania. They felt so fortunate to have a special bond with China’s top leader and hence were tremendously excited about hosting the couple in Tasmania.”

The importance of good organisation, attention to detail, protocol and communication all play a vital role in a State visit. And having the right interpreters is also an important part in pulling off such a high profile event. The right interpreters enhance communication by conveying information accurately; they assist cross-cultural communication between the parties, make amazing ‘saves’ behind the scenes and help to bring the story to life in this all-important relationship.


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GPO Box 2231, Melbourne 3001

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