Legal Document Translation Services

mbChinese | Chinese English Translation | Chinese Legal Translation

Translate your legal documents

Even in your native language, reading legal texts can be hard going. 

Trying to get a grip on legal jargon can be difficult and this difficulty is exacerbated when the text is in another language. 

Luckily for you, we at mbChinese have a passion for legalese and for legal texts. We love exploring legal definitions and having semantic debates about what certain terms mean, like whether it should be ‘rule by law’ or ‘rule of law’? 

Our translator Michael Broughton has spent nearly four years working in the legal industry in Australia and has done so many dictations for lawyers that he dreams in legalese.

Michael’s legal translations read just like native legal texts and are founded upon broad knowledge of Chinese law and a deep understanding of the differences between the Chinese and Australian legal systems.

Differences between Chinese and Australian legal systems and how these affect translations

Unlike Australia, which has a common law legal system that it adopted from the British, China employs a legal system based on a mix of civil and customary law that originated in Germany and found its way to China via Japan. 

The differences between the two systems means that when it comes to legal translations, we are not just translating different words but different conceptual categories. 

This can be as simple as changes in basic terminology. For example, if you were looking up legislation in relation to divorce in Australia you may start by going to the Family Law Act (1975) section 58 subsection 1. In China you would probably start with Marriage Law chapter 4 article 31. 

Greater difficulties arise, however, when we certain concepts within one system do not match up onto the other. For example, the difference between mediation and conciliation are hard to express in Chinese as its legal system does not include the same types of alternative dispute resolution that are found in Australia.  

If you want to see what sort of difficulties this can pose in real life have a look at the difference in the Chinese translation of the terms conciliation and mediation in the Chinese – Australia Fair Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) and the New Zealand – Chinese Fair Trade Agreement (NZCFTA). You can find them at article 15.6 of the ChAFTA – English and Chinese, and at Article 187 of the NZCFTA – English and Chinese.  

As far as legal translations are concerned, it is important that we do not translate Chinese legal documents with Australian-common-law-tinted glasses. We must understand Chinese legal texts on their own terms. 

Why it is important for translators of Chinese legal texts to know Chinese laws

To understand a Chinese legal text properly, it is important to ascertain what authoritative texts it is relying on or using as a template. 

Given the prevalence for copying and pasting large amounts of texts directly from related laws and regulations, once a translator knows which law is being used they are able to more accurately understand and translate their legal text.

For example, a general Chinese company constitution (also known as an Articles of Association) often copies complete paragraphs straight from Chinese Company Law. 

This is also true for many legal documents such as a Marriage Certificate, which takes large sections from Chinese Marriage Law. 

As most major laws have already been translated by professionals into English, translators are able to use these translations as a guide to provide reference for their own translations. 

Finding authoritative translations of Chinese laws is therefore very important for Chinese legal translators. Here at mbChinese we predominantly use the PKU Law database for reference English translations, as well as for finding relevant Chinese laws and regulations.  

Translating legal texts from Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan

When translating Chinese legal texts it is important for a translator to be aware of the legal jurisdiction within which their particular text falls. 

Translations of legal texts that are written within the jurisdictions of Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan will require a translator to employ different terminologies to those used in Mainland China. 

In Hong Kong, where all laws are bilingual, the government has created a Chinese – English glossary of legal terms that can be referenced when translating legal texts written under Hong Kong law. 

For the translation of legal texts that are written under Singaporean law, it is important to be familiar with the relevant terminology used in the English language acts. For example, a Singaporean company constitution is likely to draw upon relevant terminology from the Companies Act (Chapter 50).

When translating legal texts written in Taiwan, the government’s Laws and Regulations database, which provides translations of many laws into English, can be used as a reference and to assist with correct terminologies.

Chinese 'law' - Did you know?

  • Modern
  • Ancient

The Chinese character for ‘law’ (法) is made up of the character for ‘water’ (氵) and the character for ‘go’ (去). Like the symbol of the scales used in the West, water symbolises the idea of being ‘level.’

There is also a rare traditional Chinese character for ‘law’ which includes the addition of the character ‘unicorn-lion’ (廌). In ancient mythology this beast was able to tell right from wrong and would use its single horn in legal proceedings to ram the party at fault.