Thorsten Pattberg Translations Distort China's Reality by chenlibao


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									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

           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:, or          izing and strengthening China          to their inability to understand oth-
and philosophical European           — Thorsten Pattberg   
                                                                                                                                                 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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