Saturday, November 10, 2012

Nature Needs Civilization in China

A couple of days ago I shared a photo of a Changsha park sign which suggested:
Civilization is the most beautiful scene.
As I was looking through some photos I took in Changsha over three years ago, I was surprised to come across a related message on a sign I saw near Chuan Shipo Lake at Yuelu Mountain.

sign reading Human needs green, and green needs civilization.

The translation seems relatively OK (compared to many other signs I have seen in China) on a word-by-word basis, although "human" could possibly be replaced with "humanity" and "needs" with "yearns for". Regardless, a sign with the word "civilization" has again left me pondering its meaning.

I fear that I could write a tome about my thoughts. So I will simply say that I would be curious to know the writer's interpretation of the message.

This Chinese phrase can be found in a least a few other places. For example, it is used as a title for an article on an Anhui province high school's website. The article describes the desire to make the school more "green". It is worth checking out just for the photos of classrooms at the high school.

And on that school note, more on college dormitories in China is on the way. In the meantime, I will leave the sign above for further pondering.

1 comment:

  1. Often in these sorts of signs the 文明 does not mean the noun but the less philosophical adjective. Just as when Chinese say in conversation you need 文明, they are not saying you need "civilization", they mean you need to be more "civilized". In other words the sign means: be civilized; don't litter. The ambiguity of the Chinese language is heightened in translation to English since civilization or civilized is rarely used colloquially.

    The worst mistranslation of this I've seen was in the New York Times, which talked about signs up before the Olympics using the term "spiritual civilization". Undoubtedly, the original of this was not a semi-religious 文明之神but 文明的精神 which translates more accurately as "a civilized spirit" or "a civilized manner".