Dan Harris, of Harris Bricken, writes China Law Blog – the latest entry answers a translator’s question on how a US common-law contract ‘translated’ into Chinese works in practice: Drafting International Contracts That Work.
I am a translator helping a U.S. company on its contracts and — to put it mildly — things are not going well. The deal I’m translating for has been running into a lot of trouble because the American law firm that wrote the contracts has written them in highly complex legalese. …
Harris’s approach is: if a contract between a US and a Chinese company is drafted in long-winded US style (78 pages with a lot of boilerplate and elevated language in one case), his law firm has lawyers create an equivalent contract in Chinese, both simpler to understand and likely to be understood and accepted by the Chinese courts.
The post also quotes a 2015 post on the Adams on Contract Drafting blog where Ken Adams interviewed Steve Dickinson of China Law Blog on the same subject. Dickinson says:
I should also add that Chinese lawyers have major problems interpreting U.S. and British common law contracts. Their standard approach is to guess at the meaning and then mistranslate and then work with the mistranslation, leading to disaster on all counts.
Although it is clear that the Chinese prefer a short English contract written in a simple style, I get the impression that the Chinese version is always going to take precedence, plain English or not.
The problems of using English as a language for international contracts are dealt with in wonderful practical detail in Triebel/Vogenauer, Englisch als Vertragssprache.