Thursday, September 03, 2009

Why Knowing Language Matters: Chinese "River + Dike = Political Order"


"River plus dike equals political order" from here.

A key yet lost part of geography is the study of foreign languages. Sadly most advanced geography programs do not require study in another language. I personally feel insight into how a language orders sentences, forms phrases, and conveys action is just as an important sight into a culture as dress, diet, and even religion. I continue to believe my statement that language is the blood of culture.

Many people have heard the saying that in Chinese the word for "crisis" and "opportunity" is the same. This gives insight into why many Chinese do not see chaos as necessarily a bad thing but a potential positive as long as one acts properly.

During the People's Republic of China's (PRC) rise to development; damming of rivers and control of water sheds has been a primary goal of the government. While the government points out these projects help with industry and agriculture, some geographers and other scientists lamented the loss of ancient history to be forever drowned or looted. The common call was that the drive for development was blinding the PRC.

What one ignores when making this claim though is Chinese culture. Sure development played a majority role, but the language itself encourages control of the physical elements. Political order is a combination of the words river and dike according to one source. Another trusted online source translates political science as "water to arrange to bring joy." This helps explain China's near-Machiavellian drive to control its water (paraphrase of Machiavelli: water and women both need to be controlled).

The above can be thought of as triva. However, it helps explain why the average Chinese had the gut feeling instinict to support dam projects. The thinking was not conscience but subconscience. Only a detailed understanding of the Chinese language could help an observer understand that subconscience decision. This is just one small reason why the study of langauges is such a key part of a true geographic education.

Special thanks to TDAXP for his insight

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