Chinese fans show their passion for ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’

By Wei Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/30 19:58:39

Fan art of Daenerys Targaryen by Liu Zhen Photo: Courtesy of Liu Zhen

Fan art of Jon Snow by Liu Zhen Photo: Courtesy of Liu Zhen


At around half past 11 in the evening, when most people would start to turn in for the night, Emma Wang turns on her laptop. Focused on her computer screen, she will spend the next two hours translating the dialogue from the hit US TV drama Game of Thrones into Chinese.

Currently studying and living in a major city in the eastern US, Wang is one of the many Chinese fans who work hard to share their passion for this fantasy world with others. 

Legion of translators

Wang belongs to a Chinese subtitle group which mainly focuses on offering unofficial Chinese subtitles to the US TV series Game of Thrones. The group is called The Other Legion, or yigui in Chinese - which means "closet," but sounds similar to the Chinese name of the mysterious White Walkers that appear in the show. The group is a loose organization that only meets online whenever HBO releases a new season of the show.

Most members have online handles related to the show in some way. Wang, for example, calls herself Lyanna on Bear Island - a reference to her favorite character Lyanna Mormont, the pre-teen head of House Mormont on Bear Island.

"This little girl became my idol over the past year. She is smart, calm and brave. I gave myself this nickname because it is a reminder not to forget my true self and to keep chasing a brighter future," Wang explained. 

"We have five to six people work on translating one episode, plus three supervisors. And we translate other related videos such as interviews and behind-the-scenes programs," Wang, a postgraduate student majoring in mathematics, told the Global Times over the phone.

She explained that she started off as a fan of the TV show in high school and then later fell in love with the book series, A Song of Ice and Fire, upon which the show is based

"None of us get paid. We are fueled by love of the show," she noted. 

Having taken part in translating five episodes of the recently ended seventh season, Wang is still a "freshman" within the organization. Yet, 28-year-old Chen, co-founder of Legion, has been working on the project since the group's creation in 2011.

Nicknamed The Lion of Winterfell, Chen immediately fell in love with George Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire when he read the first book in the series in high school. Although he now works in the medical industry, he still oversees all the Chinese subtitles that Legion produces.

Chen has nothing but one requirement for Legion members - "love the original work and be serious and responsible."

"We try our best to keep the original tone of the characters [while translating their dialogue into Chinese]," Chen told the Global Times, adding that at the end of each episode, they also highlight keywords so audiences can search for more information about the story.

Considering the large number of characters that appear in the show, Chinese audiences may have difficulty keeping track of everyone, so the subtitle makers often include a brief introduction on screen whenever a character makes an appearance for the first time in each episode.   

This consideration for the audience has helped Legion attract a huge fan base. Legion's official Sina Weibo account currently has more than 188,000 followers.

Once translations are completed, the subtitle file is uploaded to the Internet, so others can download it. It is up to viewers, however, to find episodes of the show themselves.

While Chen encourages fans to support the official releases of the show in China, he pointed out that the official version of the show on Chinese streaming platform Tencent, which has the exclusive streaming rights to the show, tends to be highly edited, which tends to turn off fans.

"It's not that Chinese audiences don't want to pay to watch the show, they just don't want to watch an edited version," Chen said, explaining why many Chinese turn to piracy and fan subtitle groups such as Legion to get their Game of Thrones fix.  

Another criticism that some hard-core fans have with the official Chinese version has to do with the officially translated subtitles themselves. In some cases where the show uses lines from the original book, the Chinese translation for some reason has decided not to use lines from the official Chinese translation of the novel, which tends to be written in a more literary style.

Fan art

Besides working to share the show with audiences in China, other fans show their passion for the show in different ways.

An artist that loves to paint, Liu Zhen has created a dozen of cartoon images of the characters from Game of Thrones.

Liu said that it was a "pure deep love towards the characters" that inspired her art, which she shares on Sina Weibo and  Instagram. 

"There is no perfect character, or completely good or bad guy. Each character in Game of Thrones has his or her own highlights, which makes people love and hate them at the same time. That is really awesome," Liu said.

According to 32-year-old Chinese musician Tang Bin, it is the show's tense plot that attracts him the most. Tang said that he became instantly absorbed into the show after the unexpected death of a major character during the first season.

"That kind of shock went far beyond anything I experienced before watching TV," Tang said.

A musician, Tang pays special attention to the music on the show. And he introduced three of his musician friends to the show, the four decided to come together and make a traditional Chinese music version of the show's theme song for fun. 

The video features Tang playing the traditional stringed instrument known as guqin, while his friends accompany him on various other instruments such as dongxiao (a vertical bamboo flute) and ruan (plucked stringed instrument). The video went viral soon after they uploaded it back in June 2016. The video on alone has reached 160,000 views and on has reached 75,000. 

"It's odd that our videos of traditional Chinese songs, which we worked so long to learn, got little attention, but this little video we made for fun got so huge all of the sudden," Tang said as he laughed. He added that he felt comforted by the fact that the popularity of the show has allowed more people to get to know these ancient instruments.

Newspaper headline: Love of the ‘Game’


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