Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pearl Buck on "Interpretation of China to the West"

Here are a few quotes from the book China as I See It by Pearl Buck, who grew up in China and lived there during the first half of the 1900s. 

First she discusses "interpreting" China to those in the West:
When people ask me, "Is this true of China, do the Chinese say this, are the Chinese that?" I can only answer, "I don't know -- perhaps they do somewhere in China.  I have only seen it thus.  But China is a very huge country, full of many diverse persons and customs.  I cannot pretend to speak for China or for anyone except myself."
"In a country so vast and so varying as China, where the average person travels comparatively little he cannot be blamed for not knowing many things even about his own country.  He can and should be blamed as soon as possible for saying and thinking he knows everything."
Then she writes about cultural interpretation in general, and how people ultimately judge a person's country, culture, or religion based on who he is rather than on what he says:
So here is the only interpretation, I think, that you or I can make of our country -- to be the best our country, our civilization, can produce, and be that under all circumstances, whether people are kind or unkind, understanding or not, appreciative or not.
Finally, she gives two qualifications for being a cultural interpreter:
First and foremost, a spirit of humility and of inquiry which keeps one constantly learning at every source, constantly distrustful of one's own knowledge and ability to interpret. 
Second, the unalterable conviction that one conveys, that one interprets, far more of one's country and civilization by what one is than by what one says...  Interpretation is only another name for understanding, and before we can interpret any people to any other, we must understand and appreciate the fundamental humanity of all."
 Talk at International House, Columbia University, New York City, March 13, 1933

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