Culture Differences Defined by Written Language

March 29, 2011

In a conversation linked to the Yuan-Xiao Festival, a post that appeared on February 17, Alessandro, a European with a degree in East Asian studies living in China with his Chinese wife, wrote a comment that helped me understand something I’d read years ago written by Lin Yutang.

Writing of the “Chinese Mind” on page 81 of the 1938 Holcyon House Edition of My Country and My People, Lin Yutang said, “The Chinese language and grammar … in its form, syntax and vocabulary, reveals an extreme simplicity of thinking, concreteness of imagery and economy of syntactical relationships.”

I didn’t clearly understand what Lin Yutan meant until Alessandro wrote in his recent comment, “The Latin alphabet is a phonetic one, and as such, it simply reproduces the sounds of the spoken language, making it more susceptible of changes whenever the spoken language changes. Chinese Hanzi, on the other hand, conveys almost no “phonetic” information by itself … (and doesn’t change much in its meaning as time passes).”

I talked to my Chinese wife of what Alessandro meant, and she said when she first arrived in the US what she missed most was the lack of books written in mainland Mandarin, which is different than Mandarin in Taiwan.

This explains why she buys so many books in Mandarin each time she/we visit China and brings them home to the US reading sometimes one or two a day until the supply runs dry.


Cultural Competence: Managing Your Prejudices

Alessandro went on to say, “Both Europe and China have had political upheavals and long periods in which they were divided, but (China) having a stable writing system that doesn’t change as much as an alphabetic one helped them not to lose an important element of cultural unity, therefore of “national” identity…

“The Chinese concept of “nation” has nothing to do with the “nation state” concept common in Europe (and North America).

“European nation states are more or less based on ethnicity, while in China it was – and it still somewhat is – based on cultural elements.

“You were Chinese because you shared a common culture, because you acted as a Chinese and assumed Chinese customs.

“Europe never regained the unity (also linguistic) that existed during the Roman Empire, while China always strove to regain unity after each period of division.

“The traditional saying 合久必分,分久必合— means more or less ‘after unity comes division, after division comes unity‘.”

While the West has many written languages, China has had one for more than two millennia and this has been the glue that helps create a sense of unity and what it means to be Chinese.

______________________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

IMAGE with Blurbs and Awards to use on Twitter

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Translating “We Do Chicken Right”

September 9, 2010

中學老師把 KFC 肯德基店裏的廣告 A middle school English teacher in China asked her students to translate China’s Kentucky Fried Chicken advertisement “We do chicken right”, and she received twenty-eight different translated answers.

Please keep in mind that the word “chicken” also means “prostitute” in modern Chinese slang depending on context.

[ We do chicken right!](烹雞專家)     發給學生練習翻譯,結果有以下答案:

Here is what the students wrote:

1. 我們做雞是對的!                    It’s correct that we be prostitutes,

2. 我們就是做雞的!                    We are cut out to be prostitutes.

3. 我們有做雞的權利!               We have the right to be prostitutes.

4. 我們只做雞的右半邊!           We want only be the right side of a chicken.

5. 我們只作右邊的雞!               We want to be chickens on the right side

6. 我們可以做雞,對吧?           We can choose to be prostitutes, right?

7. 我們行使了雞的權利!           We perform a chicken’s right.

8. 我們主張雞權!                        We call for chicken’s rights.

9. 我們還是做雞好!                    It’s better that we be prostitutes.

10. 做雞有理!                               It makes sense to be prostitutes.

11. 我們讓雞向右看齊!             Let’s ask the chickens to look right.

12. 我們只做正確的雞!             We only want to be the correct chickens.

13. 我們肯定是雞!                      We are prostitutes–no doubt.

14. 只有我們可以做雞!             We are the only one who could be prostitutes.

15. 向右看!有雞!                      Look at your right, there are chickens.

16. 我們要對雞好!                      We must be kind to chickens.

17. 我們願意雞好!                      We wish chickens all our best.

18. 我們的材料是正宗的雞肉! We use real chickens.

19. 我們公正的做雞!                 We must feel justified to be prostitutes.

20. 我們做雞正點耶∼∼               Time is right to prostitute.

21. 我們只做正版的雞!             We only want to be original prostitutes.

22. 我們做雞做的很正確!        To be prostitutes is to be correct.

23. 我們正在做雞好不好?        We’re making chickens – will that be okay?

24. 我們一定要把雞打成右派!We must turn the chickens into rightists.

25. 我們做的是右派的雞!        We are right-winged prostitutes.

26. 我們只做右撇子雞!            We are right-handed prostitutes.

27. 我們做雞最專業!                We are professional prostitutes.

28. 我們叫雞有理!                    The chickens and prostitutes are always correct.

China is a tonal language. There are four tones for each Chinese written symbol.  Each tone has a different meaning. Say something in the wrong tone, and you could insult someone.

Sir Robert Hart, the main character in the “Concubine Saga”, knew the importance of translating English into Chinese properly. Translation mistakes turn into insults that end in bad feelings that may lead to war.

_______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

Low-Res_E-book_cover_MSC_July_24_2013

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Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

March 18, 2010

Based on a novel written by Dai Sijie, who also directed the film.
ISBN: 978-0385722209
Publisher – Anchor (October 29, 2002)

I read Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress soon after it came out.  A few years later, we drove more than sixty miles to see the Mandarin language movie. Checking Amazon this morning, I saw there have been 230 customer reviews for the book with a four out of five star average. This short novel spent twenty-three weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. The author, born in China, moved to France where he learned to read, speak and write French. The book was originally written in French and translated into English by Ina Rilke.

Dai Sijie

The story is about two likable, teenage boys and their struggle after being banished to a peasant village for “re-education” during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Sons of doctors and dentists, the boys work at muscling buckets of excrement up the mountainside and mining coal. Then there is the little seamstress of the title, whom Luo, one of the boys, falls in love with. He dreams of transforming the seamstress from a simple country girl into a sophisticated lover. He succeeds beyond his expectations, but the result is not what he expected.

This link goes to the Mandarin language DVD with English subtitles.

Discover more Chinese cinema through Joan Chen’s Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl

______________________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

#1 - Joanna Daneman review posted June 19 2014

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Shanghai

March 15, 2010

The first time I flew into Shanghai, the jet landed at Hangqiao Airport.

There was no Pudong with its Maglev Train, which can move 150 to 200 km/h, running eighteen miles to the city.

Even with the larger Pudong, Hangqiao still handled 25 million passengers in 2009, but more fly into Pudong.

Model of Shanghai

China’s leaders are finishing the job Qin Shi Huangdi started twenty-two hundred years ago, and it’s not easy.

The first emperor unified China with one written language.

Now, the country is being stitched together with one language, Mandarin. It may take several generations.

People are used to speaking the language they grew up with.

There are fifty-six with more dialects, like Shanghainese. Learning English is also mandatory in the public schools.

Old Shanghai – I’ve shopped here.

One-hundred-fifty years ago, Shanghai was a sleepy fishing town.

Then England and France started two opium wars with China to force the emperor to allow them to sell the drug to his people.

The treaty that ended the first opium war made Shanghai a concession port and part of the outside world bringing expats, who are still arriving.

Today, there are twenty million residents and 4,000 high-rises with more on the way. They sprout like mushrooms.

The 101-story World Financial Center is China’s tallest building.

Visit the Shanghai World Expo

The next four Shanghai photos are courtesy of Tom Carter, photo journalist and author of China: Portrait of a People

Tom Carter, photo journalist

See the Shanghai Huangpu River Tour

See more at National Geographic, Shanghai Dreams

See more about Shanghai at Eating Gourmet in Shanghai

Discover Hollywood Taking the “Karate Kid” to China

_______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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