Columbus's Discovery of New China? Taiwan publisher faces flak over costly error

Wan Lixin
The publishing house made the mistake of relying on software rather than an expert, which resulted in glaring errors in the published work.
Wan Lixin

A top publishing house in the Taiwan region of China is facing both scorn and criticism for a monumental blunder over a printed work.

The mistake was made by the Rye Field Publishing Co, which recently published a book titled "Jila Zhongguo" by Cao Yu, a Chinese mainland author. The title, which literally translates as "Pepper Hot China," recounts the 400-year history of a plant that originated in America and was introduced to China around the 16th century.

First cultivated as an ornamental plant, pepper is now a key ingredient in many Chinese dishes.

In its efforts to get it "correct," Rye felt it necessary to substitute "dalu," (Chinese mainland), with Zhongguo (China). But instead of trusting an expert to make the changes to the text manually, the publisher put his faith in technology instead and botched it badly.

The publisher ran through the text with software to replace all "dalu" with "Zhongguo," without realizing that in the Chinese language, "dalu" could also mean the geographical term "continent."

Therefore, systemic replacing of "dalu" must proceed with careful identification of, on a case-by-case basis, the actual meaning the word in a specific context.

Dispensing with this procedure is an omission unthinkable for any editor, for even with maximum precautions, mistakes tend to creep in.

As a result, in the new edition, Columbus's Discovery of the New Continent (the colloquial Chinese description of Columbus' discovery of America) ends up as "Columbus's Discovery of New China." The "Euroasian Continent" became "Euroasian China," and the "South Asian Subcontinent" translated into "South Asian Sub-China."

Cao was aware that the book had been published and was waiting for copies when he heard about the mistakes from a friend. He was shocked.

He took to Facebook on February 18 and accused the publisher of "an utter lack of professionalism."

The glaring errors also drew sarcastic comments from netizens in Taiwan.

Rye issued an apology, pledging that it would recall the copies from the bookstores and replace them with a new edition.

The costly mistake, however, reflects the regional authority's paranoia about the Chinese mainland, and its blatant play of ideological antagonism.

As one Taiwanese scholar reflected, the errors are worth pondering, occurring in a region that takes pride in its "freedom of the press." Whether it stemmed from the whims of a single editor, from the stated policy of the publisher, or whether the publisher chose to tinker with the text at the behest of some higher authority, all of them are deplorable.

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