West wants to know what China dreams (Pattberg Interview on Zhongguo Meng)

West wants to know what China dreams (Thorsten Pattberg Interview on Zhongguo Meng)

Thorsten Pattberg 裴德思 Interview on Zhongguo Meng 中国梦

West wants to know what China dreams (Pattberg Interview on Zhongguo Meng)

SHANGHAI – Yao Minji (Emily Yao) from Shanghai Daily sits down with Dr. Thorsten Pattberg from Peking University to discuss the Zhongguo Meng (Chinese Dream) Dr. Pattberg argues that Chinese key concepts should not be translated, and explains why, in his view, the Zhongguo Meng is very different from the American Dream.(July 2013)

Emily Yao: You mentioned in your article that “Zhongguo Meng is about achieving the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation back to its former pomp,” do you consider that the key difference between Zhongguo Meng and American Dream? What other differences are there?

Thorsten Pattberg: I am a historian, so I learned some tricks: Do not translate Chinese key terminologies! This is true for kungfu, wushu, shengren, junzi, and… the zhongguo meng. Why, because if you translate Chinese concepts you are giving away the definition of thought. Only if European classrooms teach about the (zhongguo) meng, your culture will truly have emancipated. Otherwise, Western readers, when they see ‘Chinese dream,’ will always have the American dream at the back of their head. This reminds me of the Slovene philosopher Slavoj Zizek who once said: You must not dream dreams which are not yours.

EY: Does it mean Zhongguo Meng is a national dream rather than individual dreams?

TP: It can only be a national dream, I think. You wouldn’t go to England to live the Chinese dream, right? China experienced dynasties, emperors, Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, Communism, the lifting of 400 million people out of poverty. Nothing of this happened in the west, so, Yes, China is chasing a dream – big and different. Chinese don’t want to be Americans; they want to be Chinese; a strong, rejuvenated wenming (a spiritual civilization). There is little individualism in China to speak of, at least not yet. But this is just my opinion.

EY: Many say a lot of Chinese people today don’t have dreams, or their dream is just to save a lot of money and immigrate to a Western country, as an academic who has been in China for years, how do you think of that comment? 

TP: China tries to imitate the US in many ways, as you can clearly see this wink to the ‘American dream.’ However, World history (with a capital ‘H’) is totally and irreversibly written by the west. This has to do, again, with language. Chinese who blindly study English often forget that it is European thought, not theirs. If China really wanted to flex its soft power muscle, it would have to bring its own Chinese terms to the tables; otherwise any dialogue will always be just that: a Western monologue. In this sense, Japan is far ahead of China, because it exported countless loanwords like samurai, bushido, shogun, kamikaze, karate, sumo and zen. The list goes on. Think about it as cultural property right. So China, why not going ahead and promote the zhongguo meng? Just saying.

EY: In your opinion, what defines China Dream?

TP: It’s not about definition, more about universality. You, I and everyone has dreams, no? The question is: Can you fulfill your dreams in China, and not elsewhere? And how many people would think that too?

EY: In your opinion, does China have a good environment for dreams to be realized? Does that only apply to Chinese or does that include expats in China as more and more foreigners come to work and live here?

TP: Oh yes, a lot of dreams get realized. Chinese people are hard-working, smart, and optimistic about the future, while Europeans tend to get a bit finicky and pessimistic. There are 10,000 Germans in Beijing right now. Their dreams are inextricably linked to China’s new ambition, power and prosperity. Think about that.

EY: What is the advantage and what does it lack?

TP: Salaries in China are still too low, so most employees tend to stay close to the mother lode, like little children. Many feel “wu nai” – helpless. This inhibits their creativity and drive for self-actualization. Premier Li Keqiang wants to double the average income in China, which would give each citizen the means to more private consume, to pursue hobbies, and to set personal goals in life. That’ll help society a lot.

EY: Do you have a zhongguo meng? If so, what is it?

TP: I believe that part of the zhongguo meng is the revival of Chinese categories and terminologies into the global language. Anyone who in twenty years from now still translates shengren or junzi is going to be a dinosaur.

EY: Thank you very much!

Doctor of Letters, D.Litt.
Research Fellow
The Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies (IAHS)
Peking University
Tel.: +86 15501111449 (China)