I felt honored to be invited as one of the authors for this site which seems to have a lot of healthy debate. I know that in the past, A Chinese blogger by the name Anti (安替) also started some effort to translate Chinese articles into English to let English-readers have a firsthand understanding of what the Chinese minds are pondering about.
I am not sure how far that project has gone, but let me start by asking a question, not out of bitterness in a problem, but out of curiosity in finding an answer: do westerners really care what we are thinking about?
I was asking this question after reading one of the responses to Mr. Li’s letter to BBC:
“This is a very “Chinese” essay: it uses Chinese thinking, it uses a Chinese style and it gives a lovely Chinese response to the west! This was good, hard work! For the Chinese people, this essay is worth 90 points. For western people, this essay is worth 10 points! This is like playing music to a cow!”
I am afraid that is often true. Anecdotal experiences told me that some Americans know that we may have a different perspective, but they simply wouldn’t care, hence the “playing music to a cow” claim. They listen. They nod. They forget.
While our governments often talk past each other, on individuals’ basis, we practice the same kind of mutual monologues. Effective cross-cultural communication is rare. We often end up reinforcing each other’s own perceptions or even biases. To be willing to walk a few miles in the other’s shoes is a truly altruistic act that few are willing to take. Though many have shown interest in China and the Chinese minds, the ones who end up knowing most about us are the missionaries many years ago, when they simply made a choice to become Chinese in order to minister to the Chinese. If you google the best-known sinologists, you’ll find that many have this kind of missionary background.
As an English-Chinese translator, I noticed that few people even bother to translate from their own native language to a foreign language. As a non-native speaker of English, for instance, we may never know the nuances of the English language after we translated that from another language. In like manner, when we try to reach out to western readers with our versions of truth, does our rendering even strike a chord? This is really curious. Communicating or debating or dialoguing are all nice and noble, but at the end of the day, what do we bring home with? What does it take for understanding to happen?
In other words, when will our 90-points essay to BBC (in all good will to communicate with the west) stop being music to cows?