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« Blinded by Anti-Communism | Main | Passive-Aggressive Argumentation Techniques »

September 06, 2005

Comments

Jim

There is a set of characters normally used for transliterating foreign names. Foregn terms are rarely transliterated, because that leaves them unintelligible, unless the reader is willing to condescend to learn a foreign term.

These transliteration characters are used for names of persons, such as Marx or Lenin or Bush, but normally not for ethnic groups or countries, though there are exceptions such as "Su ke lan" - Scotland, or "Ai er lan" - Ireland. These use the transliteration characters, BTW. The rule seems to be that what the Chinese considered "real" countries, with independent governments, got single syllable, formal names back in the nineteenth century. These names tended to be fairly complimentary, such as "Ying guo" Flourishing country - England, or "De guo" Virtue country - Germany. Probably it was felt that transliterations, which would result in multi-syllabic names would point out their outlandishness and would be a little disrespectful

Ethnic groups in the south got their generally single syllable names simply transliterated with any character that came to mind - this was before the transliteration system gelled to meet the challenges posed by the flood of European terms - which was then turned into a unique character by adding the radical for "animal" to the left side. This radical has been dropped since the revolution.

Abiola Lapite

"which was then turned into a unique character by adding the radical for "animal" to the left side"

That figures, foreign barbarians being barely above the animals in any case ...

jeet

Whatever happened to "sinew-plucking religion"?

Jim

"which was then turned into a unique character by adding the radical for "animal" to the left side"

That figures, foreign barbarians being barely above the animals in any case ..."

Oh, it gets worse. This animal radical business is pretty much restricted to southern ethnic groups, not to northern barbarians or to Europeans or to those groups the Chinese were in contact with in the earliest centuries, such as the Qiang or the Yi. This corresponds to the period from the Han through the Tang dynasties, the period of maximum swagger for the Chinese. Pretty craven not to apply the same norm to other foreigners.

But it forms an intersting pattern with similar behavior on the part of Europeans. During the early period of European expolration and contact with people on ohter continents, Europeans were certainly rapacious, same as any people on the make, but they/we didn't have anything like the contempt hey developed later. Of course they were overwhelmed by the Aztec and inca societies, and alot of what they encountered in Africa and India, but even in the American South the English interacted with indigenous socities on a fairly civil basis for the first few decades. But eventually they/we began to have to find explanations for their comparative success and the obviouly most palatable answer was some kind of racial or ethnic superiority. The Chinese attitude resembles it a lot.

Abiola Lapite

Oh, but the Chinese got their share of the same condescending treatment in the end, and not just from the inhabitants of Nippon.

http://www.earnshaw.com/shanghai-ed-india/tales/t-racism.htm

radek

I don't know about the Chinese but in Polish, the term for Germans basically means 'those who don't know how to speak right'.

Andrew

"These names tended to be fairly complimentary, such as "Ying guo" Flourishing country - England, or "De guo" Virtue country - Germany."

Don't forget America - "Mei guo" - beautiful country!

" simply append the 26 letters of the English alphabet to the set they already must learn"

Sometimes they do - karaoke being translated as 卡拉OK ("ka la OK"). I'm not sure about this, but I think most Chinese students these days learn pinyin as well. Actually, according to Wikipedia, Chinese schools use pinyin to teach kids who speak other dialects of Chinese at home how to pronounce words in Mandarin. Pinyin letters don't exactly correspond to English (q, x, etc) but I'm sure it's not too hard to learn English and other pronunciations.

Anyway, Jim's right that there is already a set of characters generally reserved for transliteration, including characters that have only phonetic meaning, or archaic words no longer normally used (though this set isn't coterminous with the set actually used for transliteration). My Chinese is rusty but I do recall the character 哈 ("ha") which is basically just a phonetic character (it means "sound of laughter") used for example to transliterate the first syllable of "Harry Potter."

jeet

The PRC has committed a great many crimes against the Chinese language (simplified characters, for a start) but Pinyin is not one of them. For non-Mandarin speakers it is infinitely easier than Wade-Giles or (shudder) Gwoyeu Romatzyh.

Jim

"The PRC has committed a great many crimes against the Chinese language (simplified characters, for a start) but Pinyin is not one of them."

Most of the simplified characters were already in use informally. Either they were cursive forms like ma3 - horse, or they were updated phonetic forms. That plays hell with reconstruction of Old Chinese phonology, but apparently the government thought the gain in much wider literacy was worth that cost.

Pinyin was all gain, and everyone does have some familiarity with, thank God. It makes any number of things possible or easier.

"Oh, but the Chinese got their share of the same condescending treatment in the end, and not just from the inhabitants of Nippon."

I can't bring the expression to mind at the moment but it has to do with the weasels and the rats tearing each other apart. The Chinese eventually came in for a lot of humiliation. Times change and tables turn. There was a time when the Turks and all of Islam were in a position to look down their noses at Europe. And the tables will turn again. Cry me a river.

Ckrisz

However, let's not forget that the Confucian canons never recognized race as any sort of valid marker of distinction. Barbarians, with the "correct" acculturation, indulging in the right rituals, were accepted as "civilized". This went not just for numerous barbarian rulers, who could quite legitimately appropriate the Mandate of Heaven, but for common people who would eventually assimilate. Back in the so-called "swaggering" age of Chinese predominance, this was a basic requirement for civil harmony given the large numbers of barbarian tribes through Sichuan, the south, and of course the northwest and frontiers. Correspondingly, Chinese could just as easily become barbarians, as Confucius noted, as numerous frontiersmen, military colonists, etc. did in those days by adopting barbarian dress and customs.

Ckrisz

This is not so different from the conception of the people who gave us the word "barbarian" in the first place, the Greeks.

Jim

"Back in the so-called "swaggering" age of Chinese predominance, this was a basic requirement for civil harmony given the large numbers of barbarian tribes through Sichuan, the south, and of course the northwest and frontiers."

Very true. The conventional wisdom tends ot be that adoption of a Chinese surname is the mark of assimilation. Supposedly the surname Li is so common in Guangdong because some tribe was accorded the honor of using the emperors' surname during the Tang dynasty. No one has ever really argued that the Chinese attitude was racialist, just ethnocidal when it carried to the extreme, but even that may be harsh, if the assimilation was mostly voluntary. The Chinese social model has lasted so long because it works, even with all its obvious drawbacks, and that would make it pretty attractive even without coercion.

Chuckles

[...Barbarians, with the "correct" acculturation, indulging in the right rituals, were accepted as "civilized". This went not just for numerous barbarian rulers, who could quite legitimately appropriate the Mandate of Heaven, but for common people who would eventually assimilate...]

Quite true; the Yuan dynasty being a good example of this. If the Mongols could become Chinese, anyone can.
Saying "Racism" has always been with humanity (a common trope in many quarters) is just false.
It is one thing to hold that cultural aliens are Barbarians who can be civilized.
It is quite another thing to suppose, as Vince Sarich put it recently at a conference on race and Pharmacogenomics (citing another fellow I cant recollect now) that there are those who are basically incapable of attaining unto some estate; presumably because of Genes, Blood, or whatelse. Insinuating perhaps, that loading some people with the stress and burden of civilization is morally reprehensible - better allow them to roam wild in their native State than try to cope with what is beyond them; etc etc etc.
Although I will say that in recent times, it is becoming harder and harder to put the Xenophobia of Chinese, especially towards Blacks, down to Cultural issues. I have seen reports of too many Africans killed in China and Indonesia wantonly by the police to suppose that culturalisms are entirely responsible for this kind of behavior. In the case of Japan, one does not need to wonder. Yamatoist philosophy leads the way and there are too many Nakasone and Ishihara stooges lurking around for us to assume that Japanese Xenophobia is untainted to a large extent by biological considerations.

Jim

Chuckles,

Someone can say that there are certain people who may be unable to achieve this or that, but in this day and age, if he doesn't want to be interpreted according to the default setting, he had better specify that he means certain damaged individuals from just about every group. That person had better be ready to cut clear of 150 years of racist apologetics or get tangled in it.
This is the biological basis of the attitudes you observe in China and Japan - physical characteristics mark membership in groups for most people.

It's no comfort, but they do it to us. east Asian atitudes towards whites were also very negative in the past, but several things have served to change this. It may not be very flattering to Asians, but the main reason for this change is our dominance in general. Might makes right. second, I have found people who respond well to hsitorical snobery. When confronted with that old nonsense about "5,000 years" of history as making them somehow culturally superior, I have asked them what thier ancestors were doing when mine were building Stonehenge. If they don't knoew what I am talking about, that shames them right off, but if they do, they shut up. And this is still nonsense; this is the stone monuments fallacy. They are not the only ones unimpressed if they don'thave bigdurablemonumentsto coo over;Europeans discount all their own history before the Romans because the Celts typically did not build in stone. Abiola had a post earlier about the real age of Ife and pointed out how this got overlooked generally, but same is true of cities like Milan and Vienna, which area a lot older than the Roman period.

In China people are generally just ignorant of foreigners' cultural achievements. It's not unusual to hear Chinese express surprise over the Gothic cathedrals in Europe, having never heard anything about them before. They seem also to think nothing has ever happened in Africa.

as for the Japanese; appreciate them for their good points and prepare yourself for the worst. And believe me, they are a thousand times better nowadays when it comes to xenophobia than they were a couple of decades ago. It is a process of becoming more confident in the world.

And expecting barbarians to assume one's own culture if they want to be treated like human beings is a slippery slope. There are only the merest of physical differences between the Englsih and the Irish, but they didn't help half enough for all those centuries.

Oh, by the way, it was the Manchus who assimilated. The Mongols didn't and worse than that, they were successful at administering China with their alien model, a challenge the official class could not let go unopposed, and the rest is history.

Chuckles

Yes; I will go with you for a bit about the Mongols not assimilating. Tucked away in the Palaces, they kept on with their good ole nomadic lifestyle. *However* a significant aspect of Khubilai Khans strategy was the "more Chinese than the Chinese" philosophy. It affected his demeanor, his attitude and his conduct in public - while strange goings on continued in the palace; goings on the Chinese were perfectly contended to ignore until the Yuan dynasty itself began to unravel.
Hence, I see that for all intents and purposes, the scions of the Yuan were very much, in public, Chinese. They *had* to be. My emphasis is that even this public pretence to conduct was good enough for the Chinese.
I am not so sure that the Mongols administered with an alien model. Much of what I have come across seems to suggest that the collapse of the Yuan dynasty stemmed from the relaxing of the attempt at pretence on the part of the Mongols.
Khubilai Khan very much administered the Chinese as Chinese.
Indeed, this was the Mongol way. Without any City behaviour of theirs to bring upon the locals, assimilation (or the pretence to it) was often essential. The genius of the Mongol era lay in absorption.
As to the Race thing - I think the generally unsophisticated milieu in which a lot of Chinese lead hampers them. When combined with their global aspirations and doctrines of their Country's relevance on the world stage, you dont need Thor's Hammer to push them from cultural Xenophobia to Biological essentialism.
There was an interesting response to Condi Rice's visit to China floating around the Net some time ago. Racist words were quite prominent - the vigilant Chinese CP did nothing to censor this.
My point is that in the past, one could chalk Xenophobia in these regions to cultural ignorance - but I am not sure this is the case any more for a lot of people in these regions.
I think cultural Xenophobia in China is solidifying into the kind of religious racism of the West which no amount of knowledge or enlightenment can cure.
The problem is no longer black culture. The problem is now Blackness; this is the idea.
This is a transition from the "a Barbarian is as a Barbarian does" philosophy of past times to the comparatively recent "a Barbarian is as a Barbarian is" thinking of many.
http://washingtontimes.com/commentary/20050712-091448-3519r.htm
It is only a matter of time before equivalents of the HBI spring up in Beijing (that is, if they havent already).
The reason the Japanese seem to be less Xenophobic is simple. Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Okinawa and Sasebo => Jazz, Blues, HipHop and BasketBall.
I am not quite sure about the "being more confident" part. No amount of confidence can address an ignorance that is thickly walled inside the Castles of national Ego.

Ckrisz

Chuckles / Jim: Absolutely genuine "racism" exists in China today and existed back then, as well --- I'm speaking from a purely philosophical standpoint in that "canonical" Confucianism never accepted racism. Real people, of course, did, and you can find many historical discourses about the tribes of the north and southwest in the Ming, Song, and Han Dynasties that are just as racist as anything by Curzon or Rhodes.

With the invasion of Western cultures and media came the invasion of Western racialist philosophies and assumptions, of course. See much ignorant commentary regarding the Chinese gold medal hurdler Liu Xiang, and how he had to overcome "genetic" barriers. I was struck at how similar the commentary around his win was to American commentary around gold medal sprinter Jeremy Wariner, though the American commentary was better coded.

Jim

Ckrisz - OK, I see what you mean about orthodox Confucian ideals. Even a Uighur like Yeluchutsai could achieve high psition under the system when it worked up to its potnetial.

And I agree about the influence of western race theories. A basic natural sense of alienness can harden into something ugly and vicious if the wrong explanation is offered.

Nobody is making any more stupid comments about Chinese gentic potential when it comes ot athletics these days.

Jim

Ckrisz - OK, I see what you mean about orthodox Confucian ideals. Even a Uighur like Yeluchutsai could achieve high psition under the system when it worked up to its potnetial.

And I agree about the influence of western race theories. A basic natural sense of alienness can harden into something ugly and vicious if the wrong explanation is offered.

Nobody is making any more stupid comments about Chinese gentic potential when it comes ot athletics these days.

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