Week 6: Everything in Moderation

The two excerpts from Xing Lu’s text “Rhetoric in Ancient China” featured attempts to open Western eyes to the Rhetoric of Ancient China through a comparison with Classical Greek Rhetoric.  Although only provided part 1 and 2, the reading centered on misconceptions of Chinese Rhetoric and misunderstandings of the Orient developed by the Occident.  The author explained Edward Said’s notion of Orientalism as derivative “from a Western projection of political dominance and academic authority in relation to the Orient” producing “distorted and inaccurate views of non-Western people, ideas, and traditions”(14-15).  Although Said’s text was groundbreaking, it failed to provide guidance to counteract these misconceptions and submit “alternative ways of understanding non-Western cultures”(15).  Thus, Xing Lu believes by discrediting the myths regarding “Chinese rhetoric” developed by the Occident a foundation will be set upon which to begin understanding the complexities of studying rhetoric cross-culturally. 

Although I began to become impatient with the author’s continuous myth dispelling, believing that Chinese rhetoric was going to be defined solely in opposition to these myths, the section “A Dependency on Translation” provided a clear-cut example of a misunderstanding, sparking a deep interest in the text. The sentences, “In much talk there is weariness. It is best to keep silent” is a mistranslation of the correct: “Too much talk creates emptiness; it is better to maintain moderation”(38).  Thus, rather than discouraging speech, the “central idea of Daoism is to maintain balance and appropriateness”, discouraging empty speech and encouraging appropriate speech.  Thus, understanding another culture’s text is not about word-to-word translation but interpreting the “culture on its own terms, adopting the view and language of the target culture, and describing situational and contextual meanings specific to the culture”(23).  Translation is not a simple formula but an out-of-body experience. 

In a way, interpretation and translation is our world.  It is how we develop meaning and understand our surroundings.  According to the text,”we begin with our own interpretation of what are informants are up to, or think they are up to, and then systematizethis”(22).  Thus interpretation begins internally, staining the external we mean to translate.  My question is whether or not one is able to truly understand another culture or are we too jaded by our own?  Or, are there some things about American culture that would help us understand Chinese culture?  Furthermore, the text explains that “another unfortunate habit of inquiry in the Western study of rhetoric is the search for definitions and equivalence”(36).  This is “unfortunate” because many “key terms, such as rhetoric, sophist, and logic, are not clearly compared with Chinese terms” and much is “lost in translation”.  Thus, words fall short in studying the cross-cultural experience.  However, don’t the words of one’s own language fall short of the experience?  What comes first: the signified or the signifier?

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