Buy Retin-A Without Prescription Overnight Delivery from Canada

2/23/2006

Other Well-dwellers

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 2:47 am Print
Some years ago while studying in Beijing I bought a good number of nicely bound hardback volumes from a series entitled the "Library of Chinese Classics" (大中华文库, published by the 外文出版社 and 湖南人民出版社 in 1999), which includes many of the standard Chinese philosophical works one might expect to find in such a collection. What I found so delightful about the collection was the very useful way it put the original classical Chinese together with a modern Chinese translation of the classics on the left side of each page, along with an English translation on the right side of the page. In addition to letting me see how certain classical Chinese phrases are rendered into modern Chinese, it made it easier for me to find the original literary Chinese when I'm looking for a particular passage I have seen in other translations. After a failed attempt in China, I'm taking first year "literary Chinese" again this year and after a semester of mostly reading some famous accounts of great assassins, we have moved on to Mengzi (classical Chinese is one of those wonderful languages where first year students dive straight into reading great literature). I often refer to other translations as a check on my own pitiful attempts and learn a lot from the ways various scholars have approached difficult passages. Unfortunately, from the perspective of English readability, the English translation in the above mentioned series is usually the worst I have come across. Many sentences feel like direct literal translations and are often horribly bland. While I'm in no position to evaluate the accuracy of this relatively new work, even if it were to trump all previous translations by correcting various egregious errors or misunderstandings, I wouldn't want to use it by itself. Look, though, what one of the English editors, Chu Zhida, has to say in the introduction to the Mengzi volume in this series after he has listed other existing translations of the work:
"From the above-mentioned translations and theses we can see, Mencius bears certain influences in the west. But in modern cultural, the flow-in and flow-out are not balanced. Those flowing out were most completed by foreign missionaries, and later introduced and translated by foreign sinologists. Those completed by Chinese scholars especially systematic introduction are next to none. Since the study of the Chinese traditional culture has been orientated by the westerners, it sounds that the secondary supersedes the primary. As a foreigner, even if he is a sinologist, his knowledge of Chinese ancient history and cultural background is surely limited. As a result of the great differences between the east and the west, those translations and reviews must have born some negative influences. The author once wrote an article entitled Comments on James Legge's Translation of Two Passages from Mencius (published in Chinese Translators Journal, the 6th issue of 1995), in which he pointed out: The work of translating The Four Books and Five Classics had better be completed by Chinese scholars in certain institutions and in a planned way and a number of learned scholars should join the work led by an authoritative administration, thus making those Chinese national treasures have better versions of foreign languages and become an important component of the world cultural treasure-house....As a translator it is an honour for the author to join part of the work. Working as a reviser of the English version of Mencius gave him an excellent opportunity to learn. Mencius mainly translated by Professor Zhao Zhentao is of high quality and better than the earlier versions such as J. Legge's. It is worth admiring." (41, my bold)
Fortunately, the English in the translation of the main text is at least better than Chu's own introduction. What can we say of the claim made here though? On the surface it seems fairly harmless, if not common sensical to suggest that "foreigners" are at a distinct disadvantage when attempting to tackle such great Chinese classics, and it is certainly not controversial to claim that their knowledge is "limited." However, Chu is making the stronger claim that the translation of such works should be left to Chinese scholars. The result of this in this particular case, as I have indicated, was a translation that judged on its English alone, left much to be desired. The solution, of course, would have been better cooperation between the Chinese scholars and translators on this project, and truly fluent and eloquent English speakers (of any origin) who could have pointed out the many places where the resulting English prose suffered. While the discussion here is specifically about translation, this issue is closely related to one that many of us "foreigners" who study East Asia must face time and time again. Must all of us humbly concede at the start of our careers that due to our "limited knowledge" and "cultural background" everything we do must be tainted with whatever Chu means to imply with the term "negative influences"? Must we confess that we can never truly do important and inspiring work in the field of, say for example, Chinese history and constrain ourselves to the subordinate task of introducing this room of the world's "cultural treasure-house" to the ignorant West? Indeed, doesn't the title of this website, 井底之蛙, suggest that we have already submitted to the verdict? I think many of us would contest all of the above, and dismiss many such attacks as arrogant nativism. However, as this passage suggests, it is still more common than we might like to think. A friend of mine who studied early Japanese poetry for her dissertation was told by the professor she was to work with during her time in Japan that, "Foreigners can't possibly understand the Manyôshû." She had to switch to another professor, at another university, who had more faith her capacities. It will always be the case that well-trained "native" scholars will be able to read more, faster, and will in many cases have "better instincts" on interpreting various material. I for one am constantly reminded of my own linguistic limitations, not to mention my vast areas of ignorance when I was doing some of my research in Tokyo and Taiwan, especially when compared to others I met there sharing my interests. However, I have also encountered plenty of counterexamples to the latter "better instincts" claim, especially with scholars who may have spent greater time studying and working with certain kinds of material than their "native" counterparts. Whatever raw skills we attribute to certain individuals, however, and however easily we dismiss the idea of an innately superior interpretive ability of a people for their "own" history, it doesn't change the fact that all of us studying the history of East Asia suffer from severe limits to our vision (and I don't mean to suggest by this metaphor that there is one "complete picture" out there to be seen), whether we are working/raised in the United States or in Taiwan, China, etc. That, I believe, is what I had in mind when starting out on this 井底之蛙 project. I would love to see more interaction between graduate students and professors in the less formal and hierarchical setting of a weblog like this, between academically minded students/professors and the greater public interested in East Asian history, and between those of us studying East Asia "over here" and studying East Asia "over there." --As a final provocative afternote, I should mention that I feel strongly that the fact that Orals/Comprehensive Exam PhD reading lists are in many cases largely or sometimes completely limited to English language works is one of the first steps within the graduate education setting here to creating the mental divisions between "our academic" world and "their" academic world.

13 Responses to “Other Well-dwellers”

  1. Nomadism says:

    I do believe that natives have there own advantages with there ‘native’ history. But, if I could keep this mention based on personal experience… I was not so really fond of going into Korean history because I sometimes found out that my ‘nativity’ of being a Korean was not always so advantageous. Well, not so much on linguistic skills as I’ve never actually studied Korean history seriously, but in matters of aspect, and perception I do think there are advantages. Being a native itself, I believe, sometimes traps you in limits that are so hard to break away from. True, different backgrounds sometimes lead to misunderstanding, but there are also examples that show that different backgrounds can add insights that natives rarely sense. I’m not sure if this would be the best example, but one reason that Park No-Ja’s works on Korean history is so influencing is because he has different experiences unlike other Koreans, and this gives him the power to see things differently, things that so many Koreans have considered so natural.

  2. Well, obviously from where I sit, there’s no advantage whatsoever to conceding the point…

    I agree that direct experience with a culture is useful in understanding it, but not that it is essential nor that there is a core continuity in any society which is strong enough to make contemporary citizens superior intuitive judges of their own pasts.

  3. Alan Baumler says:

    Konrad,
    I appreciate your frustration, but I suspect I am more in sympathy with Johnathan’s position. I certainly am familiar with the idea that foreigners can’t really understand China, (although that seems to be more common in Japan.) In part I regard the whole attitude as silly and un-professional and better suited to whiney undergrads than real scholars. Not to get all Foucaultian on you, but anyone who thinks they understand Han legal codes better by virtue of having been told in elementary school that they are descendents of the Han is stepping outside of scholarship. I’d apply the same standard to those Americanists (now dead) who would claim that I can’t really understand Colonial America because my ancestors weren’t here. Yes, I understand very little about Colonial America, but that’s because I haven’t studied it, not because of my mongrel blood.

    On the other hand I think the whole position of historical study is different in Asia, and thus there are real differences between the two discourse communities. History has a complex relationship to the nation in China, just as American history does to the nation in the U.S. For better and for worse, what we do as Asianists outside Asia is academic. Our language skills are not as good. (Even Chinese scholars long resident in the U.S. are lumped into this category,) and we are usually not tied into the Chinese intellectual world in the same way Chinese intellectuals are. There are differences, but I think it is far better to treat them the way American historians of France and French historians of France do, rather than buying into essentializing them.

    As for your final point, that grad students should be required to engage more with Asian scholarship, I’m not sure it would really help the grad students. At least in Chinese history most of the scholarship of the last 50 years has been divided between two schools, the 史科派, who think that the job of the historian is to collect and annotate documents and the 史觀派 , who think that the job of the historian is to do grand theorizing like Marx or Liang Qichao. 98% of western historiography would fit in between these two poles. I don’t think you can call a budding American scholar of China “untrained” for not being current which Chinese scholarship in the same way you could call an American scholar of German history “untrained” for not knowing the German scholarship. Of course putting this stuff on reading lists would be a way to build a bridge between these two communities, and it would push that work off on the grad students, always a good idea. I certainly agree that those lazy grad students should be piled up with as much work as possible.

    An unrelated point is the 井底之蛙 thing. I take the name of the blog to be a universal reference rather than one specifically to Asian history. I’m pretty sure Zhuangzi would say that the ethnic background of the frog does not really matter, its in the well regardless and the sky it is not seeing is the same everywhere. The story already is part of the “world cultural treasure-house,” and it can’t be re-parochialized.

  4. K. M. Lawson says:

    1) Hmm…I think maybe my attempt to be subtle failed and ended up clouding my own position…I was actually motivated to write the post because I feel the same as Jonathan and Alan do. I especially agree with both Alan’s “essentializing” point and the “can’t be re-parochialized” points and I thought I said clearly that 井底之蛙 is a universal thing – we all, regardless of our background, we are all frogs in a well.

    Perhaps it would help if I changed the sentence:

    “I think many of us would contest all of the above, and dismiss many such attacks as arrogant nativism. However, as this passage suggests, it is still more common than we might like to think. ”

    to:

    “I contest all of the above and dismiss such attacks as arrogant nativism. Unfortunately, as this passage suggests, this kind of silliness is more common than we might like to think.”

    2) Alan – interesting what you say about the two schools. It is an example of my ignorance that I can come this far and not even know that…we really should be exposed more to the developments of historiography there. However, I wonder if it is possible to divide the scholarship, especially of the last ten years so simply into those two categories (especially when you include work coming out of Hong Kong and Taiwan). Much of the stuff I have read from Taiwan looks exactly like the kind of stuff at least some scholars “here” are writing in its style and approach (also, scholarship here is really not monolithic, especially when you take into account the pomo/positivist split). Also, some of the secondary stuff coming out of China we read last year in my 20th cent Chinese docs class also seemed to be neither the grand theory or commenting on docs type…..even if it was – what difference would that make? Shouldn’t we be exposed to it nonetheless? Or are we simply to be told that the porridge there is too hot or too cold, while ours is just right?

    If we agree (and not everyone does, to be sure) that there are similar questions and problems that are of interest to us in Chinese history, or at least that we can be persuaded that the areas of inquiry that we have respectively taken up are worthy of attention, then why are we not reading materials from the broader range of scholarship within the full range of our putative language skills? This doesn’t require us to claim that they are doing it better – but the way things are now, it is as if we don’t concede that they are doing it at all! I think the answer is usually of a pragmatic or a qualitative nature.

    The different responses I have heard so far include: 1) Orals reading is to prepare you to read the books that you will teach to undergrads, no point in reading books that you’ll never conceivably assign 2) The total number of books one could read during orals is much lower if you include a lot of non-English books 3) No point in assigning books your advisor hasn’t read and has no time to read and thus cannot sufficiently test you at Orals on 4) You are working in the English language community and knowing that body of scholarship is thus most important, combine this with answer (2) above. 5) [and I hate this one the most] There hasn’t been anything but crap coming out of the scholarly world in ***** [China|Japan|Korea] so no point in reading it. [Added corollary: Why don't you just go and plunder their footnotes when you get around to writing the dissertation, that should be enough.]

    As you can see, many of these completely disagree even on what the point of PhD Orals are all about!

    Suffice it to say, I’m not satisfied with any of these answers and I think this is a real problem. If I ever find myself in a position to do anything about it things will be done differently… :-)

  5. I didn’t think you were advocating the essentialist position, Konrad, just articulating it, so I was responding to it, rather than to you; sorry, Alan, if that confused things.

    About the Orals, I’d strongly suggest that reason #2 is actually better than you give it credit for, because good scholarship in English should engage with the Asian-language scholarship in a sufficiently open way that reading the most current English works in a field would serve as an introduction to the [Japanese/Korean/Chinese] historiography as well. It’s part of our responsibility, as writers, to be honest with our readers, and reasonably diligent in acknowledging those who’ve gone before.

    I also think that #5 also is a better reason than you give it credit for: there are definitely fields in which the English scholarship is superior to the “native” scholarship, either because hardly anyone in those countries is writing about the topic (that’s true in my case, for example) or because the theoretical/methodological positions common in the native scholarship have distorted the field (also somewhat true, in my case). That said, there are areas where the English-language scholarship is still playing catch-up, and things like Owen’s proposal to translate some of the most recent Korean-language scholarship can be extremely useful to the discipline. Ultimately, though, “general exams” are supposed to be just that: it’s at the stage of specialized research that we engage with the depth of the field.

    I always learned something, though, from scanning through the annual Shigakuzasshi state of the field summaries.

  6. K. M. Lawson says:

    Hey Jonathan, it was perfectly understandable that you would write in response to what it seemed it was I was saying as you can’t be expected to read my mind. Again I should have been much clearer.

    I am still though dissatisfied with both 2 and 5, and I think we’ll have to agree to disagree until we can find some time to debate the point in more detail. Briefly, on reason #2, I think that since there is simply a lot more works on Japanese history published in Japanese, almost anything but the most recent few books we read for orals very frequently is not the most recent or highly developed progress for any given topic.

  7. J Chan says:

    The important point is one of equivalence. I would say an English degree from China (4 years’ study) would equip the student to the English level of a good 16 year old in a native British Commenwealth country (what we used to call ‘O’-levels). It would be somewhat laughable for a fresh graduate of English from China to go to an English speaking country and to start teaching English to native 16-year olds. It would of course be very acceptable for the same graduate to go to an English speaking country and to teach Chinese to these same 16-year olds.

    Now, by the same reasoning, a graduate in Chinese from a non-Chinese country (say after a 4-year degree) probably has at most the same Chinese language skills as a good 16-year old native in China.

    It would be somewhat unconvincing for a fresh Chinese historian working in China to tell the world of an accurate history of England, given its long history. The history of America (since European times) may be different, as its history is so recent. The first challenge encounter by this hypothetical young Chinese historian of English history is that he would not be able to understand the language of the original documents he would come across. If this same young historian merely reported on what other historians say, could he actually say with certainty that what he reported was true, or that he was merely reporting what others were saying, mistakes, inaccuracies and all?

    By the same reasoning, it is somewhat unconvincing that a graduate or postgraduate of Chinese or Chinese history from a non-Chinese country with only a few years of experience could report accurate Chinese history from original sources.

    As for claiming that non-Chinese, non-Japanese, etc could never understand the history of these countries, such claims have to be untrue. Most people of any country have very little knowledge of their respective country’s history. There were many people of European descent, especially from missionary families, who were born and grew up in China, freely mixed with the natives, and are natives in every way except for their race and their bilingual ability, and who have travelled widely. These people could hold their own with any Chinese historians if they turn their interest to academic studies. Unfortuantely there has been no missionaries in China for over 50 years.

  8. I’m afraid, J. Chan, that the “original documents” argument isn’t going to fly. Most historians only engage infrequently with primary sources outside of their research speciality, and rely heavily on the secondary scholarship of others. “[M]erely reporting what others were saying, mistakes, inaccuracies and all” is — in a rough sense — what all historians do, about “their own” histories as well as others. In another sense, that’s not what we do at all: unless we’ve read only a single book on a subject, there’s always a matter of interpretation, of which is most convincing, of selectivity: our individual judgement is critical even outside of our research specialities.

    And there have been missionaries in China: In Hong Kong, in Singapore, in Taiwan and, yes, on the mainland. There are plenty of “non-Chinese” who grew up with the language as one of their primary languages. That doesn’t mean that they’re any better at interpreting primary sources (it’s not just reading, after all) than the “native” Chinese who have no more historical knowledge than compulsory education and popular myths left them.

  9. K. M. Lawson says:

    I also think that this is exactly the kind of flawed view that really annoys me:

    I would say an English degree from China (4 years’ study) would equip the student to the English level of a good 16 year old in a native British Commenwealth country (what we used to call ‘O’-levels). It would be somewhat laughable for a fresh graduate of English from China to go to an English speaking country and to start teaching English to native 16-year olds. It would of course be very acceptable for the same graduate to go to an English speaking country and to teach Chinese to these same 16-year olds.

    Now, by the same reasoning, a graduate in Chinese from a non-Chinese country (say after a 4-year degree) probably has at most the same Chinese language skills as a good 16-year old native in China.

    This is entirely missing the point: I am happy to admit that I don’t speak Chinese better than any native 16-year old and I probably write something closer to an elementary school child in terms of sophistication and accuracy…..however, I’m perfectly capable, I think, of reading any of the secondary historical literature in my field, as well as most printed (I’m still struggling with handwritten documents) primary sources from most of the 20th century even if I do so slower than native or fully fluent speakers. I honestly don’t think that my non-native speaking/writing abilities in the language are the way to think about this at all…. Unless I am going to be teaching Chinese history in China or other Chinese speaking place, where I will need to publish and lecture in Chinese – this has little or no bearing on my ability to do Chinese history. If I can read both secondary and primary materials, and apply sufficiently developed skills of interpretation, analysis, and synthesis – then being a “native” speaker is simply not relevant to the issue…

  10. J Chan says:

    “I also think that this is exactly the kind of flawed view that really annoys me:”

    “I’m perfectly capable, I think, of reading any of the secondary historical literature in my field, as well as most printed (I’m still struggling with handwritten documents) primary sources from most of the 20th century even if I do so slower than native or fully fluent speakers.”

    “If I can read both secondary and primary materials, and apply sufficiently developed skills of interpretation, analysis, and synthesis – then being a “native” speaker is simply not relevant to the issue… ”

    May I congratulate K M Lawson on being able to speak, read and compose in Chinese, whether he does this slowly or not is not relevant, the important thing is that he tries hard and is capable. However he should really think whether his views are flawed rather that someone else’s view was flawed. As for getting annoyed, this is because what was put to him was true and he could not offer a qualified defence, and being annoyed shows that he is still a student and not a professional.

    “I’m perfectly capable, I think, of reading any of the secondary historical literature in my field, as well as most printed (I’m still struggling with handwritten documents) primary sources from most of the 20th century even if I do so slower than native or fully fluent speakers.”

    I did not say Lawson was incapable of reading any secondary literature. It doesn’t mean what he read was correct, and cannot be challenged. By secondary literature, presumably Lawson also meant tertiary, quaternary literature etc.

    I did not say a historian of Chinese history has to be a Chinese native. I said that it would be rather unconvincing for a person to claim to a native that he was an expert in their history when not being able to speak, read or write their language fluently. As I said it would be rather unconvincing for a Chinese to claim to a British 16 year old that he (the Chinese)would teach him British history, when he could not even speak fluent English. The Chinese could of course teach other Chinese British history (in Chinese), presumably from a standard text-book of defined level of detail. In the same way, as Lawson says, he has equipped himself to teach Chinese history to presumably English speakers, for he sure cannot teach Chinese history in the Chinese language. I believe it was the inability of Chinese translators to translate into elegant English the Chinese classics that prompted Lawson to start this blogg. Since Lawson seemed to want to make a difference, it was my impression that he wanted to be able to translate the Chinese classics into an English style that he wanted to see. I can’t see how he could do this without learning to be fluent in both Chinese and English. He could of course wait for someone else to come along and do it for him, but that was not stated by him.

    As for Lawson’s comment: “If I can read both secondary and primary materials, and apply sufficiently developed skills of interpretation, analysis, and synthesis – then being a “native” speaker is simply not relevant to the issue… “. Lawson must by now understand that such a statement is flawed. It is flawed because he cannot read both secondary and primary materials, as currently he lacked this skill. I do not know whether he already has the skills of interpretation, analysis or synthesis, but it would seem that interpretation of facts would be rather difficult, if not impossible, as he couldn’t actually fully understand what he came across. Lawson has to wait for someone to tell what the facts were before he could carry out an analysis. It is difficult to put a convincing analysis on something that you cannot properly assess and interpret. As for synthesis, people can synthesize anything they want, but I think Lawson meant re-construction of events, which require a proper analysis and interpretation. By secondary literature, presumably you people also mean tertiary, quaternary, etc and grey literature.

    You people of course can ‘do’ the history any way you want to, but however you chose to make your views into the public domain, and it is not yourselves that you have to convince, but it is other people in the public domain you have to convince. Some of these other people may have by far much more analytical and interpretational power and knowledge than you, and it is perfectly fair and proper to challenge you to defend your views with the proper data. If you were correct, the public will be convinced, if not then you will have to re-examine your knowledge and reform your views.

    As historians you are attempting to re-model events that had taken place, with in many cases limited information. You have a duty to ensure what you recreate is fully supported by documented evidence and quality research, and not simply personal ‘views’ or ‘impressions’ obtained from secondhand, thirdhand, fourthhand sources etc, as some of the bloggers here tend to use.

    It is not difficult to fake Oriental history (to the western audience). Edmund Backhouse did it. JRR Tolkien was able to invent an almost self-consistent history of The Middle Earth, along with a few languages.

    The moral of the story for students is that, yes by all means repeat what your instructors tell you in class for exams because you need to pass and get good grades for them, but do be wary when it comes to believing whether you were told were indeed true. Afterall there are many people who think that what Dan Brown wrote was true history.

  11. J Chan says:

    “And there have been missionaries in China: In Hong Kong, in Singapore, in Taiwan and, yes, on the mainland. There are plenty of “non-Chinese” who grew up with the language as one of their primary languages. That doesn’t mean that they’re any better at interpreting primary sources (it’s not just reading, after all) than the “native” Chinese who have no more historical knowledge than compulsory education and popular myths left them.”

    This is another example of the incoherent babbling from Dresner. I did not say these people are any better at interpreting primary sources. I said they could hold their own with any Chinese historian IF they wanted to turn their interest to academic studies.

    ‘Compulsory education & popular myths’? What’s Dresner got against compulsory education? Don’t know about the US, but here in the UK we fought very hard for compulsory and state financed education. If education were not compulsory, most youngsters just would not even bother to learn, or even turn up at school. This of course does not mean everyone finds ‘history’ interesting and worthy of study, but hopefully there will be some who will take up the subject. I think in China, education is ‘compulsory’ depending on whether the student’s family can afford the school fees- that is no money no ‘compulsory’ education. ‘Popular myths’?- I thought we were talking about like-for-like; is Dresner claiming that the knowledge of a historian from China of Chinese history is simply based on compulsory education & popular myths- presumably implying that the knowledge of a US historian of Chinese history is far more vigorous than his Chinese counterpart? (Just in case you don’t know the answer, it is no, the study of Chinese history in China is not based on popular myths.)

    Dresner, take a hold of yourself man, think before you write.

  12. J. Chan: You said there hadn’t been missionaries, and by implication, few non-native speakers of native-quality Chinese. I corrected that.

    I was contrasting trained historians with non-historian “native speakers”; sorry if that was unclear. I will say, though, that the persistence of myth in historical circles, particularly ones heavily politicized as in China, is pretty strong.

  13. J Chan says:

    Dresner: I said there were many people of European descent, especially missionary families. I did not rule anyone out. Yes there are still missioanries in HK, Taiwan and Singapore (Singaporeans would not classify their country as a part of China, and neither would China claim Singapore was a part of China), but not in the PRC. Yes, Taiwan holds historical Chinese documents and important historical pieces, but however the Chinese history you study happened on mainland China, and not on Taiwan. If you want to visit places to do with say Qin Shi Huangdi, it’s no good visiting Taiwan.

    What is the point of comparing historians (trained or otherwise) with non-historians (whose very difinition is people who take no interest in history) whatever their languages may be?

    As for: “I will say, though, that the persistence of myth in historical circles, particularly ones heavily politicized as in China, is pretty strong.” Could you please give examples, with supporting evidence, of you are talking about, or is it just another anti-Sinitic jibe?

Powered by WordPress