Behind the scene: Cenci Journalism Project and its members

Cenci: More than just a translation website. The group hosts the lecture at Beijing Foreign Studies University. (Photo: Elias Schwenk)

In the past nine months, Kang Xia and his group have built up from scratch a platform for translations of foreign media reports.

The project “Cenci” (参差计划) first started as a blog hosted on Sina, now it serves a portal “” with approximately 5,000 visitors per day.

On the evening of March 5th, a workshop was organized by the Cenci group in a small seminar room at the Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU).

At the workshop, editors from Cenci group with different background have shared their experiences. The topics were diverse: experiences of studying at Columbia University under an exchange program during the winter holiday, report of a female student on her application for employment at BMW in Munich, analysis and discussion about China’s position on the Syrian issue in the UN Security Council, protection of historic buildings in Beijing and many more. All speakers are editors of the Cenci Group (QQ Group: 197363897).

The Cenci Journalism Project was founded by a group of students at Beijing Foreign Studies University. It offers translations of foreign media reports. The Chinese word “参差 (cenci)” means different, uneven, varied and diverse. The initiator Kang Xia (康夏) believes that diversity and difference are not only important for life, but also for the media. When the perspective shifts to an event, a report is created with different opinons. This stimulates the thinking of the readers.

Genesis of the project

It all started on 23 July 2011, as Kang Xia was sitting at his computer and reading a message on the Internet, which dealt with the serious train accident near the eastern Chinese city of Wenzhou.

“On the Internet I saw a posting that the various reports about the accident coming from French and American sources, as summarized by the Xinhua News Agency,” explains Kang Xia, the founder of Cenci. “I figured there must be a way to bring together various media reports from different countries with different viewpoints and opinions.”

Kang Xia, 22, from Daqing in northeastern Heilongjiang Province, studied Albanian language at Beijing Foreign Studies University. He speaks in a calm voice, focused and prudent.” So I thought, I have access to appropriate resources, in my environment, there are a lot of talented people: Why not give it a try?”

The Cenci Journalism Project starts as a blog with no readership. In his search for collaborators Kang Xia first spoke to friends and acquaintances to convince them to join. One of his first contact was Qu Zhe (曲喆), a 23-year-old student.

“I had already translated articles and posted on Renren, the Chinese version of Facebook. The selection of articles and translating process was really tedious. Then, when Kang Xia told me that he wanted to start the Cenci project, I immediately agreed,” recalls the student in BFSU and editor in chief of the German Department of Cenci.” We work as a team and present Chinese Internet readers the outside world. I like that!”

Meanwhile, more than 150 volunteer translators translate and edit articles in nine departments from around the world. They are in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taiwan and also in European countries. Most people only know each other through the Internet. There is no pay for the translation works, but the major incentive is to improve foreign language skills.

“The aim of our work is to break the language barrier,” explains founder Kang Xia and laughs. In the nine months since its inception, the readers of the group has increased to 50,000. There was no marketing operations for the project, but recommendations from bloggers on Internet services like “Renren” and “Weibo”. Last Christmas the new website of Cenci was finally put on the web, bringing the number of readers to a record level.

Kang Xia, founder of the cenci project.

Streamlined protocol of operations

The editorial work has been professinalized, now an article has to go through three to four steps: once the translation is done, a first correction will be made by an editor of the appropriate language, then a second correction by the head of the editorial department, after that, this final version of the editorial is discussed on the Internet where anyone can participate. When the process of searching for correction and improvement completed, after some internal and external discussions for example, a translation of Angela Merkel’s New Year speech, the original foreign-language edition and the final version of the Chinese translation will be published on the website of Cenci.

The chief editors of the various departments together determine Which items should be translated. “We choose topics consciously. Of course we also want to present opposing views and arguments, provocative articles have also been published for several times. But we only allow criticism to some degree, we have have no place for rumors,” says the founder Kang Xia.

Copyright and criticism

Although Cenci is not a commercial organisation, it still has to face a central problem: the copyright. This means to Kang Xia and the other members that the copyright issue could really be a problem for the future of the Cenci project. Without copyright permission, Cenci runs in danger of falling into legal trouble by publishing the articles from foreign media.

Kang Xia has come up with a solution of his group. The translator will not fully translate the articles into Chinese, but to present excerpts from several articles on a topic in different media.

“However, this represents greater demands on the language skills and writing skills of the translator,” said Kang.

The Cenci has to take criticism from some readers. Peng Dawei, a student at Renmin University in Beijing, says that the layout of the site was too simple. In addition, there was a lack of interactive function: “It is impossible to write comments on articles.”

Project and members of the future

The future is quite rosy for Cenci, because the social networks as “Renren” and “Weibo” continue to be on course for growth. By 2015, current projections indicate that about half a billion Chinese people to be members in networks. And the demand for information from abroad is high, Cenci provides the offer at no charge.

“We were talking about to start a business,” admits Kang Xia. “But we have rejected this idea again. We see ourselves as a kind of learning and education project, a kind of social business. We need some funding for website, but money is not the main concern for us.”

The career opportunities for Cenci members are not bad at all.

Qu Zhe has secured a place in the foreign ministry after job interview. “My works at Cenci has really helped, because I could improve my German, which is essential. As part of my future work I will be traveling to Germany from time to time, I can apply my linguistic skills very well.”

The founder Kang Xia is regularly contacted by supporters and potential employers. “There have already been calls with which they invited me to internships in business.” but for now Kang Xia wants to study further. “I’ll pursue my master either in Hong Kong or in England.”

Xu Bei and Elias Schwenk

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