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A word about a Crisis

May 1, 2009

I just attended an excellent networking meeting. Nice place, nice people.

The speaker spoke with authority on China although still managed to bring out a couple of the most basic errors about China and the Chinese language around.

This is a shame because I suspect he really knew his stuff but it turns people off when somebody gets something like this wrong.

The word for ‘crisis’ in Chinese is weiji 危机 and it is commonly said that the word is made up of two characters meaning ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’ as such a crisis is dangerous but there is still opportunity.

So far, this makes sense. However, the character ji really doesn’t mean ‘opportunity’ it means ‘an opportunity for something to occur’ as such the best literal translation would be that weiji means ‘a moment where there is the opportunity for danger to occur’ or more simple ‘an occurrence of danger’

The second common mistake is to refer to China as the Middle Kingdom, the literal translation of the actual name for China used by the Chinese 中国 zhongguo. People often use this to say that the Chinese saw (see) themselves as being at the centre of the world.

This is not actually true, they considered their land as a sacred place that existed ‘between heaven and earth’ not the centre of this earth that barbarians reside in.

I would point out that this seems rather conceited but I am after all a POM so I am not going to lecture anyone on seeing their country as hollowed, special or anything else for that matter.

As for the Chinese seeing opportunity in a crisis, I would say that it is true, they are a smart people and smart business people from all races see crisis as an opportunity. Just don’t try to mangle the language that I love to prove the point!

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