China answer of the day

Question: "What do you think of the French Revolution?"

Chou En-Lai: "It is still too soon to tell."

Or something like that.

Those were the days.


I liked this quote better:

Nikita Khrushchev: The difference between the Soviet Union and China is that I rose to power from the peasant class, whereas you came from the privileged Mandarin class.

Zhou: True. But there is this similarity. Each of us is a traitor to his class.

Hi Tyler, I would just like to suggest that you use modern Pinyin to translate all Mandarin names in the future. The old Wade-Giles system is an absolutely terrible transliteration system, and it was replaced with good reason. Modern Pinyin was approved in 1958 by the PRC Government, and it's about time 51 years later that people stop using the archaic old system! The modern transliteration should be "Zhou En-lai". Transliterating it as "Chou" is even more confusing because "chou" and "zhou" are two completely different pronunciations according to modern pinyin. Thank you.

forager - the adoption of Pinyin to transliterate Chinese proper nouns has been a poor idea. When one is speaking in English, fidelity to the actual sound of the Chinese word is of little importance, and cannot in any case be achieved through Pinyin (as Careless points out). English does not use the actual sound of names in other foreign languages. So there is no real positive to using the newer system.

There is a significant downside - all English writing concerning China written before about the 1970's becomes confusing and ambiguous. All the old Chinese cities have disappeared, all the old Chinese historical figures have vanished, and so on.

Of course, if you are speaking in Chinese it is important to get the pronunciation right - but that is not what forager is talking about.

I liked this bit from Dubner: "Congratulations to Barack Obama for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. It appears he is the first sitting president to do so since Woodrow Wilson, in 1919."

@ Tyler:
The real amusement is that its actually illegal for him to accept the prize according to the constitution:

"And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State"

...But rejecting it would be a horrible insult. He could probably get congress to give him dispensation, but I doubt he will.

From a purely tactical point of view, he ought to
ask Congress for dispensation. Just to put the
Replublicans on the spot.

If I were a Republican, I would vote "yes".

Maybe he ain't done nothin' do deserve it,
but he's an *American* who ain't done

"This is the same reason no one should ever say they are visiting "Peking" or "Nanking"." Oh balls; if a Frenchman wants to say that he's visiting Londres or Edinbourg, he's welcome to.

forager - not to belabor too much this side issue, and with compliments to your thoughtful response, I disagree with your middle paragraph. There is no disrespect in saying "Prague" instead of "Praha," or "Moscow" instead of "Moskva," or "Vienna" instead of "Wien." Remember, we are speaking English, not Chinese. You just about make my point for me in conceding that "extremely common" names do not need to be changed to pinyin.

I think that "Peking" is (or was) extremely common. There are lots of Chinese names used currently that I cannot place, because I know the places or individuals only by the names that have been used here for, in many cases, centuries. Many others are similarly affected. I really cannot think of any good reason why it is necessary when we are speaking in English to render names of places in a foreign country exactly as the inhabitants do when speaking their native tongue.

So I don't speak a word of Chinese, but as a bit of a francophile, every time I see Chou En Lai, I think "cabbage in milk."

Just sayin'.

Shiau Jen in Gwoyeu Romatzyh, which is also better than the pinyin spelling, if misleading in other ways

I am surprised so many scholar post on the correct writing of Zhou En-lai but so few comment on the quote.
I'd like to quote the preface of Simon Schama' book "Citizens", a chronicle of the french revolution.
(...) Historians have been overconfident aboutthe wisdom to be gained by distance, believing it somehow confers objectivity, one of those unattainable values in which they have placed so much faith. (...) Suspicion that blind partisanship fatally damaged the great Romantic narratives of the first half of the nineteenth century dominated scholarly reaction during the second half. As historians institutionalized themselves into an academic profession, they came to believe conscientious research into the archives could confer dispassion : the prerequisite for winkling out the mysterious truths of cause and effect. "

Today, we know history is writen and rewriten to fit with the contemporary politics, trends, moods, etc.
I think Zhou En-lai was as wise as witty in his answer. As a french citizen I was taught French Revolution at school in the early 60's in a still Gaullist context, I returned to it in the 70's in the post 68 fairly radical context presiding over the University. The understanding was clearly a marxist one, I could say a Chinese Red Guard understanding of it. I read Simon Schama's great book a few years ago and his angle is still different. I too believe that "200 years may still be too soon to tell the significance of the french Revolution".

I note that the matter of which system to use is still a matter of partisan conflict within Taiwan.

I also note that there are holdovers of older usages in some places. Thus, those who are there prefer
to hear the leading university of China called "Peking University" than "Beijing University."

Also, the emphasis on totally correct pronunciation is a shibboleth. While indeed there is a standard
Mandarin, among Chinese themselves there are huge variations in pronunciation. What unifies the Chinese
language is not pronunciation, but the written language, and often Chinese who get together will end up
writing symbols on one hand with the other hand in order to indicate a given word in order to overcome
these problems of mutual misunderstanding due to the enormous variations in pronunciation that exist.
But this does not help most westerners as few of us learn to read and write Chinese.

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