Adventures of Pierre

Updated: 2011-02-18 10:28

By Patrick Whiteley (China Daily European Weekly)

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Frenchman's Chinese passion helps Herge's Tintin get a major makeover

When Pierre Justo was just a boy, his parents handed over a gift that gave the youngster a first and long-lasting impression of China. The Frenchman received a Tintin comic, in which the hero of the story traveled to the Far East to battle drug lords, triads and Japanese bad guys. The Blue Lotus, regarded by many fans as Tintin author Herge's best work, planted a seed that grew into a life-long hobby.

The 45-year-old father of two, who lives and works in Beijing and is fluent in Chinese, has been an avid collector of foreign Tintin editions for three decades.

 Adventures of Pierre
Pierre Justo's comprehensive understanding of French-speaking Tintin helped for a better translation into Chinese. [Patrick Whiteley/China Daily]

Because of this expertise, Belgian publishing house Casterman, the owner of Tintin rights, asked Justo to work with the official Chinese translator, Wang Bingdong, and the pair spent three years penning the new version of 22 Tintin books.

Thanks to their efforts the Belgian cartoon reporter has received a makeover, which is a more faithful Mandarin translation of his adventures.

The new edition was released last year and is fast becoming one of the most popular foreign cartoon characters in China.

"We worked together but Mr Wang did the bulk of the work," Justo says. "I helped him better understand the hidden messages, the play on words, the cultural background."

For example, incompetent detectives Dupond and Dupont became "Dubang" and "Dupang," not Thompson and Thomson. Captain Haddock's colorful tirades are given a new twist: "Ten thousand thundering typhoons!" becomes "Tian da lei pi!" or "May the Heavens punish you and thunder strike you down!"

"The idea was to do a translation as perfect as possible that helps Chinese readers understand that Tintin is a major work of literature and not just a book for children as it was perceived here in China," Justo says.

Justo has a special affinity with China, but his first move to Asia was to study Japanese in Japan. After leaving high school, he enrolled in the Asian studies course at the French National Institute and admits his life in China became a bit of surprise.

After working in Japan, Justo first came to China in 1999 working for market research firm TNS (formerly Taylor Nelson Sofres). TNS's branch in China is called CSM Media Research and has been conducting television-rating surveys since July 1997.

Today, Justo is director of media research for China and is also general manager of sports research for TNS, at a regional level across Asia.

In 1999, the company had a staff of between 70 to 80 people but now has more than 1,000 with offices in 80 cities across China.

Justo's corporate life keeps him very busy but this did not stop him working with Wang and bringing a more developed Tintin to China.

It was a project he labored for love, not money and he did not receive any payment for his work.

Wang, who first discovered Herge's comic strip hero in 2001 at the age of 66, says the translation work was pure joy. "I really found myself feeling happy as I was translating - I felt younger with Tintin and the other members of the Tintin family by my side every day," Wang told AFP.

Tintin and his pet dog Snowy first appeared in China in the 1980s, when some of the stories were published but the first official set of books only came out in 2001.

More than 2 million books were sold, but the translation was far from perfect, having been done from the English, not the original French, which first appeared in 1929.

There are also sentimental reasons for the Chinese to be fond of the young reporter. In the first Tintin book set in China, The Blue Lotus, Herge took the side of the Chinese over their Japanese occupiers in 1930s Shanghai.

"At the time, that was not an easy thing. The Japanese protested against Tintin's pro-China stance. It was a daring publication," Wang says.

Justo says The Blue Lotus broke many misconceptions about "old China" and painted a more realistic picture of the Middle Kingdom.

"The content of the story is well done, very interesting to follow, with a lot of tension," he says.

"It is emotionally strong because it deals with the friendship of the West and the East and at the same time it was tragic because it describes a reality that many people denied back then in 1935 with the invasion of China by Japan and the suffering of the Chinese people," he says.

"It also presented China as a new culture in a world dominated by the Western world enhancing its long tradition, its difference and its richness."

Justo first read The Blue Lotus when he was 10 years old and says he may have subconsciously followed the footsteps of his beloved hero.

"Because I ended up living for so long in China maybe it did influence me and that would be strange indeed," he says.

"However, what is certain is that whenever I read that story again since I've been living in China, it helps me understand a lot of the daily life here and I always find it richer than before," he says. "As Herge realized, China is a place where one always discovers a lot of new things."



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