14 Desember 2008


A Chinese girl from my AMC group has a tattoo in her arm. We were curious and asked her what the tattoo said, and she said it was the name of her boyfriend. You can imagine how the other girls from the group, all Dutch, reacted to that[1]. One of them said, if it were a Dutch girl, she would have her arm full of tattoes of all her boyfriends. Anyways, the Chinese girl said that the tattoo also meant 'Joy', so at least it's not 'Wino Forever' :D

Seeing that Chinese characters can have so many layers, it is understandable that the Max Planck Institute tried to getaway by using a lame excuse such as "deeper levels of meaning". For you who haven't checked my quicklink, the story is that Max Planck Institute had mistakenly put a brothel ad offering 'adult entertainment' as a cover of its magazine. Of course they issued an apology as soon as they realized the mistake.
Prior to publication, the editorial office had consulted a German sinologist for a translation of the relevant text. The sinologist concluded that the text in question depicted classical Chinese characters in a non-controversial context. To our sincere regret, however, it has now emerged that the text contains deeper levels of meaning, which are not immediately accessible to a non-native speaker.
Stories can be found here and here

It is a laughing matter, of course. But I kind of agree to one of the comment in the blog I linked above, that it is sort of an engrish.com strikes back. And it strikes hard. The way that the magazine chose China as focus but carelessly use Chinese characters merely as decoration, as some readers pointed out, is comparable to Westerners with absurd Chinese tattoo on their bodies.

The other comment lead me to Zhang Chongren, the true Chang Chong-Chen of Tintin series. This way, Hergé was probably comparable to Pearl S. Buck as a Westerner portraying China. Pearl S. Buck was the one who made me fascinated with Chinese culture, followed by Zhang Yimou and Amy Tan[2]. By culture I loosely mean philosophy and art, not some crappy made-in-china gadgets[3].

These last few weeks, there is an ongoing debate in Resource, WUR's weekly magazine, about the use of Chinese flag in an article about human right. I don't follow the discussion but from what I read, some said it's insulting and the other said it's freedom of press. What made me interested was this one comment from a Chinese student about cultural difference. For Chinese, flag is a national symbol, something to be honored and placed in dignity. Which may not be the case for the Westerners.

I cannot say my point exactly. Just have this one question bugging me. Haven't we moved anywhere since Hergé made the Blue Lotus, where Tintin and Chang sitting by the river, exchanging stories about the stereotypes they each had?

[1] Really, milkmaid is a misleading picture of a dutch girl. Julia Stiles in 10 Things I Hate About You might give a better idea.

[2]I don't know if it's comparable or not. My mom was a huge fan of Shogun series (the one adapted from James Clavell's novel), so I bought her the DVDs. But around that time, she also watched Akira Kurosawa's Ran. After that, Shogun was not so fascinating anymore. And Tom Cruise's the Last Samurai was laughable at best.

[3]And surprisingly, no, my image wasn't ruined by a stupid Chinese guy who almost ruin my academic record.

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