Le Petit Prince

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Table of all translations of the fox's secret here.

The Fox's Secret:
On ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur.
Translating into Chinese (1)

(Chinese translations) ▶ Here is my secret. It is very simple ▼ One sees clearly only with the heart ▶ What is essential is invisible to the eyes

On ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur | It's only with the heart that one sees clearly

With upwards of 50 translations of Le petit prince into Chinese, treating them like English, where there are only five, is out of the question. I adopt here a statistical approach, which is visually quite messy. To help readers navigate through the detail, variations and statistics are placed in grey boxes and can be skipped. Note: This page is undergoing an update and not all stats have been updated yet.

I've got 51 Chinese translations of this simple but profound sentence. (Excludes adaptations and the shameless plagiarism of Liú 2004. There are also older translations I haven't been able to get hold of.)

Only 25 of the Chinese versions appear to be translated from the original French. 25 take a 'shortcut' by translating from the English version of Katherine Woods ('It is only with the heart that one can see rightly'), and one is a bit uncertain.


little prince A. STRUCTURE

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This is an ideal sentence for building up brick by brick -- and in Chinese it shows up interesting ways in which Chinese is different from English or French. Both avec le cœur 'with the heart' and ne ... que 'only' come out as quite different structures.

1. BASIC SENTENCE PATTERN

On the surface, the very basic Chinese sentence pattern is not so different from the French or English original:

BASIC SENTENCE
 
on
'one'
voit
'sees'
[les choses]
['things']

rén
'person'

kàn
'look, see'
[事情]
[shìqing]
['things']

The order is the same as French and English: Subject - Verb - Object.

But unlike English or French, Chinese can omit the subject, and in this sentence, a majority of Chinese translators (at least two thirds) do just that. (See translating on or 'one').

On the other hand, unlike English and French, about a quarter of translators prefer to spell out the object, generally with an expression meaning 'things' or 'essential things' (See translating the object of seeing).

Adding 'with the heart'

To express 'with the heart', Chinese uses 用心 yòng xīn 'use the heart':

ADDING 'WITH THE HEART'
 
on
'one'
avec le cœur
'with the heart'
voit
'sees'
[les choses]
['things']

rén
'person'
用心
yòng xīn
'with heart'

kàn
'look, see'
[事情]
[shìqing]
['things']

There is already an interesting difference from French and English: 'with the heart' comes before the verb 'to see' in Chinese.

In fact, unlike 'with' in English and avec in French, yòng isn't a 'preposition' at all; it's a verb -- the verb 'to use'. 'With the heart' in Chinese literally means 'use the heart'. (While virtually all the translators use yòng to mean 'with', there's one translator who uses 依靠 yīkào 'to rely on' instead. This creates a more formal effect.)

So unlike French and English, the Chinese sentence has two verbs. The first is yòng 'to use', the second is kàn 'to see':

DOUBLE-VERB SENTENCE
 
on
'one'
emploie
'uses'
le cœur
'the heart'
voit
'sees'
[les choses]
['things']

rén
'person'

yòng
'use'

xīn
'heart'

kàn
'look, see'
[事情]
[shìqing]
['things']

Although Chinese grammarians treat yòng as a verb, it is in some ways a kind of half-way house between verbs and prepositions...


Chinese has a class of words very similar to 'prepositions', known as 介词 jiècí, which are evolved from verbs. It includes words like:

As a verb
As a preposition
zài 'to exist' zài 'at'
/ 'to move away' / '(distance) from'
dào 'to arrive' dào 'to'
gēn 'to accompany' gēn 'with (accompanying)'
cóng 'to follow' cóng 'from'

Many of these can still function as full verbs. And just like 'with the heart', such prepositional phrases precede the main verb or adjective.

As a verb
As a preposition
我在北京
wǒ zài Běijīng
'I'm in Beijing' 我在北京吃饭
wǒ zài Běijīng chī fàn
'I'm eating in Beijing'
-- (Not used as a full verb in modern Chinese) 我离北京很远
wǒ lí Běijīng hěn yuǎn
'I'm far from Beijing'
我到北京了
wǒ dào Běijīng le
'I've arrived in Beijing' 我到北京来了
wǒ dào Běijīng lái le
'I've come to Beijing'
我跟着他
wǒ gēn-zhe tā
'I'm accompanying him' 我跟他一起来了
wǒ gēn tā yīqǐ lái le
'I came with him'
-- (Not used as a full verb in modern Chinese) 我从北京来了
wǒ cóng Běijīng lái le
'I've come from Beijing'

As we can see, some of these words have lost the ability to function as full verbs, which means that their nature as 介词 jiècí is quite clear cut.

There are other words which, like yòng, still have a strongly verbal nature but are moving in the direction of becoming 介词 jiècí. For example, the word 'to hold', in colloquial Chinese is used just like a 介词 jiècí.

我拿着锤子
wǒ ná-zhe chuízi
'I'm holding a hammer' 我拿锤子打钉子
wǒ ná chúizi dǎ dīngzi
'I hit a nail with a hammer'

yòng's verbal nature brings about an extra twist in the Chinese.

For instance, it's common in speech to insert the verb 'to go' or a similar verb between the two sentences:

BASIC PATTERN WITH
 
on
'one'
emploie le cœur
'uses the heart'
aller
'go'
voir
'see'
[les choses]
['things']

rén
'person'
用心
yòng xīn
'use heart'


'go'

kàn
'look, see'
[事情]
[shìqing]
['things']

adds a dimension of purpose. The sentence means: "A person uses the heart in order to go and see [things]." About a third of translators insert or a similar word. The patterns of inserting or a similar word are as follows...


USE THE HEART TO GO AND SEE
 
用心
yòng xīn
'use the heart'
--
31
用心
yòng xīn
'use the heart'
去看
qù kàn
'to go and see'
14
用心
yòng xīn
'use the heart'
去观察
qù guānchá
'to go and observe'
2
用心
yòng xīn
'use the heart'
來看
qù kàn
'to come and see'
1
用心
yòng xīn
'use the heart'
去观察,去感受
qù guānchá, qù gǎnshòu
'to go and observe, go and experience'
1
Total
45

(These don't include the three sentence patterns that make 'the heart' into the subject, nor the translation that uses a nominalisation.)


Adding bien ('well')

Next we add the word for 'well'. Note: A few translators don't express bien or don't express it as a separate word. These include a few who don't use the verb kàn 'to see', and a few who use a somewhat different sentence pattern.

The great majority of translators use a very common and versatile Chinese construction known as the resultative construction or complement of result (結果補語 / 结果补语 jiéguǒ bǔyǔ) in order to express the meaning of bien /'rightly'. At its simplest, a resultative has the following structure:

RESULTATIVE STRUCTURE
 
Verb
Complement of result
(adjective or verb)
kàn
'to look, to see'
清楚 qīngchu
'clear'

Together the two parts represent an action (looking) and its result (clarity) -- 'to see clearly'.

Our basic sentence with resultative looks like this:

WITH A RESULTATIVE FOR BIEN ('RIGHTLY')
 
on
'one'
avec le cœur
'with the heart'
voit
'sees'
bien
'clearly'
[les choses]
['things']

rén
'person'
用心
yòng xīn
'use heart'

kàn
'look, see'
清楚
qīngchu
'clearly'
[事情]
[shìqing]
['things']

But there is a lot of variation in the resultative used, which is dealt with in Vocabulary Choices. Chinese has three choices of form for the potential form of resultatives. This is not a major issue because the three are virtually interchangeable, but as a matter of curiosity, it's interesting to see which forms are most used in these translations...


Resultative patterns

The three choices in forming the potential form of resultatives are:

    1. Auxiliary verb only: néng, similar to pouvoir in French and 'can' in English. (In official, formal, or translated styles, the form 能够 nénggòu 'can fully' is often used.) Thus: 能看清楚 néng kàn qīngchu.
    2. The potential form of the resultative: The resultative has its own peculiar potential form, created by adding the particle or infix de between the verb and its complement of result: 清楚 kàn-de-qīngchu. (The negative potential, 'can't see clearly', is formed by inserting an unstressed 'not' between the verb and its complement of result: 清楚 kàn-bu-qīngchu.)
    3. A combination of the two: 能看得清楚 néng kàn-de-qīngchu

The following table shows how the potential is expressed in resultatives:

Those using resultatives
F
E
?
Total
Auxiliary verb only ( néng)
6
4
0
10
Potential of result only ( de infix)
4
2
0
6
Both ( néng and de)
8
14
1
23
Total
18
20
1
39

As can be seen, the combination of auxiliary + potential infix is by far the most popular -- 23 out of 39 resultative occurrences. The auxiliary verb néng is also relatively popular, but the potential infix is in a definite minority.

For this, there is a strong correlation with English-based translations. Fourteen out of 20 sentences in the English-based translations use the auxiliary + infix combination. In translations based on the French there is no noticeable proponderence: all three are well represented, although the potential infix is still in something of a minority. A couple of possible explanations suggest themselves, although these are just guesses:

    Since the French uses voit 'sees' rather than peut voir, there may have been recitence about using the double form, which spells out the potential meaning very clearly. This doesn't apply to the English version, which uses 'can see'.
    The kneejerk translation for 'can see' may be 能看得见 néng kàn-de-jiàn. The ingrained habit of using 能 + 得 néng + de where only one form would be sufficient has perhaps been reinforced by English-teaching practices.

Besides resultatives, a few translators use adverbs (副詞 / 副词 fùcí) to translate bien / 'rightly'. Unlike resultatives, adverbs are placed before the verb and often end in de or de (equivalent to '-ly' in English). An example is 真正地 zhēnzhèng-de 'really'.

ADDING AN ADVERB FOR BIEN ('RIGHTLY')
 
Adverb
Verb
真正的
zhēnzhèng de
'truly'

kàn
'look, see'

Ne .. que, 'only'

It is the ne ... que 'only' construction that causes the biggest departure from the English and French originals.

In the French original, ne ... que places the grammatical focus on the phrase avec le cœur:

ne ... qu'avec le cœur

Similarly for the English, where 'only' places the focus on the phrase 'with the heart':

'only with the heart'

Some English versions use a particular structure (known as 'clefting') to further emphasise that the focus should go on 'with the heart':

'it is only with the heart that...'

By this means, the English and French versions restrict the means of achieving clear vision to 'the heart'.

Chinese does this quite differently. As we saw above, the sentence already has two verbs. To express the concept of having only one choice ('use the heart') in order to attain an objective ('see things well'), Chinese recasts the sentence like this:

RENDERING 'ONLY'
 
A
B
on
'one'
employer le cœur (va voir)
'use the heart (to go and look)'
peut voir bien
'can see clearly'
[les choses]
['things']

rén
'person'
只有
zhǐ yǒu
'only (if)'
用心 (去看)
yòng xīn qù kàn
'use heart (go look)'
才能
cái néng
'only then can'
看得清楚
kàn-de-qīngchu
'see clearly'
[事情]
[shìqing]
['things']

What is notable is how ne ... que ('only') comes out as a double-barrelled construction:

只有 ... 才能
zhǐ yǒu ... cái néng
('only (if) ... only then can')

The two parts of the sentence are:

Clause A (the focus) presents the necessary condition: "只有用心 zhǐ yǒu yòng xīn 'only (if) use the heart'".

Clause B then presents the result: "才能看得清楚 cái néng kàn-de-qīngchu 'only then can see clearly'".

Notice that even if Clause A contains 去看 qù kàn 'go see' (see above), Clause B repeats the verb, i.e., 看清楚 kàn-qīngchu 'see clearly'. That is: 'Only if you use the heart to go and see can you see clearly'.

The word cái 'only then' is essential here. Even if 只有 zhǐ yǒu ('only (if)') is left out, the cái in Clause B is enough to show that it's conditional on Clause A. cái cannot be left out.

Most translators stick to using 只有 zhǐ yǒu in Clause A, although there is a certain amount of variation. Curiously, one translator incorrectly uses jiù 'and then' in Clause B. There is considerable variation in the details of use...

Ne ... que ('only')

Only
ne ... que
'it is only ... that'
只有 ... 才
zhǐ yǒu ... cái

TOP

For the first part of this double-barrelled expression, most translators stick to plain vanilla 只有 zhǐ yǒu. However, a few use alternative expressions:

VARIATIONS ON 只有 ... 才 zhǐ yǒu ... cái
 
只有
zhǐ yǒu
'only (if)'

cái
'only then'
Standard version.
40
--
--
'...'

cái
'only then'
cái on its own is sufficient to convey the meaning.
2
唯有
wéi yǒu
'solely (if)'

cái
'only then'
More formal or literary.
3

wéi
'solely'

cái
'only then'
More formal or literary.
1
只能
zhǐ néng
'only can'

cái
'only then'
A mixed structure. See below.
1
只要
zhǐ yào
'only need'

cái
'only then'
Strictly speaking incorrect. Expresses a sufficient condition ('all you need to do is...'), not a necessary condition ('you must ...'). However, cái makes the sense clear.
2
只要
zhǐ yào
'only need'

jiù
'then'
Incorrect. Expresses a sufficient condition ('all you need to do is...'), not a necessary condition ('you must ...').
1
Total    
50

A couple of these renditions are inaccurate or nonstandard.

1) The translator who uses jiù instead of cái changes the meaning to 'You only need to look with the heart in order to see clearly'. This is definitely off the track!

2) More puzzling is the translation that uses 只能 zhǐ néng:

只能用心才看得准确。
Zhǐ néng yòng xīn cái kàn de zhǔnquè.
'Can only with the heart (only) see accurately '.

This actually appears to be a blend of two constructions, 只有 zhǐ yǒu 'only (if)' and 只能 zhǐ néng 'can only', as shown in the following table:

BLEND OF TWO STRUCTURES
 
a b
用心看得准确。
Zhǐ yǒu yòng xīn cái néng kàn de zhǔnquè.
'Can only see clearly with the heart'
用心看。
Zhǐ néng yòng xīn kàn.
'Can only look with the heart'
a + b
用心看得准确。
Zhǐ néng yòng xīn cái kàn de zhǔnquè.

This isn't exactly a standard collocation in terms of formal grammar, but's probably not as uncommon as the grammar books might have you believe.


Subject and object

The basic Chinese sentence, like the French, uses an ordinary sentence with a subject, verb, and object. In the French, the subject is on, and the object is not expressed at all. In the Chinese, both the subject and the object tend to be omitted. Where they are expressed, there is some difference in terms used (see choice of subject and expressing the object).

Where translators do express the subject or object, since the Chinese sentence is more complex there is some leeway in deciding where to place the subject (before the first clause or before the second) and the object (after the first verb, after the second, or as a topic of the whole sentence). While most translators omit the subject, some do not. The subject (on or 'one') can be placed before the A clause or before the B clause...

Placing of the subject

PRESENCE AND PLACING OF THE SUBJECT ON
Subject
A Clause
Subject
B Clause
Occurrences
--
(只有)
(zhǐ yǒu)
'(only if)'
用心
yòng xīn
'use the heart'
--

cái
'only then'
能看得清楚
néng kàn-de-qīngchu
'can see clearly'
28

rén
'person'
(只有)
(zhǐ yǒu)
'(only if)'
用心
yòng xīn
'use the heart'
--

cái
'only then'
能看得清楚
néng kàn-de-qīngchu
'can see clearly'
11
--
(只有)
(zhǐ yǒu)
'(only if)'
用心
yòng xīn
'use the heart'

rén
'person'

cái
'only then'
能看得清楚
néng kàn-de-qīngchu
'can see clearly'
4
Total
43

While most prefer to put the subject at the beginning, there are several who start without a clear subject and only mention it at the second clause.

Placing of the object

The object may be placed at at least three positions in the sentence.

Most translations with an explicit object place it in its normal position after the main verb. A minority make it into the topic. One makes it the object of the A clause.

Topicalised
A Clause
Object of A Clause
B Clause
Object of B Clause
Occurrences
凡事 (2)
fánshì
'all'
只有用心去看
zhǐ yǒu yòng xīn qù kàn
--
才能看得清楚
cái néng kàn-de-qīng
--
2
--
事情
shìqing
'things'
--
1
-- -- 1. 事物的本质 (5)
shìwu de běnzhì
'the essence of things'
2. 事物的真偽和重要性
shìwu de zhēnwěixìng hé zhòngyàoxìng
'the truth or falsity and importance of things'
3. 真實的東西
zhēnshí de dōngxi
'true things'
4. 本质的东西
běnzhì de dōngi
'essential things'
5. 事物的真相
shìwù de zhēnxiàng
'true aspect of things'
6. 一切 (2)
yīqiè
'all things'
7. 世界
shìjiè
'the world'
12
Total
13

The various patterns (verbs, resultatives, adverbs, and objects) used in translating voit bien can be summarised thus:

Patterns used to translate voit bien

The Verb and its Adverb
voit bien
'can see rightly'
能看清楚(事物的本质)
néng kàn-qīngchu (shìwu de běnzhì)

This table sums up the main patterns used to express 'see clearly' (keeping in mind that these are patterns and there is variation in the actual words used).

PATTERNS EXPRESSING VOIT BIEN
 
Adverb
Verb
Resultative
Object
WITH RESULTATIVE

kàn
'look, see'
清楚
qīngchu
'clearly'
29

kàn
'look, see'
清楚
qīngchu
'clearly'
事物的本质
shìwù de běnzhì
'the essence of things'
7

kàn
'look, see'
清楚
qīngchu
'clearly'
凡事
fànshì
'all things'
(Object found at other part of the sentence, e.g., topic)
3
真正的
zhēnzhèng de
'truly'

kàn
'look, see'

jiàn
'see'
3
NO RESULTATIVE
正确地
zhèngquè de
'accurately'
看待
kàndài
'look upon'
世界
shìjiè
'the world'
1
洞察
dòngchá
'perceive'
一切
yīqiè
'all'
1
体会
tǐhuì
'understand, experience'
1
Total
45

little prince 2. EXCEPTIONAL PATTERNS

There are a few translations that depart from the "standard" sentence structure in ways large and small.

'Only the heart can see': Le cœur as subject

TOP

Three translators vary the basic sentence by making 'the heart', originally an instrument, into the subject. That is,

A person sees [things] with the heart

becomes

The heart sees [things].

This gives this rather exceptional basic pattern:

BASIC PATTERN ('HEART' AS SUBJECT)
 
le cœur
'the heart'
voit
'sees'
[les choses]
['things']

xīn
'the heart'

kàn
'look, see'
[事情]
[shìqing]
['things']

This is actually a rather larger difference in the Chinese than is suggested by the French or English. First, the subject rén 'person' disappears completely. In addition, the double-verb construction ( yòng ... kàn) also disappears.

Despite this, the final result doesn't show such a big difference after all. The omission of the subject rén is no big deal because most Chinese translators omit it anyway.

More importantly, the Chinese 只有 ... 才 zhǐ yǒu ... cái ('only if .... only then') construction is highly flexible. The A Clause can hold anything from a single word to a sentence. It quite easily takes a single noun in its stride:

ADDING 'ONLY'
 
seulement
'only'
le cœur
'the heart'
peut voir bien
'can see clearly'
只有
zhǐ yǒu
'only (if)'

xīn
'heart'
才能看清楚
cái néng kàn-qīngchu
'can see clearly'

(Notice that 只有 zhǐ yǒu in this case must be rendered in French as seulement 'solely, only'.)

The three translations fitting this pattern are:

唯有心才能看得清楚。
Wéi yǒu xīn cái néng kàn de qīngchu.
'Only the heart can see clearly.'

只有心灵才看得清事物的本质。
Zhǐ yǒu xīnlíng cái kàn-de-qīng shìwù de běnzhì.
'Only the heart can see clearly the essence of matters'.

只有心灵才能洞察一切。
Zhǐ yǒu xīnlíng cái néng dòngchá yīqiè.
'Only the spirit can perceive everything.'

Effectively, the only superficial difference from "standard" translations is the lack of the word yòng.


little prince 'Can but see with the heart': Putting the focus on the whole predicate

TOP

Two translators apply 'only' to the entire predicate.

ADDING 只能 zhǐ néng TO THE BASIC SENTENCE
 
on
'one'
ne peut ... que
'can only'
employer le cœur va voir
'use the heart to go and look'

rén
'person'
只能
zhǐ néng
'can only'
用心去看
yòng xīn kàn
'use heart go see'

This leads to a rather large difference from the "standard" pattern. First, the word bien 'well' is not translated at all.

Secondly (and more importantly), 'only' is rendered quite differently. 'Only' is rendered as zhǐ 'only', and there is no split into A and B clauses.

The focus of 'only' is the whole predicate, 用心去看 yòng xīn qù kàn (shown in red letters). In other words, 'only' covers the whole sentence, and doesn't focus solely on 'with the heart'. This is equivalent to saying in English 'One can but look with the heart'.

The two translations using this pattern are:

我們只能用心來看。
Wǒmen zhǐ néng yòng xīn lái kàn.
'We can only (come and) look with the heart'.

人只能用心灵去观察,去感受。
Rén zhǐ néng yòng xīnlíng qù guānchá, qù gǎnshòu.
'A person can only use the spirit to (go and) observe and (go and) experience.'

Notice how the second translator actually feels the need for an expanded interpretation using two verbs.


little prince Nominalisation of the verb

TOP

Finally, one translator departs completely from the above patterns by transforming the verb ('to observe') into a noun ('observation'):

'TO SEE' RENDERED AS A NOUN
 
Modifier
Noun
Only
Adjective (... construction)
凭借
píngjiè
'rely on'
心灵的
xīnlíng de
'the heart' + connector
观察
guānchá
'observation'

cái
'only'
是可靠的
shì kěkào de
'is reliable'

The sentence literally means: 'Only observation relying on the heart is reliable'. Not only is the verb transformed into a noun, but the adverb (bien or 'rightly') is transformed into an adjective (可靠 kěkào 'reliable').

Notice how the predicative adjective takes the ... construction. This is something like saying 'it is a reliable one'. This is normal practice for predicative adjectives in Chinese, and is often used where English would just say 'it is reliable'.

There are also pages on the French original, the English translations, the Japanese translations, and the Vietnamese translations.

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