Shengren – Chapter 3.1 – On the Correct Names

Translation is also the practice of re-naming or re-branding—in our age of capitalism: It is currently as deregulated as any bad business could be: Everything goes, but the winner takes it all. Humans have the need for names that will survive their physical destruction. Meanwhile, the imperialists had other plans. So while we find relatively few Chinese words in the English or German language—exemptions are ginseng, mahjong, shaolin, and kungfu—the West adopted hundreds of Japanese loanwords readily, words such as bonsai, ikebana, karaoke, manga, origami, otaku, tanka, tycoon, kimono, bento, ramen, sake, sashimi, tofu, wasabi, Mikado, shogun, aikido, dojo, karate, kendo, sumo, satori, zen, bukkake, geisha, hentai, kamikaze, kawaii, koi, tsunami, sukoku, karoshi (death from overwork)… the list goes on. Most commentators would argue that those Japanese words entered the Western world uncontested, because Japan turned into an US satellite state and became economical and militarily strong while ‘evil’ China remained weak: Japanese culture pushed its words into the world, and the world was pulled toward Japanese culture, especially during the economic boom years following World War II. Shelves could be filled with books written about the victory march of Japanese loanwords throughout the world, but for our purposes it suffice to say that Western scholars made no attempts to disguise Japanese inventions, originality, and ideas; instead they benignly adopted those Japanese names and words; largely because, well: a koi was a koi, not a simple goldfish; and sushi was sushi, not a simple fishdish and so on—a triumph. In other words, Westerners saw the creative potential in Japanese culture and awarded them, or better, they honored Japanese thought by preserving the original Japanese terms. When it came to China, however, Western observes acted exactly the opposite: they insisted on eliminating Chinese terms. Why—we have seen earlier that for historical reasons, the Europeans are rather creative with the truth and use of language, and not exactly the selfless civilization when it comes to the correct names of others: fabrication, distortion, screening out: everything to deny its competitors originality and affirmation.

Confucianism, however, stressed the importance of the correct names very much: ‘名不正,則言不順;言不順,則事不成’ [If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success].[1] Those Chinese characters are still used after 2500 years, and the Western sinologists hate it. Similar in Buddhism, in which the ancient scripts are preserved and constantly re-vitalized:

‘Our opinion is that a being in hell is a being in hell, a hungry ghost is a hungry ghost, and the world of Buddha is the world of the Buddha; they are the ultimate reality just as they are themselves without transformation.’ – This type of logic – that ‘A is A and nothing other than A’ – is a typical idea of hongaku doctrine, one that I call the ‘principle of self-consistency.’[2]

Imagine the Buddha, which the Europeans might translate as a psychologist, a businessman, a quack, a philosopher, a Kulturmeister, a Great Man, a Heiliger, a prophet, but as far as the ancient texts go, the Buddha is fundamentally a Buddha—what do you do? You have to take responsibility for the correct words. Likewise, the shengren is the only thing that is a shengren, and to suggest that the shengren is a saint or philosopher is quite outrageous. Because of the chaos and deregulation in translating, Will Durant could write the Story of Civilization (1954) in beautiful American English, removing all Chinese original names and concepts, and win the Pulitzer Prize for it. To withhold the correct names is to manipulate their owners’ role in the world.

America’s Will Durant, like Germany’s Richard Wilhelm, believed they were doing a great service to their countrymen, and probably—in their delusions of dependency—a favor to the trusting Chinese as well. As Wilhelm explained: ‘Confucius’s implied level of humanity could only be realized through the actions of Jesus of Nazareth and his Christus-Mensch.’[3] In the same book on Chinesische Lebensweisheiten (1922), Wilhelm talked excessively about ‘Philosophen,’ ‘philosophische Theorien,’[4] and ‘Heilige’ (saints).[5] He called the teaching of Confucius ‘göttliche Offenbarungen’[6] and the 大学daxue he called ‘Die höhere Bildung’ (lit. Higher Education).[7] He didn’t mention the shengren once, not a single time, letting alone using a single Chinese character throughout his book. Almost as if Richard Wilhelm wanted that un-European thing to disappear and die. It paid off and the man was overloaded with prizes for his life work. The West not only decorated soldiers who killed as many enemies as possible; it also decorated scholars who disrupted the enemy the most. And that even went up to our so-called Nobel ‘Peace Prize’ that is more often than not awarded to foreign dissidents who by definition subverted foreign societies and thus served the aim of total Westernization.

The Germans were reading Richard Wilhelm’s fictional books and may have wondered: what exactly had China ever achieved, given that its description looked all-too-familiar, its theories suspiciously overused (given that it was such a distant culture, but described all in familiar German terminology), and therefore felt stupendous unoriginal – almost silly: ‘Der SINN der höheren Bildung ist die Klärung des klaren LEBENS, die Liebe zur Menschheit und die Zielsetzung in höchster Tüchtigkeit’ [sic]. An English translation of Wilhelm’s translation is unnecessary at this point – the German is too far into crazyland. Richard Wilhelm translated 道dao as Sinn (meaning), and 德de as Leben (life), and 大学da xue as höhere Bildung (higher education). A better example of language imperialism may not exist: Wilhelm’s China looked European, biblical, often fairytesque, always quasi-philosophical, but never quite new or vital. The Germans during Empire, as said before, were quite aware that new words for legitimate new ideas were essential for the German language to expand and dominate. Likewise, they were also aware that this principle must not apply to new ideas found in China or in any other foreign tradition. Chinese tradition had to look as old and worn, as abgedroschen and abgelutscht as possible—to feature the Western historian. That was why translator Victor von Strauss’s Lao-Tse’s Tao Te King (1924) reads like a passage of the Bible: the shengren became ‘die heiligen Menschen,’ Laozi’s ideal became ‘der heilige Mensch,’ his actions: ‘des Heil’gen Thun,’ ‘daher der heilige Mensch.’[8] And where Confucianism wasn’t biblical, his ‘Wesen’ [nature] was the ‘Philosophie.’ 70 years later, and those superexperts are still at it: In his Lao-tzu und der Taoismus (1996), Max Kaltenmark, an Austrian-French sinologist, showcased his obsession with philosophy and philosophers, despite these words nowhere to be found in any of the Chinese texts. He discussed: ‘das philosophische Denken,’ ‘die Zeit der Philosophen,’ ‘philosophische Strömungen,’ ‘Lao-tzu der Philosoph,’ ‘die beiden grossen Philosophen’ [Confucius and Laozi].[9] Kaltenmark knew when ‘das philosophische Denken in China einsetzte,’ and he reported ‘Philosophenschulen’ in China. He then asked himself a question: ‘What do we really know about this philosopher?’[10] Well, for a start, we know that Laozi wasn’t a philosopher, and that philosopher and philosophy, those two words, are not in the texts. This textual fact, or, shall we say blatant truth, couldn’t impress German scholarship though; Kaltenmark went on: ‘die Philosophenschulen des Alten Chinas,’ ‘Hsün-tzu der konfuzianische Philosoph,’ ‘die gängigen philosophischen Vorstellungen,’ ‘philosophische Reflexionen,’ etc. pp.[11] That’s a lot of propaganda for a word that is simply not there in the canon, right? And as expected, not a single time did Kaltenmark mention the original shengren. Only once, hardly noticeable, did he hint ‘ein verborgener Weiser’ [a hidden sage], possibly a modification of Richard Wilhelm’s ‘verborgener Heiliger’ [the hidden saint].[12] The rest of Kaltenmark’s text is dedicated to holiness, the holiness that Germany so desperately wanted to see in China: ‘Heiligkeit’ (p. 27), ‘heilige Texte’ (p. 30), ‘der taoistische Heilige’ (p. 69), ‘Heilige’ (p. 27, 29, 42, 64, 83, 85, 96, 97, 113 ff.). There even was a whole chapter entitled ‘Der Heilige,’ not to mention other biblical terminology like ‘Seelen’ for hun and p’o (p. 111), ‘Helle’ for ming (p. 113), ‘Leerheit’ for wu (p. 64), ‘Geheimnisvoll’ for hsüan, ‘Wiederkehr’ for fu, and ‘Vollkommende Tugend’ for te.[13]

We have already discussed Germany’s obsession with holiness. The shameful textual proselytization is truly overwhelming, for example in the writings of August Conrady, a Sanskritist and Sinologist who reportedly spent eight months in China. Conrady described Chinese tradition almost exclusively in Christian terms: ‘von Gott geschaffen,’ ‘göttliche Fußspur,’ ‘tiefer Gottesglauben,’ ‘die Heiligen,’ ‘die heiligen Bücher,’ ‘mit dem Willen Gottes,’ ‘Glaubensbekenntnis,’ ‘Gottesdienst,’ ‘göttlicher Vater,’[14] and even compares the advent of Confucianism with the advent of the Holy Roman Empire and Christianity.[15] Not a single correct Chinese name – with the exception of people and place names – was holy enough, so to speak, to keep it: the junzi became the Gentleman (an English word, taken from James Legge’s translation), shangdi became the ‘Kaiser’ (who, on another occasion, was called nothing else but ‘Götter’),[16] shengren became die ‘Heiligen’ or ‘Könige und zugleich Priester,’ the shi became ‘der Krieger und Gelehrte.’ Suspiciously, the shi jing (Book of Odes) became ‘Das heilige Liederbuch,’ hua shan became ‘Der heilige Weltberg,’ and xuan wu (black/mythical tortoise) became ‘Die göttliche Schildkröte.’[17] Needless to say, the German words for holy or divine in Conrady’s translations were…Germanic. He just made them up to represent China for the occasion. Conrady projected his German want for holiness onto innocent Chinese textbook titles. Manly Palmer Hall, the mystic, comes to mind, who once eloquently said: ‘To venerate means to add too much of holiness to that which is not in its manifested state totally holy. To venerate too much is to open the consciousness to terrible disillusionments.’[18] There is some evidence that Conrady was sufficiently ignorant about the Chinese language as a living language – even as a professor of Chinese in Leipzig he could hardly correspond in that language. He was a human automate, a professional philologist, a humble servant to Empire who compared Chinese hieroglyphs to already incorrect existing translations from Wilhelm and Grünwedel, but also from Legge. He could not verify those translations; and as contributor to Weltgeschichte (1910) [world history], he was not required to; Germany legitimizes German texts, not Chinese texts.

Conrady occasionally said a right thing or two about China: ‘Das Fundament des ganzen Kulturgebäudes ist genau wie ehedem die Familie’ [Just as it has always been, the foundation of the whole cultural building is the family]; yet it would have been a greater achievement if Conrady had printed a single Chinese character—家jia—or used the correct names—大家dajia—for Chinese concepts instead. To be fair, he probably could not reproduce Chinese characters, as German printing technology was not advanced enough [or cost too much] to print them. Oh the irony, given that the essence of his holy book chapter was to drone about China’s backwardness.

Although Conrady, like his fellow Christians Grünwedel, Gützlaff, Wilhelm and Von Strauss, used countless biblical allusions in his Weltgeschichte (1910), still his main theme was the mythical and legendary. He was deeply convinced, that ‘die Grundpfeiler modernen chinesischen Denkens tief im Gedankenfelde der Urzeit gegründet stehen’ [that the cornerstones of modern Chinese thought are deeply founded in the field of thoughts of prehistory]. Among his favorite names are ‘Götter’ and ‘Helden’ (p. 522), Sagen (p. 521), Zeit (p. 527), and usage of the Germanic prefix ‘ur-,’ meaning ancient or primeval, similar to the Greek prefix proto-, for example: ‘Urzeit’ [prehistory] (p. 483), ‘Urheimat’ [native homeland] or Urstämme [original tribes] (p. 522), but also: ‘ureinfachste Verhältnisse’ and ‘urchinesische Gesellschaft’ [simply primitive and proto-Chinese society].[19] This all reminds us of Johann Gottfried Herder’s folklore and romanticism: the language of a creator; Conrady, as a philologist, must have felt great satisfaction in re-discovering Chinese ‘Göttermythen’ (p. 527) [legends and mythology], as seen from the headers of his text: ‘Die Urzeit, Die Sagenzeit, Das Altertum, Das Mittelalter, Die Neuzeit’—all sounding supremely archeological and primeval. In fact, he himself called Chinese culture: ‘ein nie wandelnder Anachronismus,’ ‘ein lebendes Fossil,’ and ‘die primitive Urtümlichkeit’ (p. 477)—a walking anachronism, a living fossil, a primitive earthness. Those characteristics were not written in the Chinese text, they were Conrady’s own suppositions (in the language of Herder): they added the anachronisms.

Once August Conrady had created this biblical and folklorist China in his own image, he commentated and lectured on his own work—the original Chinese became irrelevant, out of the picture: Everything from now on to the reference of his own writings, and students had to ask themselves occasionally: What am I reading here…’die Klassiker,’ ‘der Kaiser,’ ‘der Krieger,’ ‘der Philosoph,’ ‘das Beamtentum,’ ‘Geister und Dämonen,’ ‘Gelehrte und Söhne des Reichs’ – whose history is it, it could be Beowulf or Siegfried from the Nibelungenlied.

Is is a Nordic saga or continental epic; is it about the people of Leipzig or Würzburg, or the people of Chengzhou or Beijing? Such is the delusive and deceptive power of translation: it looked so familiar. In fact, by using exclusively the vocabularies of the German tradition to describe the tradition of China (and Weltgeschichte) and, thereupon, calling it a ‘fossil, primitive and anachronistic society,’ could only be described in psychological terms as the unconscious response to Germany’s own reverberated cultural outlook and overkill. Next thing you know they will go out of their way and declare the German language superior. Oh no wait, they did that already, in Graebner: ‘With the primitive languages, the Chinese has again in common the lack of distinction between word classes, nouns, verbum, etc. Shan-shang means on the mountain, shang-shan means to climb a mountain, but shang is also the top of a mountain, the head of a monastery and so on.[20]

I rest my case.

[1] Legge, 1891, 13.3

[2] Sueki, 1999, p. 276

[3] Wilhelm, 1922, p. 64

[4] Ibid., p. 67

[5] Ibid., p. 97

[6] Ibid., p. 97

[7] Ibid., pp. 55, 56

[8] Von Strauss, 1924, pp. 10, 17, 28, 53, 55, 133, 136, 163, 259, 314, 330, 343 ff.

[9] Kaltenmark, 1996, pp. 9, 17, 15, 18, 23 ff.

[10] Ibid., p. 17

[11] Ibid., pp. 32, 42, 48, 52

[12] Ibid., pp. 7, 27

[13] Ibid., pp. 64, 65, 81, 111, 113

[14] Conrady, 1910, pp. 474, 475, 485, 513, 514, 518, 518, ff.

[15] Ibid., pp. 539, 540

[16] Ibid., p. 522

[17] Ibid., pp. 474, 475, 476

[18] Hall, 2001

[19] Ibid., p. 483

[20] Graebner, 1924, p. 76

Pattberg, Thorsten (2011), Shengren – Above Philosophy and Beyond Religion, LoD Press, New York

Have a Look at the Latest Posts: