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5 Big Ideas in the Year of the Snake

April 19, 2013, 11:03 AM

In the Chinese Zodiac, the snake is a mythical creature that symbolizes academia, wisdom, and the pursuit of knowledge. What better year than this to talk about the coming expansion of Chinese thought and the rise of China's terminologies.

Language Imperialism

What's the big idea? China is little known in the West because in the past Chinese key concepts were translated into convenient European (biblical and philosophical) terminologies. This has largely distorted Chinese reality and gave the impression that China was a place of zero originality. Nothing could be further from the truth.

End of Translation

What's the big idea? We all feel that something is always "lost in translation," without exception. So why don't we stop translating? At least we could refrain from the imprudent and partial – like when Confucian concepts like shengren and tianxia were deliberately translated into biblical European taxonomies back in the 17th – 19th centuries. In the 21st century, technology and artificial memory may help us to end translation.

Competition for Terminologies

What's the big idea? Capitalism teaches us that nations should compete for market shares, natural resources, and human capital. Little is known, and few are aware, that nations should also compete for their cultural terminologies. I shall call this lingualism.

The Future of Global Language

What's the big idea? English may be the international language, but it is still under construction. Any future global language would have to include tens of thousands of non-European key terminologies on top of it, in particular from the Chinese/East-Asian and Hindu traditions.

Cultural Property Rights

What's the big idea? People talk about intellectual property rights, because in a market economy brands and inventions must be protected by copyright and by the law. However, nothing like it exists for culture; with the result that brand-names like Google or Apple for example are better protected (in a legal sense) than the entire socio-cultural originality of Cultural China and its 3000 years of glory. Because cultural property is unprotected, European historians in the past simply translated Chinese originality into convenient European taxonomy. They literally claimed ownership of History with a capital 'H'. Nothing that could not be contested in the future, though.

Thorsten Pattberg is a writer, activist, and cultural critic, and Research Fellow at The Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies (IAHS) at Peking University. He has published four monographs and contributed op-eds to Asia Times, China Daily, Global Times, Global Research, China Today, Shanghai Daily, Die Zeit (German Times), Korea Herald, People's Daily, and Japan Times. He is also an alumnus of The University of Tokyo and Harvard University.


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