Sunday, December 30, 2007

betajing 4

People have continually asked --with a palpable sense of foreboding-- about the rise of China, as if two weeks spent living in dive bars might cast luminance through the carcinogenic pall. They ask about Anti-Americanism, as if I might be able to parse spoken Chinese as I walked down the back alleys of Shanghai.

Who knows how it is with "the Other." Lord knows that when discussing the matter with Europeans dealing with this wholly alien culture that they were in the midst of, they often opted to use insects as an analogy. Not so much the teeming numbers (though that can no doubt apply) but more the methodology of the Chinese glimpsed on the street: tireless, strong, dilligent.

Beware such metaphors though. Take the perception made by a Japanese soldier, Azuma Shiro, after the fall of the Chinese capital Nanking to Japanese forces in December of 1937, which led to the "Rape of Nanking" that winter. He noted, with palpable disgust in his observation: "They all walked in droves, like ants crawling on the ground. They looked like a bunch of homeless people, with ignorant expressions on their faces." No longer perceiving human beings, men convert into animals.

Misconcpetions abound on either side. Some of it is lost in translation. If you cannot voice the vowel just so, no taxi driver can possibly understand where you want to go or what street name you wish to say. And examples of "Chinglish" abound. Shopping one day for bootleg DVDs leads to a treasure trove of the always-excellent "Griterion Collection" series of foreign films. And who knew that Dolph Lundgren still made films?

Of course, reading the back cover blurbs gives pause. English misspellings are one thing, but certain sentiments get voiced too. Here's one that sums up what I fear is the standard perception of America, from a movie otherwise forgotten: "Oh actually, what am I saying? It'll be a bloody surprise if it ever comes out in North America properly, given the hypocritical, righteous atmosphere of self-delusion that currently permeates this society."