WESTERN commentators translate the Zhongguo Meng as “Chinese Dream,” thereby patronizing China’s socio-cultural originality and marketing it as a franchise of the “American Dream”. But are the two civilizations really sleeping on the same pillow?
Xi Jinping never said “dream”
What is that – a “China Dream” – if not first a Western translation? Few people in China, not even Xi Jinping, the chairman of the CPC himself, actually said “dream.” That’s because they speak Chinese in China.
The difference between what Western media thinks China dreams and what China actually says is of great significance for the future global language. In fact, China should compete for her names like she competes for everything else.
American dream versus Chinese meng
Everyone has heard about the brand “American Dream” which – if US policy makers’ wishes came true – was now being replicated by the Communist Party to better the lives of the people. As if China could not draw up designs on her own; as if a ‘Chinese Dream’ had to have its epistemological roots in the West, only to be shipped under US trademark to Asia, a ship full of freedom, equality, Hollywood, McDonalds, and other Occidental technicalities.
Can East Asia return to world history?
The ‘Zhongguo Meng’ is about achieving the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation back to its former pomp, an element that is strikingly missing in the “American dream. Chinese people are expected to pay lip service to oneness (tian ren he yi) and great harmony (datong): they work hard, they study vigorously, and they try to climb out of poverty. [A common mainland joke goes that the ‘Beijing dream’ was about clean air and water, but we leave that here for now.]
The Meng is what the Chinese dream, and let us not forget that China has memories of dynasties and emperors, of rujia, fojiao, and daojiao (Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism), and that she is a spiritual wenming: a category beyond the narrow European definitions of nation, state, culture, and civilization.
China’s creativity vastly underestimated
Little wonder then that ‘meng’ is attached to centuries of a very different quality and color than that of America. Confucian values and priorities differ from Puritan ones. East-Asia has a unique tradition of shengren and junzi: archetypes of wisdom as unique as, say, philosophers and saints. Chinese promote xiao (filial piety), xue (the love for learning), li (ritual) and thousands of other non-European concepts.
We would all see Chinese “creativeness” crystal-clearly, if translation was put on hold, if only for a few years. Translation is a human strategy – older than the stone-age – to annihilate one’s opponent beyond the mere physical removal of his body from the world. That’s why, by the way, linguists speak about the “death” of cultures. It was never meant to be just a metaphor.
Translations distort China’s reality
Some scholars have argued with me that Englishis entirely sufficient to describe China. After all, it’s just anyone’s “dream,” right? That is not only showing disregard for new knowledge; it is also a cultural death threat against Asia. The West only sees China through – often biblical and philosophical – European translations, and because all European vocabularies look familiar to Westerners, it has often been concluded, prematurely, that China was some place of zero originality. As if the Chinese people for the last 3000 years didn’t invent a thing.
It is often claimed that before the arrival of the Europeans the Chinese had no sense of intellectual property rights. This ‘cultural weakness’ is observable every second in China as some Chinese compatriot gives away his name to some foreign company: “You can call me Mike, ok?”
Stop translation, create global language
Of course, that’s all history and we cannot change the past. But China must tighten security to its genius and should accommodate the global future: If ‘Meng’ were to become a key Chinese terminology of the 21st Century, why translating it American? Does this look Western to you: 中国梦 ? No? That’s because it isn’t.
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