Are you looking to develop a sustainable organisation over the long-term? Focusing on diversity may be your winning strategy – and for this, leaders will need to develop special skills, in particular a capacity to be inclusive and harmoniously bring together diverse teams, allowing multiple ideas to flourish and feed off each other.

Sounds fluffy? Well, the Australian Institute of Chartered Accountants and Deloitte recently produced a report on this topic – now that sounds serious, doesn’t it? Check out p.18 for the ‘six attributes of an inclusive leader’ – all starting with the letter C: cognisance, curiosity, courage, cultural intelligence, commitment and collaboration.

These are precisely the types of attributes we’re looking to build through our online offer and workshops! So – if you’d like to get ready for a different future, and train to become a more inclusive leader, why don’t you browse the Marco Polo Project website, join one of our events – or organise your own if there’s none in your city yet!

Would you like to read more about inclusive leadership and diversity in the workplace? The full report is attached to this post:

0415-37 PM_Futureinc_Leadership and Diversity_WEB 2

This piece introducing the selection system for publishing pieces on our website was written by Francis Beechinor, from the London School of Asian and African Studies.


Over the past few days, I’ve been speaking to the founder of the Marco Polo Project, Julien Leyre, to find out: where do the Marco Polo articles come from?

In a short mock-interview, this post hopes to give you guys a more profound view on the project and the Chinese internet, from a guy who knows his stuff!

Have a read, comment and tell us about your experiences navigating around the Chinese cyber-world.

So, let’s get started. When you’re looking for material, what are you looking for?

There’re a few factors I consider when searching for new pieces but it mainly revolves around how well the articles will translate, and how long will it keep currency.

The pieces can’t be too long and need structure. I prefer opinion pieces and they need to be for a broad audience too.

If it’s a news article about a group of officials entangled in some complex story, it would be a pain to translate and won’t be any good in the long term!

What are the main sources you use for the website?

It changes, but currently I am using Consensus Network. This website gathers posts and articles from more academic netizens, for instance scholars or high-level journalists.

This gives me access to the blogs of specific, influential people who write about topics such as sociology, culture and current affairs.

And what about the other websites mentioned on the website, such as 1510 or Douban?

Well 1510 was great but got shut down. Too sensitive you see. I’m still in contact with the authors though.

Douban was good as I found plenty of novelists, including some interesting people who write about relationships.

I like China 30s too, they post interviews with young Chinese innovators and entrepreneurs (people in their 30s funnily enough). Social Beta has some good pieces on social media too.

So you’re still in contact with 1510 writers?

Yep, it really was a shame that 1510 got shut down but this doesn’t stop the authors publishing their material elsewhere. Some of the writers I was already in contact with and others I found after a bit of research.

Niubo was similar, I found a few authors through the website but then it got shut down.

Oh right. So individual writers are another source then?

Yes, now I regularly look at the material posted by 10-15 authors who I really like, such as Zhang Tianpan or Muran.

I’m now at the stage where I know what I want and who writes what I want. This was hard at first but it’s easier now.

Great, that’s really interesting. Is there anything else you want to mention?

The next step for us will be to really involve our Chinese writers. At the moment, we ask for permission to republish, but it stops there – I’d like to really start a conversation with the readers. Partly, that’s why we were keen to put together a festival. All ideas are welcome.

Last month, we presented our model and ‘all-you-can-translate’ events at the Annual Conference of the Chinese Language Teachers Federation of Australia. We were then invited to share it again through the Chinese Teachers Training Centre’s Hanyu Laoshi Show – accessible here. During these presentations, we focused more particularly on the learning benefits of our events, and potential classroom applications of our collaborative translation model.

Collaborative translation in Shanghai

Our all-you-can-translate events have a very simple format: in small bilingual teams, participants are invited to translate a text English to Chinese, or Chinese to English. The fastest team and most elegant translation each receive a small prize. The race is followed by a short debrief session to cement learning, organised round three core questions. What did you love? What frustrated you? What did you learn?

Collaborative translation at the Beijing Bookworm

‘All-you-can-translate’ events benefit participants in five distinct ways:

  1. Language and culture. During the course of two hours, participants get to practice reading and/or writing in their second language, and close-read an original text that gives insight about a foreign culture.
  2. Practical skills. Participants gain increased confidence in using technology for language purposes (online publishing, use of online dictionaries). They also develop their translation skills, and capacity to switch from one language to the other.
  3. Cross-cultural skills. Participants are invited to work together as part of a cross-cultural team. They must organise and allocate a diversity of tasks. Additionally, by discussing translation options among themselves, they become more aware of the various meanings attached to words and concepts across languages, and even across individuals
  4. Attitude. Some participants come to these events with no experience of translation, yet find themselves able to perform well. This significantly contributes to their self-confidence. Beside, working in a bilingual team context where high language skills in English and Mandarin are required to perform well, participants become more aware of each other’s skill set, and their complementarity – which increases mutual respect.
  5. Friends. Finally, our events are inherently social. Have you noted how, when there’s a common goal, conversation becomes easier? Language exchanges can be embarrassing, if you’re not sure what to talk about. But during our events, the conversation just flows, in both English and Mandarin – and some people have made good friends from participating!

Winner of Melbourne Collaborative Translation event


Many of our users are native Mandarin speakers practicing translation into English. This post is for them – pointing out a few difficulties of the English language. But hey, if you’re a native English speaker translating into Mandarin, some of these may be problems for you to! 

Bilingual stone

1. Focus on word-level translation rather than sentence or text level.

This one is the worst killer. Translators often try to seek word-for-word equivalence, i.e. match each Chinese word with an English word or vice versa. As a result, the translated text may sound like a machine translation. The reader can get the general gist reading is difficult, and the actual meaning may be lost.
2. Figures and digits

Isn’t it annoying? When a figure exceeds 10 thousand (which is in Chinese expressed as 1 ), digits between both language no longer align. The reason is that in Chinese, people often organize 4 digits as a unit, while in English, the arrangement is 3 by 3 – i.e. one million will be written as 1,000,000 in English, but 100,0000 in Chinese.



You know that, unlike their Mandarin counterparts, English verbs come in different forms – look, looking, looked; do, doing did, done. The tense of verbs in English indicate the specific context when the event happens. Consequently, when translating into Chinese, the translator should not only translate the word meaning but also the tense, i.e. complement the time element.

Example  We were best buddies.

“Were” cannot be just translated to “是” (“are”) but should indicate that this event happened in the past. The translation should be “我们曾经是最好的朋友”, which employs “曾经” to translate the past simple tense “were”.
4.Negative word/sentence

Sometimes in English negative sentence can convey positive meaning.

Example 1:  I could not agree with you more.

It means “I totally agree with you”. In Chinese 我完全同意你的意见(我简直不能同意更多)

Pay attention to the difference with “I couldn’t agree with you any more”. This sentence indeed expresses negative meaning.


Sometimes in English negative words should be translated to Chinese as positive to make sense.

Example 2:  -You don’t know I love you, do you? (你并不知道我爱你,是吗)

– No, I don’t. (是的,我不知道)

Can you think of any other common mistakes? Please share them in the comment section! 

This post was prepared by Jingzi Li, Master student in translation and interpretation at Monash University, currently completing an internship with Marco Polo Project as Education Officer and Editorial Scout. 

Have you heard of RSAnimates? These short videos presenting an idea or project through quick drawings and a voice over… Check this one out – and pass it on to your friends if they’re ever asking ‘what’s this Marco Polo Project you’re always talking about’.

Thanks to the fabulous Glenn Stephenson for this video – Ron Killeen @ Shack West who mastered the sound – and Karen Pickering for the voice over.

Have you ever wondered what Marco Polo Project achieved in its first year online? Or would you like to share the awesomeness of our initiative with your friends at one glance? The amazing Glenn Stephenson put together this infographics for us – please share it around! Infographics

At our last board meeting, we spent some time reflecting about the core values that drive us and inspire what we do. We think it’s now time to share them in this post – and more permanently on this page.

Marco Polo Project values

Curiosity: we respect and encourage the desire to learn and explore new areas of knowledge.

Diversity: we believe in a world where multiple voices can be heard, multiple cultures can thrive, and multiple organisations can co-exist.

Collaboration: we believe in people and organisations working together to achieve their goals, building on each other’s strengths and supporting each other.

This post opens a series about the factors motivating us to run the Marco Polo Project. Please join in the conversation, and tell us why you think the Marco Polo Project should exist. 

To qualify as a respected intellectual in Continental Europe, you must know the core languages of the Great European Tradition: French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Latin and Greek. You’re not expected to join in spontaneous conversations with no trace of accent, of course, but know enough of each language to read its literature in the text, or at least appreciate its original flavour when reading a translation. And reading them you must: Moliere, Shakespeare, Goethe, Dante, Cervantes, Virigil and Homer are all part of a multilingual tradition in constant dialogue, and make full sense only through their complex relationship with each other.

Up until recently, reading these languages was enough – although respected intellectuals from smaller European countries might throw their own language into the mix, and add colour to the dialogue. Meanwhile, ‘Oriental’ languages were a niche specialty, only marginally more relevant to the conversations of the Great European Tradition than, say, Nahuatl or Quechua. Sanskrit and Hebrew, Russian and Arabic, as close neighbours, peaked a timid glance over the fence. Mandarin was far beyond the pale.

But things have changed. Under the combined effects of globalisation and the rise of Asia, it is likely that Mandarin will feature as part of the linguistic panoply for aspiring intellectuals in Europe and globally. Those ignorant of things Chinese will no longer find themselves in a position to speak with universal authority. This is radically new, this is probably positive, and this is surely challenging. The European traditions have conducted their dialogue for centuries – translation and multi-lingualism is at the core of the European Project. But will this project integrate a language and tradition so long distant and separate?

We believe in a world where cultural and intellectual leaders are multi-lingual, and their thinking is informed by a deep understanding of multiple traditions. We believe that today’s world involves a conversation between the Chinese and European traditions. And our goal for developing this project is to support the great learning effort necessary for this important conversation to take place, and become a matter-of-fact.

Pasted here is the text of an interview that I did with James Friesen, student of translation at Taiwan National University and active translator on Marco Polo Project. James contacted me for an interview to discuss what the work of a translator can be like. This was a great opportunity for me to reflect on the Marco Polo model for collaborative translation, and what might have inspired him – and I had a great time chatting with James!

James Friesen

I read a news article this year on why women in China do not divorce their husbands, even in the face of infidelity and flagrant mistreatment. The piece, actually a vignette of sorts, was aptly written from the perspective of a divorced Chinese woman; the piece was written in translation. She argued that saving face and fear of losing economic status stave off divorce; there was no mention of love. This seemed to me a rare and fascinating insight into the mind of a character that Western readers are not often privy to. The link at the bottom of the page accredited the story to ‘’. Following the link lead to the source of the translation and a somewhat unpredictable resource – a vibrant online community of voluntary translators. On the Marco Polo Project one can find many other insightful articles on topics ranging from city life in China, Buddhism and homosexuality in Taiwan, and other short stories. I contacted the founder and CEO of the project, Julien Leyre, as I thought the website was a brilliant idea. I wanted to pick his brain on some issues relating to the project and translation in general. He was kind enough to respond to me, and our exchange eventually culminated in the interview you see below:

JF: For starters, can you briefly share your background, and how you came to the field of translation?

JL: Sure, I would say my background could be separated into two aspects: cultural and intellectual. I am Frenchman who grew up close to the German border; my family is Mediterranean with Italian ancestry. Living in a multicultural environment I developed an interest in language and cultural differences from a very young age and gained an understanding of multiple languages. In university I specialized in languages, majoring in English and Classics at Ecole Normale Superieure, my Masters is in linguistics, and I passed an exam to be a high school and University teacher. I have also been interested in writing from a very young age – things like short stories, poetry, collaborations with filmmakers; I also published a short novel in Paris and have been involved in various writing projects over the last ten years.

JF: Growing up in a linguistically rich environment, was doing translation an intentional decision or something you just fell into?

JL: I guess I fell into it speaking and reading seven languages to various levels; it is common for continental Europeans to speak three or four languages. One of the key things that drew me to translation was my training in classics. One of the things you do when you study classics is translate or re-translate texts from the Greek and Latin. The way I learned how to think in this regard was largely by close reading of Plato and Aristotle while doing a translation. Translation for me is conveying meaning from a certain language to those who cannot access this language. This involves closely reflecting on the way a meaning is constructed in a text – in a word it’s philology. Which is closely reading a text in order to understand what it actually means, and it often involves a process of translation as well.

JF: Can you share a little about the Marco Polo Project?

JL: It’s a website where users can read and translate contemporary writing from China. There are two aspects to it. It’s a collaborative online magazine that proposes Chinese writing in translation by crowd-sourcing the translation, delegating the translation process not through one specific person but to whoever comes and does it. The other way to look at it is a platform that encourages translators and advanced language learners to come and practice translation. It is something that we do anyway as a part of our learning so doing it in collaboration is a good motivation; it is more fun and gives meaning to what we do, essentially the more we do it the more and better we learn.

JF: What does the process of translation look like for you?

JL: It depends on what I translate. On the Marco Polo Project, I translate in layers. I start translating as I go, which is not what I was trained to do – I was told to closely read a text numerous times before starting. I start with a quick translation as I go, using google translate on the side, anything that is simple, to get an overall idea of what I’m translating. A rough patchy draft, let it rest, and come back to it to fill in the blanks, and improve what I had translated the first time, and finalize it, looking for consistency – also sometimes, consulting a native speaker to confirm doubtful passages of the meaning of idiomatic expressions.

JF: Does translation theory enter into the picture? For example, do you apply what you learned in your classics training?

JL: I would say it is in the background. What I mean is, because I spent time lecturing and doing research in linguistics in semantics, of which translation theory was a part, I completely absorbed it. It has become a part of the way that I think and not a conscious process anymore, almost like breathing. Secondly, it’s about how you relate as a mediator between the original text and the audience, which are two different worlds. You will position your translation in between these two worlds. The type of text determines the type of audience and how they relate to the text. In translating a vacuum cleaner manual you will not care so much about the way the original text is structured, rather you will care more about the meaning. Translating poetry however, you will stay much closer to the structure of the original. Texts on the Marco Polo Project are creative non-fiction, essays, blog posts, and so they sit somewhere in between.

JF: What draws you to a given piece? What makes you say, “I want to translate that”?

JL: The simple answer is gut feeling, but the gut feeling has something behind it. I look for a piece that is original and well structured. By originality I mean the content of the piece is something I have never read about before. Generally the more specific a piece is, the more likely I am to translate it. For example there is a piece called ‘The Tears of Animals’. I thought, wow, a Chinese person is speaking about how they relate to animals crying, I had never heard about that before, I want to translate that. I also choose pieces that are clearly articulated, ones that you can follow the construction. If you choose a piece based only on style, there is often a big distance between Chinese and English which makes translation very difficult, but a structured piece translates relatively well.

*Link to ‘The Tears of Animals’ (

JF: What are some advantages/challenges of having a ‘living online community’ collectively translate something?

JL: There are two main advantages to this type of platform, and I will start with the more cynical one. It makes translation cheap. The problem that we have is that there is a growing to demand to understand China; content written in Chinese is a good way to address this demand. But if you use the old model of sending a work to a professional translator with a high level of quality control etc. it’s really slow and there are not enough translators to meet the need. By crowd sourcing you can reduce cost. Translating collectively can help people to do better work and give them a sense of accomplishment through collaboration, for example if you translate a small part of a large piece. Translators can help other translators, it gives a sense of meaning and community. Are they actually good and accurate? To an extent I think people undervalue the quality of translations by people who are not professionals. As a language teacher, I thought the translation of my students were not too bad, however you do need to monitor that a little bit. The other challenge is keeping the good translators interested because a native English speaker who is also fluent in Chinese is hard to keep, there is lots of demand on their time, so it’s about finding ways to encourage people and keeping them engaged. A living online community requires moderation, giving feedback to people, providing new content, etc. so it takes a lot of work, it doesn’t do itself.

JF: Blog translation seems like it is becoming an independent genre, and beyond that, a mouthpiece for censor-dodging Chinese users. What implications does this have?

JL: The question of censorship is something we’ve thought about from the start of the project. We want to bring across a diversity of voices from China, which may include some sensitive material, but we do not want to be blocked from China as that would defeat the purpose. We want the material to be available for Mainland Chinese; we want to stay out of trouble but at the same time avoid just replicating government speech, there’s no point in that. So we have to play it by ear, but we basically try to focus on some good non-sensitive material. Sensitive areas include Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, demonstrations against the government, some comparatively non-sensitive areas for example are gay rights, feminism, love relationships, and the way technology is affecting the life in big Chinese cities. Western media happens to be, in my perspective, obsessed with sensitive topics, Ai Weiwei and Chen Guangcheng are all over the news. But there are other intellectuals who do an insiders view on China, for instance Li Yinhe, who studies gender issues, is not popular in Western media but also not censored in China. Topics like these are less covered and, quite possibly, more original and more interesting because of it.

JF: What are your goals for the future of Marco Polo Project?

JL: I would like the project to show up on the list of the top 20-25 major reference websites on China. I would like it to be on the radar of translation students and people doing research and analysis on China, in terms of language learning and practice, as well as reporting, media, etc. I would like to build a bigger and more active community than we have at the moment, and there are a couple ways of doing that. We are doing a campaign right now to pay for a few improvements on the interface, to make it more user-friendly. The other way is to build partnerships with institutions, especially language learning institutions, translation centers etc. We believe that if teachers recommend the platform to their students and possibly even integrate it into their curriculum, We will be trialing that at La Trobe University in Australia, so we can refine the idea of how to put it in a workshop etc. and hopefully in the future we can take that model elsewhere.