After Sunday’s finale of season 7 of Game of Thrones, the Beijing News published an article (in Chinese) profiling a volunteer group in China that has been creating Chinese subtitles for the hit HBO fantasy series since its first season.
The subtitling team calls itself Wardrobe (衣柜 yīguì), which has a Chinese pronunciation similar to “The Others” (异鬼 yìguǐ), a mysterious species from the Song of Ice and Fire series by author George R. R. Martin, on which the TV hit is based. Comprising fewer than 20 members around the world, the group operates with extraordinary efficiency — for example, merely six hours after the fourth episode of the last season premiered on HBO, the translated version was available for fans to download and watch on the Chinese internet. A total of 10 members worked on that episode, with six doing the translation, three proofreading, and one conducting a final check.
The team evolved from a fan group of the original novel on an online forum on Baidu Tieba in 2011. The group initially had about 1,000 members. Qu Chang 屈畅, translator of Martin’s first five books, was one of them. Qu first brought up the idea of adding Chinese captions to the TV series and translated the first five episodes on his own, but as the show progressed, he found it increasingly difficult to carry out the work without additional help. To continue his mission, he formed the Wardrobe group of translators.
According to Bao Zhen 抱枕, who has been a member of Wardrobe since the very beginning, the fan-subtitling group is completely nonprofit and is made up of volunteers from various backgrounds. Even though there were internal disputes over whether the group should monetize its translation works — especially when Tencent, HBO’s exclusive partner in China, approached the group in 2016 with an offer to work with it — Wardrobe still holds onto its conviction of providing free works for fans to share. “Our singular goal is to serve all Chinese fans of Game of Thrones,” Bao said.
Wardrobe might yet run into problems: The subtitled versions they distribute on the internet are pirated.
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