A British translator's devotion to documenting China

Xinhua, 11 22, 2023

British man David Ferguson, 67, holds more than one identity. He is the honorary chief English editor of the Foreign Languages Press, a documentary writer, son-in-law of a Chinese family, and previously worked as a journalist and a football agent.

Though better known in China for his polishing work on translations of Chinese classics and government documents in recent years, Ferguson's observations and documentation of China began nearly two decades ago.

Ferguson first came to China in 2004 to visit his future in-laws in the northeastern province of Jilin. "Before coming to China, I knew nothing about it," he recalled. Despite the cultural differences, the warmth and inclusiveness of the Chinese people soon made him feel at home.

Two years later, he decided to move to China. Ferguson soon discovered a stark contrast between the reality he witnessed and the portrayal of China presented by certain Western media outlets. It was then he resolved to become a journalist and share the authentic stories of China.

Over the subsequent years, Ferguson reported on events such as the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008, the Beijing 2008 Olympics, and the Expo 2010 in Shanghai.

One of his most remarkable experiences is one in Nantong, east China's Jiangsu Province. Ferguson transformed this encounter into a book titled "Nantong Tales," marking a shift in his career trajectory from a journalist to a writer and editor.

In Nantong, he encountered self-made businesspeople in the textile industry, who built international enterprises out of nothing. "They had no proper education, no money, and no business or management skills. The fascinating thing about them was the way that they had managed to overcome all these setbacks," he said.

One of the entrepreneurs started his business in the early 1970s by traveling to Romania with a backpack filled with embroidered pillowcases and tablecloths, recalled Ferguson, adding that knowing little Romanian, this Chinese businessman only had a Romanian book where he penciled the pronunciation of the words in Chinese pinyin so that he could communicate.

"They gave me an interesting insight into the entrepreneurial nature of Chinese people. I understand why Chinese people are successful in business, and I understand why China has a successful economy," he says. "Because they have a tremendous entrepreneurial spirit and a huge determination to succeed."

According to Ferguson, China's remarkable achievements over the past decade are also attributed to its sound political system.

"If people are going to work to build prosperity, they need to feel secure. They need to know that their efforts of today are not going to be undone by turmoil tomorrow," he said. "China's system lends itself to that."

In 2010, Ferguson joined the Foreign Languages Press, and has since authored books such as "In Red Embroidered Shoes (Suzhou)," "China's Rural Revitalization: the Gansu Experience," and "Building a Green Beijing," capturing his observations of China.

As a senior editor with a particular focus on political discourse, Ferguson's job is to meticulously compare and refine the translations of the Chinese texts, ensuring that they gain the broadest recognition in the English context. Sometimes, even a punctuation mark undergoes several rounds of discussion.

"I spent a lot of time on China's political discourse, but I also have creative ideas," said Ferguson. "I have a new book to write about Zhejiang."

Earlier this year, Ferguson was awarded the Orchid Awards, a tribute to international friends for fostering cultural exchanges between China and the rest of the world.

As he stated in his acceptance speech, among the people who built the Forbidden City, there were craftsmen, and there were also those who helped them carry materials. Translators are the "wood carriers," he said. "What we build is development, prosperity, and world peace."