An article by Dan Bloom reports on a controversy over the way ‘Jew’ is written in Chinese:
There are many Chinese characters for ‘you-tai,’ or Jew, but the combination that is currently being used refers to an animal of the monkey species, and has the connotation of parsimoniousness,” Chien Hsi-chieh, director of the Peacetime Foundation of Taiwan, said recently…
Chien said the biased Chinese characters were devised by Christian missionaries in China around 1830, when they were translating the Old Testament and New Testament into Chinese and needed a term for Jews.
“A better choice for the word ‘Jews’ in Chinese writing would be one that is pronounced the same, but written with a more neutral character,” he said.
The well-intended new translation is more likely end up with a blunder. To name just two of the many pitfalls:
1. The old translation of you-tai (here Y1); although this “you” means a rare species of monkey (not always a bad thing, compare the monkey king as a hero in old fairy tales), it is also used as a conjunction, like “as” or “similar to”. The second meaning is by far the more common one.
2. The newly suggested you-tai (let’s call it Y2) has also a “you” of double meaning. It is a surname. Since “tai” is same in both translations and means Mrs.(in modern Chinese) or “very, too much”, so in this case Y2 becomes “Mrs. YOU”. More seriously, it means sin, or transgression, or complain, or something like that. I don’t think Jews have sinned more than any other people, even they may have complained more, which is necessarily when the world is far from desirable.
Neither Y1 nor Y2 are first-hand translations. They are translations of (perhaps English) translation. Any new initiative must respect both the Hebrew and the Chinese language. I welcome the discussion, but don’t see any easy outcome.
So what do my Chinese-speaking readers think? Genuine problem, or a tempest in a teapot?
(Thanks for the link, Nick!)