With the economic boom of the so-called BRIC nations, interest in the language and culture of these countries is increasing in the West. Dr. Thorsten Pattberg of Peking University has recently written an article called Language Imperialism, Concepts and Civilization: China versus The West, where he analyses the ways that translation of certain key concepts misrepresents history and culture.

He distinguishes between linguistic and language imperialism. The first one entails that a dominant language replace another one, whereas the second means picking up foreign concepts and translating them with a term familiar to the target culture.

He gives the example of shengren and wenming, two Chinese words that most Americans and Europeans have never heard.

Shengren(聖人) is the ideal personality and the highest member in the family-based Chinese value tradition. The word is normally translated into English asphilosopher or saint.

In a recent lecture at Peking University, the renowned linguist Gu Zhengkun explained that wenming (文明) describes a high level of ethics and gentleness of a people, while its English translation, civilisation, is linked to the control over materials and technology.

Until the 20th century, the Europeans believed China was not a proper civilisationbecause it had no police force, while China accused Europe of being withoutwenming because it lacked filial piety, tolerance, human gentleness and so on.

Since the European languages have their own histories and traditions, Dr. Thorsten Pattberg thinks that they cannot sufficiently render Chinese concepts. The solution he proposes is to not translate the most important foreign concepts at all but to adopt them.