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China, The West: Languages and Undead Terminologies

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Many Chinese concepts are deceased in world history yet behave in China as if alive -- they are truly undead concepts .

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China , The West : Languages and Undead Terminologies

Many Chinese concepts are deceased in world history yet behave in China as if alive -- they are truly undead concepts .

THE WEST 's disregard for foreign socio-cultural originality has become a real problem for the rest of the world. Western media and academia for example have the reputation for either omitting Chinese concepts or translating them into Western biblical and philosophical terminologies. This creates a perfect illusion: the West is all there is to know. Non-Westerners now have to study the West to get to know themselves.

In the global discourse important Chinese names and concepts - like wenming, shengren, daxue and junzi - have become a somewhat useless cultural currency ; just as the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel had already envisioned it : China has no longer any stake in the history of thought. Its unique concepts and ideas, after having been translated into convenient Western taxonomies -- like civilization, saints, great learning and gentlemen - , are no longer needed.

Take "Confucianism" for example. Confucianism is a Western word creation. The correct Chinese term is ruxue. But the Chinese name doesn't follow the Western "logic" that "a religion" should be named after its "messiah", like in Christianity. So the Western missionaries created "Confucianism", this word (same logic in "Buddhism", by the way). Ruxue is not a religion but a school of thought, but it was quickly made look like a religion thanks to misleading Western taxonomy. To this day, the Western public believes that Confucius is a saint (and that there's just one buddha, by the way).

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This leads me to my favorite example -that of "shengren". When the early European missionaries to China saw "shengren" this term, they cunningly translated it as "saints", a word that has biblical connotations. Especially the mighty Germans, the descendants of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation, insist to this day that China has "Heilige" -- meaning holymen. But the story of incompetence doesn't end there: When the biblical translations done by the missionaries reached Europe, the European philosophers had their own philosophical agenda and argued that those "Chinese philosophers" were not very good at philosophy. It's a no-brainer, isn't it -- the word "philosopher", you may have considered this, is nowhere to be found in the Chinese classics. China has shengren.

This all leads me to a very provocative mid- conclusion: Although many Chinese concepts are already deceased in world history yet they behave in China as if alive --this makes them truly undead terminologies. You don't believe me? Read here how the West killed the Chinese dragons; here how the West destroyed Chinese education; here how dead itself became a translation.

So the next question would be, is there a cure to this disease? Not that I know of. The "virus" that already caused the undead of tens of thousands of East-Asian vocabularies has now contaminated entire Asia --that virus is of course called translation.

To stop the spread of undead vocabularies, one would have to stop translating foreign key terminologies into familiar vocabularies of one's own lingua. Instead one would have to adopt them. But this is like asking Christians to stop Christianity because its unscientific or Westerners to stop military interventions because its wrong. Translation of the most precious originality of our enemies into our own all-favorite taxonomies is about power and dominance. Read more about Western Language Imperialism and the prerogative of final explanation here.

Yes, Western domination may not be able to annihilate the Chinese language. But Western media and academia will make sure those Chinese key terminologies will have no life outside China.

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Dr. Thorsten J. Pattberg (裴德思 Pei Desi) is a German philosopher and cultural critic.
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