Superman – Man of Steel is currently showing on Singapore screens, looks like the receipts would be “super”.

However, the chinese translation of the movie title bothers me; as it illustrates the point why it is not easy to translate from English to Chinese and vice versa.

The chinese translation reads “钢铁英雄” gāng tiě yīng xióng, which at one glance, it means heroes of steel (industry)!

There are 2 issues here.  As the Chinese had associated with 铁 (iron) since early days, any use of 钢铁 (steel) for metaphors are meaningless. So if we want to translate steel, we have to use iron.

Another issue stems from the different cultural perspectives pertaining steel.  ‘Man of Steel” is understood to mean a man that is unyielding, strong and courageous; just like Superman who saves the Earth against mighty enemy in the movie.  The issue here is that translating it literally will have its meaning “lost in translation” as the Chinese perception of iron is different.

What are the inferred meanings of  铁?

i. hard or unbreakable as iron. E.g. 铁饭碗 tiě fàn wǎn (iron rice bowl or secured employment, like jobs in civil service)

ii. firm. E.g. 铁面无私 tiě miàn wú sī – lit. iron mask and selfless (idiom); honest and incorruptible

iii. irrefutable. E.g. 铁证如山 tiě zhèng rú shān – lit. evidence are concrete like iron and mountain – irrefutable evidence

iv. determined. E.g. 铁了心 – the heart (mind) is determined like iron

v. look serious. E.g. 铁着脸  tiězhe liǎn. lit iron-ing the face (serious looking).

Thus translating  the movie title literally will be insufficient as it does not bring across the meaning well. One possibility is tap on Chinese idiom to bring out the heroic quality but give a creative twist to incorporate “iron” so that it is a half-literal, half-inferred translation.  This is because the chinese idioms are 4 characters long and it does not take up too much space.  Other way is have 2 words (word is normally 2 characters) that when join together would have the similar meaning.

My choice: 铁志雄心 tiě zhì xióng xīn. It is concatenation of 铁志 (firm resolve) and 雄心 (great ambition).  It fits the image of Superman – a man with an iron resolve and a great ambition of saving mankind! As it is, with the current haze in Singapore, Superman is welcome here!

Do drop a note if you any have any suggestion on the translation.


It’s a bird, a plane, no it’s Steel Man!
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One thought on “It’s a bird, a plane, no it’s Steel Man!

  • August 20, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    each time i used to read smaller articles or reviews that
    also clear their motive, and that is also happening with this article which I am reading here.

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