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'Tomb Sweeping Day' distorts Chinese meaning of Qingming

By Thorsten Pattberg   (Shanghai Daily)

08:45, April 02, 2013

The Qingming Festival is upon us and most foreign media conveniently translate it as "Tomb Sweeping Day." This is sweet and simple, but maybe a greater service to global knowledge could be done if China's key concepts weren't translated at all, but adopted.

Obviously, the word Qingming looks and sounds rather un-European. Most Western journalists in China prefer a Chinese-free international language, and thus bend over backwards to replace important Chinese terms with Western vocabulary.

Qingming would have made a nice loanword, like kung fu or feng shui, but it wasn't meant to be. Although there are a billion Chinese speakers, qing and ming never quite made it into any Western lexicon. Why?

Although I agree that we can call the Qingming Festival whatever we want (there is no such thing as "cultural property rights," not yet); still, any translation is just that: a replacement.

Even more dubious is the practice to affix "Chinese" to random ideas, as in "Chinese Memorial Day" or "Chinese Ancestors Day." The occasional tourist loves familiarity, but why deprive educated readers from learning something new?

It's called the Qingming Festival.

It is well documented that the European missionaries in the past attempted to convert China to Christianity and tried to coin the Qingming Festival as "All Souls Day," which then, of course, would make it perfectly resemble a Roman Catholic holiday.

From such motives we see and learn: Why not turn the table and planetize Chinese names instead? China replacing US culture with a vengeance, anyone?

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