July 13, 2012, by China Policy Institute
Normative Response to Requiring Chinese Pronounciation from Our Commentators
Mike’s last blog post is an interesting article and I acknowledge Mike’s passion for this matter, which I do share. The article above appears to call for greater respect for Chinese language or pronounciation by English speakers, in the name of internationalisation.
I recall “East and West” by the last governor of Hong Kong under British Rule, the conservative, Chris Patten. A look at the index of Patten’s first book of the same title (known to be the more diplomatically censored of his Hong Kong books) sees “Beijing” referenced only by a “see Peking” redirect. There is a rationale for this in Patten’s thoughts…I go on to quote from page 4 of the Caveat Emptor part of the book:
“…I do not admire or look up to the Chinese Communist Party, any more than of old I admired the Soviet Communist Party. [new para] There is one more absurd footnote to this argument that dislike of the Communist Party and all its works is one and the same as hostility to China. I always refer to ‘Peking’, not ‘Beijing’. This is not an insult. It is because there is a word in the English language for China’s capital. I refer similarly to ‘Rome’ not ‘Roma’, ‘Brussels’ not ‘ Bruxelles’, Lisbon, not ‘Lisboa’. I am not told when I do so that I am being anti-Italian, anti-Belgian or anti-Portuguese.”
On Chinese language television, do we not see Western names, cities and so on turned into Chinese pronunciation? We can’t say surely that this makes CCTV and pretty much all of China, ‘grossly ignorant’. Do they need to reflect on the disrespect to persons concerned? It would be absurd to say that they did.
I do not agree that the BBC commentators need take one year of Chinese lessons in order to get right the pronunciation of Chinese names on British television. The Pronounciation analysis was pedantic. Perhaps we feel, as specialists on China, the commentators should be able to pronounce “Zh” as “J” and not “Je”. This could be pointed out in a simple letter to the Beeb. Normatively though, isn’t it an inappropriate call and disrespectful to the British commentators to highlight this matter when Chinese is still a very much optional part of the curriculum even for the current generation of school pupils?
It is totally acceptable that a British commentator, similarly a Russian, US or German commentator would have great difficulty in pronouncing Chinese names without specialising in the subject, which whilst growing in its popularity is still a fairly tight niche.
Rather than kow-tow to China’s rise, do we ‘Western’ and commonwealth nations not need to regroup by way of assertion of our own individuality, synergistic strength and ‘soft power’, reflecting on continued successes, as we find a way out of the aftermath of the recent financial meltdown?
It seems bizarre that somehow as China begins to find strength in its incredible economic growth, this should be interpreted as the rest of the world automatically should show more respect and politeness to China than China shows to the rest of the world, or indeed that it might show to its own kind. Countries and cultures have to earn respect in more ways than economic development and China is still very much working on it, yet we know the potential is enormous.
The point made is really quite unjustified in the criticism, if I may say so, Mike, though I understand where you are coming from. Can we be so certain though, that adopting unbalanced rules of propriety that favour the Chinese position are actually of benefit to internationalisation from the British perspective? Given that we are at a British institution and of that country, one might expect even an iota of loyalty… Queen Victoria would be turning in her grave that it has even become a matter that is up for discussion.
Sam Beatson is a PhD candidate in the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies
Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.