One of China’s most prolific translators of American late-night TV shows has drawn the ire of the country’s web users after a former employee accused him of taking credit for her work.
Gudabaihua, a “fansubber” who has more than 11 million followers on Chinese microblogging platform Weibo, rose to fame by producing faithful, timely translations of popular programs like “The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report,” and “Saturday Night Live,” all of which have substantial followings in China. Gudabaihua’s translations — which appear as subtitles at the bottom of the video — have gained a reputation for rendering the shows’ subtle humor in easy-to-understand Chinese slang, and as such have become popular among Chinese audiences with a limited understanding of English.
But on Monday, a Weibo user who claimed to be Gudabaihua’s former employee wrote in a post that many fansubbed videos attributed to Gudabaihua were actually her own work. “I translated most of his videos for the past three years,” wrote the netizen, adding: “[Gudabaihua] is busy, and only did one or two videos occasionally.” She did not respond to Sixth Tone’s messages.
By Wednesday evening, her post had received more than 2,300 comments. Most expressed surprise or anger that the much-loved videos had been translated by other people. “[Gudabaihua] credits all the videos to himself, which gave most viewers the impression that he worked alone. I think [outsourcing this work to others] is a form of cheating,” wrote one user. Still other netizens have wondered why Gudabaihua didn’t simply credit the work to an entity such as “Gudabaihua Subtitle Group” rather than to himself.
On Monday, Gudabaihua — who has never revealed his real name — responded to the accusation, stating in another Weibo post that he couldn’t understand his former employee’s complaint, and that he had dismissed her due to the substandard quality of her work. Gudabaihua also claimed that he paid her over 100,000 yuan ($14,000) per year as part of their freelance arrangement, which also included numerous perks such as social insurance, housing subsidies, paid leave, and opportunities to interview A-list celebrities. In a response to another Weibo user’s comment later, Gudabaihua reiterated that he and the freelancer had reached an agreement, and that he wasn’t sure why she was bringing up the issue of credit now.
Fansubbing is a thriving industry in China, a country where overseas films and TV dramas are immensely popular — but sometimes official translations are either absent or substandard. When Chinese cinemas screened the Marvel blockbuster “Guardians of the Galaxy” in 2014, Gudabaihua published a blog post pointing out around 80 mistakes in the movie’s official Chinese subtitles.
However, not all TV series and movies have licensing agreements with the Chinese market, and consequently, many fansubbed videos are pirated. To guard against liability for copyright infringement, fan subtitles now typically appear with a disclaimer saying they are for “reference” and “study” purposes — both permissible justifications — as well as a reminder that the downloader should delete the video within 24 hours. In 2014, a large number of fansubbing groups were blocked by the central government on intellectual property grounds.
While many fansubbers volunteer their services for free, some do so professionally, though they’re often poorly remunerated. The hit South Korean romantic drama “My Love From the Star,” for example, has been viewed tens of millions of times by Chinese netizens, yet the show’s translators typically earn around 10 yuan for each hourlong episode.
Editors: Matthew Walsh and David Paulk.
(Header image: Gudabaihua speaks during an event organized by an online English school in Shanghai, July 28, 2017. VCG)