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The Death of Cultures and the Rise of Undead Terminologies

Many Chinese terminologies are deceased in world history yet behave in China as if alive – they are undead vocabularies.

THE WEST’s treatment for foreign socio-cultural originality is legendary: Western missionaries and philosophers simply omitted Chinese concepts or they translated them into convenient Western (biblical and philosophical) terminologies. As a result, only knowledge expressed in European languages (now: English) exists.

In World history (with capital ‘H’), most Chinese names and key concepts like wenming, shengren, daxue or junzi have become a useless currency. In a Hegelian sense, China never played a part in the formation of World history which was completely reserved to Western thinkers. After having been translated into Western categories, Chinese thinking became redundant. Hence the notion that China is a place of zero originality.

Pinyin the Walking Dead

Take "Confucianism" for example. Confucianism is a Western term. The correct Chinese word is rujia. In China you hear this word spelled endlessly, yet the Western world remains motionless and deaf to it. Only if “Confucianism” is used will the world lend its ears. This has caused creepiness to Chinese words.

When the European missionaries arrived in China in the 16th century they were looking for a messiah figure. They found it in Kong Fu-tze. Naturally, they named Kong’s religion “Confucianism.” But rujia isn’t a religion; it's a school of thought. To this day, the Western public believes that Confucius is a saint, sage, or philosopher. He is neither of them: Kong is a shengren.

In fact, Kong was a “shengren” for the last 2600 years, and no one took notice of such word. This all leads me to a very provocative theory: Although many Chinese concepts are already buried under World history; yet they behave in China as if alive –this makes them truly undead vocabularies.

The Reanimation of Chinese Words

Is there a solution in sight? Not a quick one. There are too many indigenous word creations stalking around East Asia that were undone a long time ago.

To stop the restlessness of those undead Asian vocabularies, the Chinese would have to reanimate some of them: Once their ideas are brought back to life, the West could adopt these Chinese words back into World history.

Surely, such a 'global language' project isn't going to take off next week. Old habits die slow and Western scholarship and the mass media have closed their ranks; united they want to make sure that Chinese key terminologies will have no life outside China.

Image credit: Solarseven/

Read it at Shanghai Daily

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