Leading academicians, translators, politicians demand emancipation of Chinese words

“It might sound depressing but the truth must be told: the West knows little about China,” said Thorsten Pattberg, a German philosopher and cultural critic. Thus, he called for the nation to invent more original Chinese terminology to enlarge the intellectual property pool.

Sun Jingxin, a senior editor with the Beijing-based Center for International Communication Studies, echoed Pattberg’s view. As he put it, “Inventing and communicating Chinese concepts, undeniably, is a crucial step to heal China’s Achilles’ heel in presenting itself to the world.”

Though China has tried to project its voice to the world in recent decades, few made-in-China terminologies are widely accepted in the West. “The only one I can come up with is ‘paper tiger,’ which was invented long ago,” recalled Cai Lijian, a senior translator working for the UN Secretariat. “paper tiger” is a literal English translation of zhilaohu, which refers to something that appears threatening but is unable to withstand challenge. It became well known in the West after Mao Zedong (1893-1976) used the expression during an interview with American journalist Anna Louise Strong in 1946.

“Many Chinese concepts, especially those concerning political and diplomatic discourse on the governance of China, are difficult for non-Chinese speakers to understand because of an imbalance of communication between China and the rest of the world,” wrote Su Changhe, a professor at the School of International Relations and Public Affairs of Shanghai-based Fudan University, in the Oriental Morning Post.

To compound matters, awkward uses of the phrases may discourage the audience. Therefore, an accurate and readable translation of Chinese terminologies is paramount. […]

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