Kickstart your Chinese translation skills with the Marco Polo Project


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Australia’s own cultural initiative, the Marco Polo Project took an innovative translation concept around the world in 2014 and continues to reach new heights this year.

The first Australia-China Festival of Digital Literature in 2014 was the brainchild of Julien Leyre, a recent French migrant to Australia. When Julien first arrived in Australia in 2007, he was fascinated by the visible presence of Asia, and decided to learn Mandarin. Four years later, frustrated by the lack of fresh Chinese literature and non-fiction available for advanced students in translation or bilingual format, and inspired by his previous work as a language and translation teacher in Paris, he launched the Marco Polo Project.


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The Marco Polo Project publishes a selection of new writing from China on its website, and invites advanced learners to collaborate on their translation, in the manner of a wiki. For learners, this is a meaningful way to practice reading and translation. It also offers less advanced users a chance to access new voices from China including digital authors and independent journalists, which probably wouldn’t otherwise be translated.

In addition, since 2013, Marco Polo Project has ran ‘all-you-can-translate’ events in Melbourne and Nanjing that bring together native English and Mandarin speakers for collaborative ‘translation race’ events.

The Festival of Digital Literature is a logical development of Marco Polo Project: three writers from Australia and China, whose work has focused on the internet, interacted through video conversations and in panel discussions held as part of Melbourne Writers Festival in Melbourne and Beijing. Some branches like in Melbourne and Beijing now have ongoing events with growing supporter base and overwhelming numbers turning out to events.

The translation tour was the first step in global audience engagement for the Festival. Working in partnership with China’s largest translation crowd-sourcing platform,, and with local partners, Marco Polo Project organised collaborative translation of pieces from the Festival’s invited writers by bilingual communities in six cities across China, London, Leeds, Manchester, Paris, singapore, Melbourne and Sydney. Julien was back in China in March 2015 to share the innovative program with 90 High School students at Fudan University.

After reflecting on his demanding world tour, Julien was thrilled to realise his Marco Polo dream that was 6 years in the making:

“I can’t believe how much support we received. Not only universities, schools and cultural organisations, but also just simple passionate individuals who connected with us through the internet.”

“The cities chosen for the translation events are global cultural capitals. Marco Polo Project’s long-term vision is to make these events and the festival a rolling series of ongoing cultural events. Our ambition is to build broader cultural exchange between China and Australia, but also position Australia as a global centre for cultural engagement with China.”

The project was directly nurtured by Victoria, which has held a sister state relationship with Jiangsu for 36 years, and the literary influence of their respective capitals. Julien Leyre previously lived in Nanjing while on assignment for the Victorian Government Hamer Program. While living in Nanjing, Julien met with the writers and collaborators of the Digital Literature Festival, leading him to become inspired to run the event. Nanjing was the first city outside Australia to commence Marco Polo translation events at the Banpocun Café in 2013. In March 2014, Nanjing and Melbourne ran simultaneous translation events in real time connected digitally. It was the first of its kind and a model for future collaborative language exchange events.

Australian Communications Consultant John Paul Grima attended the translation events during his year long stint at Nanjing University and became involved in Marco Polo Project Communications Team.

Now based in Beijing, John Paul’s facilitated Translation events in three cities across China:

“It is a highly adaptable format that can be changed to suit different audiences, group dynamics and the like.”

John Paul has teamed up with Beijing Foreign Studies University to run monthly Marco Polo Project Translation Races in Beijing throughout 2015:

“At first, participants are a little hesitant to come along, thinking that only professionals ever attempt translation. But when they realise it’s a collaborative group exercise rather than an individual test, they really get into it and are usually keen to discuss their translations long after the event, as well as tell all their friends about the experience!

“This is firmly part of the cultural engagement between Australia and China and I’m thrilled to be a part of it! It provides an excellent platform for cross cultural collaboration and new educational models.”

The Marco Polo Project welcomes collaboration with translators, event facilitators and innovators.

Go to to start translating or contact Julien Leyre to find out how you can collaborate with the Marco Polo Project! Contact JP to find out about Marco Polo Project events in Beijing.

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JP Grima

John Paul Grima has worked as a Media and Communications Advisor and Speech Writer for an Australian Parliamentarian and more recently at the UNDP in Beijing. He was granted a Victorian Government Hamer scholarship in 2013. JP is now based in Beijing working on various Australia-China projects such as Marco Polo Project and the China Australia Millennial Project.

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