Linguistic challenges when writing about “China”

The Financial Times last month published The dark side of China’s national renewal (subscriptions required), addressing the idea that all Chinese people should help China achieve the “China Dream”:

To an English-speaking ear, rejuvenation has positive connotations and all nations have the right to rejuvenate themselves through peaceful efforts.

But the official translation of this crucial slogan is deeply misleading. In Chinese it is “Zhonghua minzu weida fuxing” and the important part of the phrase is “Zhonghua minzu” — the “Chinese nation” according to party propaganda. A more accurate, although not perfect, translation would be the “Chinese race”.

Zhonghua minzu 中華民族 is a phrase that doesn’t translate well in English. As discussed by Arif Dirlik in Born in Translation: “China” in the Making of “Zhongguo”, the words China and Chinese are inherently invited by the West.

As Lydia Liu has observed, “the English terms ‘China’ and ‘Chinese’ do not translate the indigenous terms hua [華], xia [夏], han [漢], or even zhongguo [中國] now or at any given point in history.”

Continue reading “Linguistic challenges when writing about “China””

Taiwan and “China”

Note: It is strongly recommended that you read The Basics and Taiwan the Complicated before reading this article, especially Taiwan the Complicated, which provides a lot of information that this article builds upon. It will be less confusing to first read the mentioned writings before reading this one.

Just for a brief review, the Republic of China 中華民國 (ROC) currently controls Taiwan, and the People’s Republic of China 中華人民共和國 (PRC) has NEVER controlled Taiwan. Never.

Now this is just confusing, they are both “China”, aren’t they?

I totally agree that for an English speaker, or frankly a speaker of any languages, the above statement is not only confusing, but also contradicting. Because if you really don’t know the difference between ROC and PRC and then simplify the sentence a bit, it will say “China currently controls Taiwan, but China has never controlled Taiwan,” or even “Taiwan is a part of China, but Taiwan is not a part of China.” I tried as hard as I can to differentiate the ROC and PRC to the clearest way possible in this blog, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less confusing. Let’s face it, not everyone really takes the time to figure out the difference between the two. Others have suggested using Nationalist China for ROC, and Communist China for PRC, but they are still both “Chinas”.

The UN General Assembly Resolution 2758 that recognized the PRC as the only lawful representative of China to the UN and expelled Taiwan (technically the “delegation of Chiang Kai-shek” was expelled) out of the UN did not actually stated what territories the “China” mentioned includes. But because of this resolution, Taiwan could not rejoin the UN, at least not under its formal country name, the Republic of China, because there already is a representative in the UN that represents “China”. Now whether Taiwan can join the UN to represent “Taiwan” is a whole other can of worms. Continue reading “Taiwan and “China””