On Sept. 18th, the Varsity, a student newspaper at the University of Toronto, launched a Chinese-language edition of its website. The new subsite contains select articles from the Varsity’s English language publication that have been translated into simplified Chinese.
The idea for the Chinese-language edition was born in June 2017, when Celine Liu, a University of Toronto graduate, approached Jacob Lorinc, the Varsity’s editor-in-chief, to discuss how the publication could better cater to Chinese international students. Liu is the founder of the Listeners, a non-profit campus organization that provides peer support to students, and works frequently with the international Chinese student community. An international Chinese student herself, Liu said she noticed recurring themes in what students were disclosing to her.
“In terms of the mental health needs … the separation of family is a huge one,” Liu said. “Many families … borrow money from the bank and send their children to study abroad. This causes more problems, because … (students) have a lot of pressure, from not only the family, but also from the bank. So that’s why I approached the Varsity and (thought) that, maybe students should be reading more about the news … Because a lot of their concerns and struggles, behind that is a lack of information.”
For Lorinc, publishing a Chinese-language edition of the Varsity was an opportunity to engage more students with the Varsity’s work. Of the approximately 17,000 international undergraduate and graduate students enrolled at the University of Toronto, about 10,000 are Chinese. Beyond appealing to numbers, however, Lorinc spoke to the Varsity’s role as a public service for university students.
“All full-time undergraduate students at (the University of Toronto) pay a small levy to the Varsity every year,” Lorinc said. “We’re expected to deliver news that is accessible to the students who pay for us. And there’s a large body of students who aren’t necessarily as engaged in student journalism as perhaps they could be. So our way of showing them that their taxpayer money is … being put to good use is by giving them this kind of service.”
Student response to the Chinese-Language edition has been mixed. Positive responses highlight the website’s potential to increase student engagement with campus life:
“Not only is it a great way to get these students involved with on campus events and initiatives, it also gives the Listeners … some exposure for their charitable cause,” said Rock Li, a fourth-year undergraduate student at the University of Toronto.
“I believe this project is a great demonstration of diversity at (the University of Toronto),” said Shiyuan Jia, a second year undergraduate student and a volunteer with the Listeners. “As a Chinese international student myself, I feel I am being valued by the university.”
Some readers have suggested that the Varsity should offer the Chinese-language edition in both simplified and traditional Chinese.
“That’s something political: Taiwan and Hong Kong, they use traditional (Chinese), and for the mainland … we use simplified,” Liu noted. “We’re thinking about including traditional Chinese in the future.”
Some negative responses argued against having a Chinese-language edition of the paper.
“One kind of criticism is … that we shouldn’t be making our news in another language besides English,” Lorinc said. “Some (comments) seemed like they were cloaked in some sort of racism … There’s certainly been a lot of criticism that we take to heart … but at the same time, there’s a lot of criticism that we don’t need to think about too much.”
Other campus newspapers have taken note of the Varsity’s Chinese-language edition, including the the Ubyssey at the University of British Columbia.
“We’d love to do something similar if money and time permits.” said Jack Hauen, coordinating editor at the Ubyssey. “We’re just about to start asking around with student groups on campus.”
According to Lorinc, the Varsity is the first Canadian publication, student-run or otherwise, to concurrently offer content in English and simplified Chinese.
Currently, the Chinese-language subsite is translated by students, most of whom are recruited through Liu and the Listeners. Going forward, both Liu and Lorinc hope the Varsity will be able to publish original articles written in Chinese.
“We want to get to the point where we have reporters writing in Chinese, reporting on issues that really pertain to the international Chinese community on campus, like tuition costs and student governance.” Lorinc said. “The broader long-term goal (is) that we want to engage international students, or Chinese students in general, into student journalism.”
There is a historical precedent for campus newspapers with origins as translated editions of English language publications: Le Delit, the only francophone paper at McGill University, was initially the French-language edition of The Daily, an anglophone paper at McGill. Le Delit became an independent student newspaper with original French reporting in 1979.
Lorinc notes that creating the Chinese-language edition was a surprisingly easy process, and only required small adjustments to the Varsity’s website.
It’s something that other publications absolutely can do,” he said.
Shrinkhala Dawadi is a freelance writer and master's of psychiatry student at McGill University in Montreal. She writes about news, politics, and culture. Follow her on twitter @shdawadi.