CHINA’S ONLY HOPE

CHAPTER V. THE EXTENSIVE TRANSLATION OF BOOKS

To the plan of employing foreigners as instructors in our schools, which has obtained for the past ten years, we offer the following objections: First, these men do not speak Chinese, and hence are obliged to use interpreters. These are of a low grade and can speak only the words of the instructor without apprehending the subject-matter of instruction. Mistakes and errors, then, are easily and rapidly generated; for, in case some new idea is to be imparted to the student which the interpreter does not understand, he will either omit the explanation altogether or throw in his own meaning in order to save his face. Second, admitting that there are some qualified interpreters, we submit that the foreign method of instruction is slow. The instructors meet their classes only five or six hours per diem and then teach but one or two branches. And they do not exhaust the fountain of their knowledge, but dribble it out to make it last longer. It requires a whole year to complete a course of addition and subtraction. But admitting that there are some foreigners not averse to labor, their influence is circumscribed, because they are so few. They require high salaries, and the Chinese who have studied under them do not amount to much, because, as Chu Hsi puts it, “what was learned did not stick in the memory.” The defects of the present system then are: First, the inferior quality of the instruction given; and second, its narrow and limited extent.

The same objections hold against employing foreigners as superintendents in our manufactories, etc. In the San Tai (1900 B.C.), the Chow, Han, and Sui Dynasties, there were schools of languages in China. Wei Yuen, of Shao-yang, during the reign of Tao Kwang, translated all the newspapers and books of foreign countries into a work called the “History of the Maritime Countries.” This was the first effort made to give the Chinese a knowledge of Western governments. Fung, the Shanghai Taotai, established a school of languages and translated many books during the reign of Tung Chi [Emperor before Kwang Sü], and took the first step towards giving the Chinese an insight into foreign learning. These two men were hero pioneers.

If Chinese students first learn their own language thoroughly, master the Western tongue and then finish with a foreign teacher, intercourse will be easy and safe. Without the foreign teacher it will be better still if the students use the “language without a teacher ” books. In the making of treaties, the carrying on of diplomatic correspondence, etc., the Chinese and foreign texts often disagree. In that case the foreign text[24] is taken as the true interpretation, and we are often befooled. This is a legacy which entails untold injury upon China.

We have met many foreigners who are thoroughly versed in the language and literature of our country, but we have seen few Chinese who know much about Western literature; although they often meet face to face with foreigners, they do not seem to grasp their full meaning in conversation. In this way many opportunities are lost and much business is delayed. Generally speaking, English is the language of shopkeepers, and French is the language of diplomacy.

The Japanese have made important selections from all the books of the West and translated them into their own language. By learning Japanese we can possess ourselves of this store of information without troubling about Western languages.

Translators may be divided into first-class, middling, and inferior. The Chinese who have a knowledge of a few polite phrases and of the day-book and ledger only, are not taken into the account. The first-class are those who can translate any document or book, say on law, into Chinese. The middling are those who can translate along one line only, say astronomy or mining. The inferior are those whose knowledge is limited to common despatches and correspondence, and who know the names of objects. It requires ten years’ study to become a first-class translator.

But we cannot wait ten years for capable translators to meet the emergency; even if we could, the men would be untried as officials, and perhaps their bent of mind would be unsatisfactory after they had qualified themselves as translators. We must put the useful books of the West into Chinese and scatter them far and wide among those who are ignorant of Western languages, among the wide-awake officials, the impecunious literati, the scholars replete with Confucian lore, the merchants, workmen, the old and the young, to be used and appropriated by them in their different spheres. There are three ways in which this can be done: — 1. By establishing numerous schools of languages in each province. 2. By requiring the Ministers and Consuls abroad to translate the important books of the country in which they reside into Chinese. 3. By encouraging the wealthy and influential booksellers in Shanghai to print more of the works they have been issuing. There are many philanthropic men who have done much work in translating, who have won a great reputation, and wrought much benefit to China. Let us encourage these. Wang Chung-ren has remarked: ” A man is like Rip Van Winkle when he possesses a knowledge of the past, but not of the present; possessing a knowledge of the present and not of the past, he is deaf and blind.” Let us alter this a little and say: A man who has a knowledge of foreign ways and is ignorant of Chinese, is become a brute; possessing a knowledge of Chinese and not of the West, he is deaf and blind, for in this event should the foreigner overcome him, he will not believe it; should he devise means for his overthrow, he will not perceive it; should he warn him, he will not hear; should he be swallowed, he will not know it; should the foreigner ruin him, he will not see it. If this is not being blind and deaf, what is it? Let the young men who have not yet entered upon their official career study foreign languages, and not be discouraged at the outset. The older men can learn from translated books. It is more expedient to learn Japanese and translate their books. To sum up: To learn from a foreign instructor [with an interpreter] is not so good as becoming conversant with a foreign language itself; and to translate European books is not so profitable as translating Japanese books.

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