Dr. Thorsten Pattberg [裴德思] (PhD, Peking University), the German philosopher, sinologist and buddhologist from the Department of Oriental Languages, Peking University, explains how "Western translations distort China's reality".
A6 OPINION Thursday 26 April 2012 Shanghai Daily Chinese concepts lost in translation ❛ Unlikedeemed a relatively Thorsten Pattberg translations dating back to shengren and junzi, letting the 17th to 19th centuries. alone the daxue, we should a Westernized university A LOT of people search endlessly for the se- As the historian Howard adopt those Chinese con- which is Zinn once remarked: “If some- cepts, out of necessity and by advanced stage of academic inquiry, cret key or a magic thing is omitted from history, common sense, just as Japan formula that would Confucian Daxue is intended as you have no way of knowing and China back in the 19th enable them to understand China. Naturally, at some it is omitted.” century adopted the Western the primer for the uninitiated. While a Western university’s concepts like “artist”, “scien- point they will want to know — Wan Lixin principal aim is to produce tist”, and “philosopher”. It’s how the Chinese are educated. a skilled expert, a Chinese simple reciprocity. The Middle kingdom has many prestigious schools, but let us take a closer look at Peking daxue’s principal aim is to cultivate an ideal character. Anglo-Saxon students often Of course, some Western philosophers like Immanuel Kant and Georg Wilhelm Western words cannot University, the mother lode of the Chinese wenming. Wenming is often translated seem surprised when they hear that the Chinese daxue Friedrich Hegel have tradi- tionally played down Chinese convey Eastern teachings do not award PhD degrees or socio-cultural originality. Wan Lixin deviation from Daxue, which as “civilization,” but that “Doctors of Philosophy.” They Western schola rsh ip is is misleading. In a recent opens with “What the Great award a boshi, which literally strateg ica lly w ith holdi ng DR Thorsten Pattberg’s article lecture at Peking University, Learning teaches is to illustrate means an erudite master. valuable information about on this page today raises several the renowned linguist Gu illustrious virtue, to renovate the The word for “philoso- China — it will always prefer issues so compelling to Chinese Zhengkun explained that people, and to rest in the highest pher” doesn’t appear in the European terminology to de- that it should be recommended wenming describes a high excellence.” Chinese classics. Our so- scribe China because it wants to those Chinese who find English level of ethics and gentleness That occurred after Western called “Chinese Philosophy” to keep what the Germans so expressive that they would of a people, wh i le t he education had experienced simi- departments in the West are call deutungshoheit — the pre- rather say “bye-bye” than zaijian English word “civilization” lar metamorphosis. reminiscences of the impe- rogative of final explanation. to their children. derives from a city people’s In the Middle Ages, European rial age. In fact, the Chinese Or, as Slovenian philosopher We Chinese used to owe a lot mastery over materials and universities were generally under word for philosopher, zhexue- and critical theorist Slavoj to Daxue, the first of Confucian tech nolog y. Th i n k about the auspices of the churches and jia, came to China via Japan Zizek once said: “The true vic- canon, one of the chief origins of rockets and architecture. existed for the purpose of glorify- not before 1874, where it is tory (the true ‘negation of the Chinese outlook and attitudes. “Pek i ng Un iversit y” is Anyone with a rudimentary ing God. Gradually they evolved pronounced tetsugakusha. negation’) occurs when the of course its Westernized grounding in classic Chinese into a celebration of human intel- name, so that foreigners can enemy talks your language.” lect, and human power to triumph Murky confusion Tourists and imperialists knows how inadequate it is to find its address. The Chinese render daxue as Great Learning, over the nature. In a sense, both As the great educator and rarely come to be taught; they themselves, however, call or such Confucian concepts as li, Chinese daxue and the Western linguistic sage Ji Xianlin call things in China just the their institutions of higher yi, and de as ritual, righteousness, university have experienced a once remarked: We practi- way they call things at home. learning the daxue. Peking and morality. sort of amelioration, or decay, cally know the West like the Only, that is, to later put their University is Beijing daxue or As linguists point out, human depending on your outlook. palm of our hand, but the feet in their mouths, because Beida, Tsinghua University is thinking has to be mediated West’s vision of the East is all is clear mafan (trouble) Shangdi and God Qinghua Daxue and so on. through a language, which consists still a murky confusion.” and maodun (contradiction). “Daxue is not a translation of of discrete concepts. It is hard to To interpret alien concepts by Maybe, since the West obvi- Using the correct termi- Greek universitas,” explains find two concepts in two cultures using existing terms in another ously lacks the concepts of nology often makes a huge Professor Gu, but “a reference that are of exactly the same value. cu lt u re has been goi ng on to one of the great Confucian difference, indeed: yes, a through the ages. Matteo Ricci But few Chinese would question classics, ‘the Daxue’”. “Peking University,” this ar- (1552-1610), an Italian Jesuit the appropriateness of the term The Daxue is often loosely chitectural collossus, was priest who founded the Jesuit Peking University versus daxue. translated as “The Great founded in 1898, only recent China Mission, had famously Unlike a Westernized university Learning,” but it is really by Western standards. Yet, the used existing Chinese concepts which is deemed a relatively ad- this: an instruction manual Chinese daxue can be traced to explain Christianity. vanced stage of academic inquiry, on how to become a junzi and back to its origins in the His familiarity with tianzhu Confucian Daxue is intended as then, perhaps, a shengren. Spring and Autumn period, and shangdi in Chinese classics the primer for the uninitiated. The junzi is the idea l some 700 to 500 years before led him to use these terms to At first glance daxue is no more personality in China’s family our Lord, Jesus Christ! translate Christian God. He even than a set of terse precepts, to value-based tradition, while As Confucius once said: If observed, “After going through be chanted and learned by rote, a shengren is its highest names be not correct, lan- Chinese classics, I conclude that and when imbibed by children in member, a sage who has guage is not in accordance Chinese shangdi is the same as tabula rasa state, it lays the basis perfected the highest moral with the truth of things. It’s Christian God. They are different of their mental equipment. standards, called de, who known as the rectification of only in names.” As a matter of mastered the principles of names. Educated in error, the Root and branches fact, translating alien concepts ren, yi, li, zhi and xin, and people of Europe to this day by resorting to existing concepts As it is observed in the Confucian ❛ Wenming de- who now connects between have no idea what they are is the only way to make the con- canon Daxue, “Things have their all the people as if they were, missing: The East invented cepts intelligible across cultures, root and their branches. Affairs metaphorica lly spea k i ng, tens of thousands of non- his family. The historian scribes a high level European concepts they may have their end and their beginning. as thinking has to be mediated by To know what is first and what language, and concept is the unit Tu Weiming even calls the of ethics and gen- have never heard about. is last will lead near to what is that builds the language. shengren “the highest form of China is a wenming with a an authentic human being.” tleness of a people, Confucian love for learning. taught in the Great Learning.” In his “A New Edition of History of This art of properly prioritizing Chinese Philosophy,” Feng Youlan The junzi and shengren of while the English And Peking University — that’s is something beyond the ken of observed that “When introducing Confucianism are as clearly a living shengren culture. defined, unique, and non- word “civilization” most Westerners today. That leads Western terms to China, it is to the difference between a skills- essentially the interpretation of European as for example the derives from a city Dr Thorsten Pattberg is the author of “The East-West dichotomy oriented Western and ethics-based the modern [Western] ideas in bodhisattvas and buddhas of Buddhism are. people’s mas- (2009),” “Shengren” (2011), and Eastern education. terms of the [Chinese] ancient.” “Inside Peking University” (2012). Peking University is another That Western imperialists have Yet the former are com- tery over materials He is now on the board of the story. It was a product of the Re- been so consistently eager to use pletely u n k now n to the German East Asiatic Society force to liberate other people from educated Western publ ic and technology. in Tokyo. He can be reached form Movement of 1898 (Wuxu the abyss of misery is chiefly due Bianfa), which aimed at modern- due to erroneous, biblical at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or izing and strengthening China to their inability to understand oth- and philosophical European — Thorsten Pattberg email@example.com. ers’ culture (referring to Ji Xianlin’s by introducing Western ideas and technology, after reformists observations in Pattberg’s article). became keenly aware of the inad- When they have prostrated equacy of Confucian doctrines in before the new God of GDP, and confronting Western gunboats. believe this is the only true God, The imperial edict for the mis- how can they know that Daxue, sion of Peking University in 1902 a primer for the uninitiated, ob- was stated “to excite sentiments serves: “In a state, pecuniary gain of loyalty and charity, to impart is not to be considered to be pros- knowledge, and to invigorate perity, but its prosperity will be Illustration by Zhou Tao/Shanghai Daily industries.” That’s a significant found in righteousness.”
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