In the Chinese classic 红楼梦 ("Dream of Red Mansions"), there is a famous couplet:
jiǎ zuò zhēn shí zhēn yì jiǎ, wú wéi yǒu chù yǒu huán wú.
This has been translated into English as:
Truth becomes fiction when the fiction's true;
Real becomes not-real where the unreal's real.
Another common translation:
When false is taken for true, true becomes false;
If non-being turns into being, being becomes non-being.
I find these translations at best stilted, and at worst nonsensical, and feel they lack the impact of the original. I'd like to propose an alternative translation, but as a non-native speaker I'm not sure how much of the original meaning I've lost.
When pretense receives credence, even honesty is faked;
Where vanity is given significance, significance becomes meaningless.
Is this a fair translation? Is there some shade of meaning in the original that this fails to convey which either of the two previous translations are able to capture? I would especially love to hear an answer from someone who considers themselves an expert on the novel (红学家).
Edit: I tweaked my translation of the first half and changed my translation of the last half:
When pretense receives credence, even honesty is mistrusted;
Where we pretend to have, what we have is lost.
Not sure if it's any better though.