Sliding Doors and Invisibility Cloaks, Translators Emerge on Centre Stage, by Charles Qin OAM

On the awards stage again recently got me thinking about sliding door moments. What and where would I be, had I remained in China 30 years ago? Being nominated for another award and to be a finalist in the longest running awards program of them all – the Ethnic Business Awards –has helped me reflect on life in Australia and work as an interpreter and translator for the last three decades.

As I said during the awards: “Coming to Australia was the best decision I ever made”. That was a common theme of finalists – some of whom came from war-torn countries with really heart-rending stories. For me, too, it certainly wasn’t easy leaving everything familiar and moving to a completely unknown country. Starting with nothing and having a dream – a dream that has come true. I chose the right door!

It didn’t start out that way though. When we set up Chin Communications, 28 years ago, there wasn’t much going on in the China relationship.  In fact some colleagues wondered why I would consider a China-facing business to be a plan at all! For the next two decades, however, it was an upward trajectory and it has been a joy to assist business, in particular, to succeed in China. From handwritten Chinese translations to the ubiquitous GoogleTranslate, I’ve seen huge change in our industry too. But just as everyone has predicted the downfall of human translation and translators for all of that time, in fact what we see now is huge growth in demand for quality translation whether for legal cases, or marketing to China and everything in between! What has changed is the technology.

Diplomacy has been a major focus of my work and being able to support two-way visits for all this time and getting the language and messaging right has been a significant contribution to the relationship and to diplomacy. We may be seated behind the leaders, but without us relationships wouldn’t get off the ground.  If we’re doing a good job our work is seamless and we are invisible.

Making a contribution to many success stories in the China space might have seemed unlikely 30 years ago and the importance of China to Australia’s economic trajectory is undoubted. However it is not only about dollars, a lot of the most inspiring work I’ve been part of are about friendships, learning exchanges, and building understanding. Things like the Melbourne-Tianjin 39-year relationship and the enduring friendships and business opportunities that have sprung up; similarly the Victoria-Jiangsu 40-year Sister State/Province which recently saw an inspiring visit from Jiangsu executives hosted by every single Victorian department looking at building more collaborations from education to science and many more.

Other significant projects made possible through translation include ANZSOG’s China Advanced Leadership Program over the last decade which has brought China’s ‘next gen’ to Australia where they all leave as ‘ambassadors’ for the relationship; the Dairy Australia Scholarship taking Australian dairy to Chinese consumers for 20 years… There is so much important work going on.

Today work is somewhat challenging due to the low ebb of diplomatic relations between China and Australia. I, like many businesses, just continue to tell the good stories of business and exchanges going on – that make a big difference to all of our lives and our economy, and it’s important to counter all of the negative China sentiment out there. If Australia doesn’t want to get left behind, we need China and the best way to achieve this is to stay in the tent. As a number of China experts have said recently, we need to restore our strong diplomacy: “Given the vast continent we occupy, the small population we have and our unique geo-strategic circumstances, our diplomacy must be the best in the world.” (Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd with thanks to Melissa Conley Tyler and Mitchell Vandewerdt-Holman, AIIA  for this insight).

Hear my story beautifully filmed by Ethnic Business Awards. Let me know if I made the right decision!

Thanks to EBA for putting the focus on the amazing contributions of migrants to the Australian story for 31 years. Look forward to more sliding door moments.


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