Science Magazine: No shengren, please!
US Science Magazine excludes Chinese terminologies from its publications.
If the shengren isn’t science, what in China is?
The shengren is the single most important concept in the Chinese tradition. Yet, ‘Science’ magazine “has never heard about it”, and your Asia correspondent in Beijing politely declines to publish a Chinese word, or to report about it. Clearly, Science magazine is practicing a “white vocabulary policy”. It means that foreign terminologies are excluded from publication. Especially if foreigners submit their research, they must use European terminologies and taxonomies in their ‘submissions’. How appropriate a word: s u b m i s s i o n.
Western Academic Imperialism
We have been there before. The west cultivates the dangerous notion that “knowledge only exists if it’s the West that knows it”. The consequences are far-reaching: By not letting Chinese key terminologies like shengren into ‘Science’ publications, Western publishers are not only impeding Chinese culture but they are also ruining your own reputation as a truly ‘global’ publication. In fact, “globalization” looks like a one way road; as if only one direction was permissible: from the west to the east.
My Language, Your Prison?
When the Germans, the descendants of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation, came to China to evangelize it, unlike the Chinese the Germans never had any concept for sages or sagehood. In their effort to christen China, the Germans called the shengren “Heilige” – biblical saints. This German obsession with holiness is deeply rooted in the Germanic biblical and folkloric language; and it is this language that they want to project on Chinese Culture at all costs.
Sovereignty over the definition of thought
The Germans call this ‘deutungshoheit’. It means having the sovereignty over the definition of thought.
Shengren cannot be adequately translated
A shengren is the highest member in the East-Asian family-value based tradition and has the highest moral standards, called de. He applies the principles of ren, li, yi, zhi and xin, and connects between all the people as if they were, metaphorically speaking, his family. Calling the shengren of East Asia “philosophers”, “saints”, “Heilige” or any other familiar European names is the greatest historical blunder since Christopher Columbus’s discovery of “the Indians” in North America.
One look at the original Chinese text reveals that the shengren of Confucianism are just as clearly defined and non-European as the buddhas of Buddhism are. Yet, the Western public is kept ignorant about the former. As the historian Howard Zinn once put it: “If something is omitted from history, you have no way of knowing it is omitted.”
Our schools and universities (and “scientific” journals, sadly) preach that there are “philosophers” and “saints” all over Asia; yet, upon reflection, evidently there isn’t a single buddha, bodhisattva, or shengren in Europe. Think. What is that probability?
The word for “philosopher” doesn’t appear in the Chinese classics. Our so-called “Chinese Philosophy” departments in the West are reminiscences of the Imperial age. In fact, the Chinese word for philosopher, zhexuejia, came to China via Japan not before 1874, where it is pronounced tetsugakusha.
The Problem of Western ‘China Studies’
What happened to empirical evidence in Western ‘China studies’? The original shengren is permanent and buried in the Chinese texts, beneath all Western convenient biblical and philosophical translations.
The Western practice of constantly producing erroneous translation just to celebrate its own life form and believes – such egocentric practice runs counter to any modern notion of ‘intellectual property rights’. Chinese culture is a victim not only of language imperialism but also of Western “bad science”. Yet, instead of correcting the erroneous translations, Western media and academia carry on with it.
A China without Chinese?
In Europe, have we arrived at a critical time in world history, when the mentioning of a single Chinese concept by its true name is regarded as culture treason? China constitutes a very un-European humanity. The people of China have all the right to be included in the History of thought (History with a capital ‘H’).
The European languages cannot render important Chinese (and other foreign) key concepts. The ultimate solution may be not to translate at all but to adopt them.
How can we educate the young without protecting our cultures from being translated? And how can we overcome Western ‘China studies’ that tells us that we have to translate Chinese culture into European biblical and philosophical vocabulary? As Confucius once said: “If the names are not correct, speech is not in accordance with the truth of things.” But the truth is some people just want your names to disappear.