Harry Potter in Chinese, Japanese & Vietnamese Translation


Chapter 3: The Knight Bus


Simplified Chinese (China)
Qíshì gōnggòng-qìchē
骑士 qíshì = 'knight'.
公共汽车 gōnggòng-qìchē = 'public car' = 'bus'.
The knight bus
Traditional Chinese (Taiwan)
Qíshì gōngchē
騎士 qíshì = 'knight'.
公車 gōngchē = 'public car' = 'bus'
The knight bus
Yoru no kishi basu / Naito basu
yoru = 'night'.
no = connecting particle
騎士 kishi = 'knight'.
バス basu = 'bus'.
ナイト naito = 'nite' (could be 'night' or 'knight').
The knight of the night bus / The nite bus
Vietnamese (Chinese characters show etymology)
Chuyến xe đò Hiệp sĩ chuyến = 'journey'.
xe đò = 'bus'.
hiệp sĩ (俠士) = 'knight'.
The journey by knight bus

The pun

The author uses an interesting pun in the name of the bus. When spoken, it sounds like 'night bus' - a bus that runs at night. But the spelling is 'knight bus' - suggesting a knight in shining armour coming to the rescue of stranded wizards. How is this virtually untranslatable pun handled by the translators?

One approach is to ignore the pun and just translate the name as 'knight bus'. This is what the Chinese, Taiwanese, and Vietnamese translators have done.

The Japanese translator comes up with an ingenious solution. Japanese writing has a peculiar device known as furigana or rubi. This involves placing small phonetic lettering (katakana or hiragana) above the text to indicate how it should be pronounced. This is useful for showing the pronunciation of difficult characters. It's also commonly found in children's books to help young readers. In fact, furigana is used throughout the Japanese translation of Harry Potter.

But furigana has another, more interesting use that is commonly exploited by writers and authors. Rather than giving the normally expected pronunciation, furigana can be used to give ordinary words a completely unexpected pronunciation. Sometimes this might involve giving a special twist to ordinary words. Often it involves giving the English equivalent of a Japanese word.

This particular use of furigana is quite common in 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban'. It's used in no less than six chapter titles to give the English pronunciation of words like 'firebolt' and 'dementor'. (See Chapter 5, Chapter 7, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 15, Chapter 20)

In this case, the translator uses furigana (or rubi) to explain the knight/night pun. The furigana is ナイト naito ('nite'), which could be either 'night' or 'knight'. The furigana ナイト naito spans the entire phrase 夜の騎士 yoru no kishi, 'knight of the night', making it clear that both are meant. This pun works in Japanese because virtually all Japanese know that ナイト naito means 'night', and quite a few also know that it means 'knight' (both are listed in Japanese dictionaries as loanwords from English).

The translator should be congratulated for coming up with such an ingenious way to render this difficult pun! (For a slightly more detailed explanation, please see Word Play: 'The Knight Bus'.


The Chinese and Japanese word for a Western mediaeval knight is 騎士 / 骑士, read qíshì or kishi. The characters mean (roughly) 'a gentleman who rides (a horse)'. Vietnamese also has this word (kỵ sĩ), but the more common Vietnamese term for 'knight' is hiệp sĩ, taken from Chinese tradition. The hiệp sĩ (usually called a 俠客 / 侠客 xiákè in Chinese) was a person in olden times who was adept in the martial arts and given to chivalrous conduct, a very close equivalent to the knights of the Middle Ages (see the Wikipedia article on Wuxia). As an aside, Spiderman in Chinese is usually rendered 蜘蛛侠 zhīzhu-xiá -- the 'spider knight'.


The Mainland translator uses the official word for 'bus', 公共汽車 / 公共汽车 gōnggòng-qìchē ('public vehicle'). The Taiwanese translator uses a common Taiwanese word for bus, 公車 / 公车 gōngchē ('public vehicle'), which is also used in southern China.

There are actually two other Chinese words for bus. The first is 巴士 bāshì, from English 'bus', which is commonly used in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Why the pronunciation bāshì? Because in Hong Kong, where it probably originated, 巴士 is pronounced like 'bus' in English. In Mandarin, however, the correct pronunciation for these two characters is bāshì, which is how it's pronounced in Beijing. 巴士 bāshì is becoming common in Mainland China, where it is abbreviated as in 大巴 dà-bā 'large bus' and 中巴 zhōng-bā 'medium-sized bus'.

On the Mainland, another word is gradually displacing 公共汽车 gōnggòng-qìchē for public bus services: 工交车 gōngjiāo-chē meaning 'public transport vehicle'.

The standard Vietnamese word for 'bus', at least in Hanoi, is xe buýt, where xe means 'car' or 'vehicle' and buýt is from French 'bus'. However, the Vietnamese translator, in line with her general practice throughout the books, used the Saigon term for a bus, which is xe đò.

(A summary of this chapter can be found at Harry Potter Facts. Detailed notes on the chapter can be found at Harry Potter Lexicon)

Chapter 2
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