Bridging legal divides


Counterclockwise from top left: The cover of the Vietnamese version of the Civil Code of the People's Republic of China. Le Thi Khanh Linh gifting the book to Yang Canming, president of ZUEL. Le gifting the book to Hou Zhenfa, Party secretary of ZUEL. A page from the book. Le posing for the graduation photo for her master's degree at ZUEL. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Le Thi Khanh Linh, a Vietnamese legal scholar, overcame language barriers to translate China's Civil Code, facilitating legal and cultural exchanges between nations.

When Le Thi Khanh Linh graduated from the College of Law at Hue University in Vietnam in 2016, she made a decision to start learning Chinese. Little did she know that this decision would eventually lead to her translating the Civil Code of the People's Republic of China into Vietnamese, which was published in 2021.

As the main translator, currently pursuing a PhD in criminal law at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law (ZUEL) in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei province, Le, 29, was surprised to see the first 500 copies promptly sold out, indicating a high demand for the publication.

This year coincides with the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative. In recognition of this milestone, Le chose to present the translated Civil Code of the People's Republic of China to ZUEL. Learning of her initiative, Hue University, Le's alma mater, generously donated 20 copies from its collection.

Reflecting on her decision to learn Chinese in 2016, Le explained, At the time of graduation, my English was decent, but so were many other Vietnamese students. To increase my competitiveness in the job market, I decided to learn Chinese. The more I learned, the more I became fond of the language. There are many similarities between Chinese and my mother tongue, which is very interesting.

Over a two-year Chinese learning journey with a tutor, Le's passion for the language grew, leading to her bold decision in 2018 to pursue a master's degree in international law at ZUEL in China.

Our program was taught in English, and my Chinese wasn't very fluent at that time. However, I always grabbed every opportunity to speak Chinese with my professors and Chinese friends. Also, I took Chinese classes at the International Education Department, Le said.

After completing her master's degree, Le returned to Hue University to teach. It was then that she discovered the practical applications of her Chinese language ability.

According to Le, in Vietnam, many legal terms are written in Chinese characters, creating a language barrier for students. While most professors can only explain these terms by abstractly describing the concept, Le's proficiency in Chinese gave her an advantage.

Since I'm able to decode Chinese, I could explain the terms in a way that's easier for the students to understand, she said.

But for Le, the application of Chinese in the field of law wasn't confined to the classroom setting. Tran Kien, PhD, a professor from Vietnam National University (VNU) in Hanoi, recognized Le's expertise and approached her for the monumental task of translating the Civil Code of the People's Republic of China.

If in the 19th century the civil code of the century was that of France, and the civil code of the 20th century was that of Germany, then the 21st century is likely to be the century of the Chinese Civil Code, Tran said.

Le did not work alone. Alongside Tran and two other PhDs from VNU, she also had a fellow scholar studying in France as a professional proofreader.

My proofreader specializes in civil law, and he would give me suggestions for revision after reading my draft, Le said.

When it comes to Chinese, I'm the expert, but in terms of civil law, he is.

Le and her team had to overcome obstacles like the absence of direct translations for certain terms in Chinese. For instance, we don't have a direct translation for the Chinese word peiou (spouse) in Vietnamese. We only have 'husband' and 'wife', Le said. Our solution was to write the pinyin in Vietnamese followed by an explanation.

They also faced challenges such as differences in meaning. In Vietnamese, the word 'government' refers to the highest administrative agency, equivalent to the State Council of China, but in China, there are governments at all levels, she said.

Le stressed that they had to be very aware of these differences and nuances in order to explain them with clarity.

After three months of strenuous work, Le completed the translation at the end of 2020.

Comprising over 100,000 words and 1,260 ordinances, the Vietnamese version of the Civil Code of the People's Republic of China was officially published by the Publishing House of VNU.

Due to the language barrier, Vietnamese scholars could only access the English copy of the Civil Code of the People's Republic of China in the past, and many things could be lost in translation. I don't think such learning method was ideal, Le said. Now they can study and do research unhindered with the Vietnamese version.

To meet the increasing demand, Le and her team are preparing to print 1,000 copies of a revised edition in the coming year.

This revised version incorporates corrections, updates to terminology, and the addition of judicial interpretations from the Supreme People's Court on the Chinese Civil Code, Le said.

Le noted that it will go into print as soon as Vietnamese legal experts finish reviewing the texts.

Le's family has always been proud and supportive of her decisions.

I'm from a family of doctors. Although they know little about my major, my parents would often showcase my translated book to others, and my brother would post screenshots of my interview on social media.

Looking ahead, Le plans to translate the Criminal Law of the People's Republic of China as her next ambitious project.

Criminal law is my specialized area of focus. While others have translated specific ordinances, I aim to encompass a broader scope, incorporating fundamental principles of Chinese law and practical cases, Le said.

I hope to make a contribution to fostering deeper legal and cultural exchanges between China and Vietnam.