Le Petit Prince

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Table of all translations of the fox's secret here.

The Fox's Secret:
Voici mon secret. Il est très simple
Translating into Chinese (2)

(Chinese translations) ▼ Here is my secret. It is very simple ▶ One sees clearly only with the heart ▶ What is essential is invisible to the eyes


At this page we look at how the Chinese translators handle phrases like mon secret ('my secret') and très simple ('very simple').

Mon secret

The fox refers to the secret he is about to tell as mon secret ('my secret'). Whether in English or French, this is not a problematic expression, but it contains several nuances that emerge differently in the Chinese translations.

Mon: the 'definiteness' of the secret and the concept of 'possession':

In French, the fox refers to his secret as mon secret, making use of the masculine possessive pronoun mon ('my').

Possession can cover a variety of relationships -- inalienable parts of the body ('my arm'), possession of external objects ('my book'), relationships with other people ('my boss'), and relationships with larger entities ('my country'). All of these are expressed in terms of 'possessing'. In this case, possession of the secret indicates that the fox knows the secret and the little prince doesn't. The fox therefore regards the secret as 'belonging' to himself.

When he mentions the secret, the fox assumes that the little prince knows what secret he is talking about since he's already mentioned it to him (je te ferai cadeau d'un secret 'I'll make you the present of a secret'). The first time round he said un secret, with the indefinite article, the normal way of introducing a new person, thing, or idea into a conversation. The second time it comes up, both the fox and the little prince are aware that they're discussing a specific secret, which is therefore 'definite'.

Thus, mon secret in this case means: 'that particular secret -- the one that I mentioned earlier -- that belongs to me'.

In translating mon / 'mine', three-quarters of Chinese translators use a literal and direct version, namely, 我的秘密 wǒ de mìmì 'my secret'. The form 我的 wǒ de ( + de = 'I' + possessive particle) quite transparently means 'my'.

However, that leaves a quarter who use other expressions:

Four use 那 (个) 秘密 nà(ge) mìmì 'that secret', a direct reference back to the fox's promise.

Three use 这个秘密 zhège mìmì 'this secret', referring to the secret about to be told. (Incidentally, these all occur together with expressions meaning 'I'll tell you...').

Four use expressions with the meaning 'the secret I want to tell you', again referring back to the promise made earlier.

One uses plain 秘密 mìmì 'secret', although it is used combination with . is used in front of 秘密 mìmì to indicate that it is a definite object of the verb. In meaning it is thus equivalent to 'that secret'.

1. My secret
我的 [秘密]
wǒ de [mìmì]
一个我的 [秘密]
yīge wǒ de [mìmì]
2. The secret I want to tell you
我要告诉你的 [秘密]
wǒ yào gàosu nǐ de [mìmì]
我送给你的 [秘密]
wǒ sòng gěi nǐ de [mìmì]
3. This / that secret
那个 [秘密]
nàge [mìmì]
那 [秘密]
nà [mìmì]
这个 [秘密]
zhège [mìmì]
[秘密] (with )

Note that the translator who uses 一个我的秘密 yīge wǒ de mìmì 'a secret of mine' is misrepresenting the meaning somewhat by making it sound as though the fox has only just indicated the intention to tell the little prince 'a secret'.


In French and English, secret 'secret' has two main meanings, which are subtly different:

1. ce qui ne doit pas être divulgué, qui doit rester connu d'un nombre limité de personnes (that which should not be divulged, which should remain known to a limited number of people).

2. moyen de réussir (means of succeeding).

In this case, the fox's secret fits both senses 1 and 2:

The word secret ('secret') itself is translated by the same word in almost every Chinese translation. That word is 秘密 mìmì. A 秘密 mìmì is confidential knowledge or information -- information that only one person knows and another person is dying to find out (or the secret-keeper is dying to tell, depending on your view of secrets). This is pretty much the standard, kneejerk translation of the word 'secret'. It corresponds exactly to the first sense of secret in French and 'secret' in English.

But as luck would have it, one Taiwanese translator manages to come up with a different interpretation. This translator uses the word 祕訣 mìjué (simplified form: 秘诀), which is secret knowledge of how to do something. This is very close to the second French definition (moyen de réussir - means of succeeding), or the English meaning 'something taken to be a key to a desired end'. Given that the fox's secret is a secret for understanding the meaning of relationships, commitments, and life (not to mention how to figure out his rose), this interpretation is absolutely fine. But it certainly puts a rather concrete spin on the fox's secret.


Given the disagreement over other points of translation, it's nothing short of miraculous that all but one of the 52 Chinese translators unerringly translate simple as 簡單 / 简单 jiǎndān ('simple, uncomplicated')! Presumably 簡單 / 简单 jiǎndān is such a perfect match with simple in French and 'simple' in English that no one bothered to try and find any others.

The exception, a rather interesting exception, is the translator who renders 'simple' as 平凡 píngfán 'ordinary, common'. This is something of a departure from the sense of 'not complicated', 'easy to comprehend', or 'clear-cut'. The meaning veers in the direction of 'unremarkable' or 'not special'. Needless to say, however, the implication is not that the secret is unworthy of mention or of little merit. The point is that there is nothing complicated or high-falutin' about the secret. The translator is implying that people tend to overlook the secret because of its simplicity.

Très / Very

Given that très is a fairly unremarkable word, you'd think that translators would translate it with a very simple, everyday word.

Mostly you'd be right. For instance, all of the 25 translators working directly from the French use the very ordinary, straightforward word hěn ('very'), as do thirteen translators working from the English of Katherine Woods. But hěn has become rather weak in modern Chinese, so a few translators, all translating from the English, decide to beef it up a bit:

Six translators use 非常 fēicháng 'very, extremely', which makes the secret just that much more emphatically simple.

Two translators use 十分 shífēn 'quite', which is also more emphatic.

The real blockbuster is the translator who decides to go the whole hog with 再简单不过的 zài jiǎndān búguò de 'exceedingly simple, couldn't be simpler'!

On the other hand, two translators leave out 'very'. Both are translators using the noun in apposition construction, 一个简单的秘密 yīge jiǎndān de mìmì 'a simple secret', again translating from Katherine Woods' English.

So the translations run the gamut from 'exceedingly, could not be more', to leaving 'very' out altogether!

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