I was reading the Đại Việt Sử Ký Toàn Thư for the year 618 and found that it mentions Qiu He, the governor of Giao/Jiao Region (交州太守丘和). This did not make any sense to me, because governors (太守, thái thú) at that time ruled over commanderies (郡, quận), not regions (州, châu).

I looked at the quốc ngữ translation, and it had the exact same information, “Thái thú Giao Châu là Khâu Hòa.” Sometimes translators will indicate when a text is incorrect, but in this instance the translators did not.

I then checked the original Chinese sources, and the Old History of the Tang and the New History of the Tang both have biographies of Qiu He and they both list him as “governor of Giao Chỉ.” Giao Chỉ was a commandery under Giao Region. It thus makes perfect sense that Qiu He would have been the governor of Giao Chỉ Commandery.

So the Đại Việt Sử Ký Toàn Thư was wrong, which did not surprise me because it is filled with mistakes. So I expect to see mistakes in that text. Unfortunately I also expect to find mistakes in quốc ngữ translations, and many of those mistakes come from cases like this.

When Vietnamese “translate” from Chinese, in many cases they do not actually “translate” in the sense of transferring the meaning of a text in one language into another. Instead, they just “transliterate” the characters into Vietnamese, put the words in Vietnamese order, and add the verb “to be.” So “交州太守丘和/Giao Châu Thái thú Khâu Hòa” becomes “Thái thú Giao Châu là Khâu Hòa.”

This does not require that someone actually understand what the Chinese characters really mean. However, to really translate this simple statement, one has to understand how the Chinese government worked at that time. If someone knows this, then it becomes obvious that this statement is incorrect, and a “khoa học” translation would indicate that this is incorrect.

Is this such a big deal? Let me put it this way, think of how people would respond to the following sentence: “Before Barack Obama became president, he served in the Congress as a governor of Illinois.”

That sentence looks really stupid, because everyone knows that governors are the top officials in states. They do not serve in Congress, senators and representatives do.

The same degree of obviousness is present in the error of Qiu He serving as the governor of a region.

Again, I think the problem stems from the fact that when Vietnamese translate from classical Chinese, it is often the case that they don’t really understand the text that they are translating, and they do not know all of the background information that they need in order to understand the text they are translating. Unfortunately, when they find themselves in such a situation, there is an easy way out – they can just transliterate the characters into Vietnamese. It is a very un-khoa học way of engaging in khoa học, but it is very common and can be found in countless “translations.”