China News Agency, Beijing, February 5th: How did the Chinese language become a vessel for the exchange of civilizations in the East Asian world?

  ——Exclusive interview with Kim Moon-kyung, chairman of the Japan China Society and a famous sinologist

  China News Agency reporter Wen Longjie Lu Shaowei

  East Asian countries have shared a similar culture in history, and Chinese characters are the essence of it.

So much so that in the past, the envoys of merchants and merchants from various East Asian countries could express their feelings with a single piece of paper when they did not understand each other's languages.

At the same time, the East Asian world seems to have "the same language", but it is harmonious but different, and each country has different wonderful developments.

Jin Wenjing, chairman of the Japan China Society and a famous sinologist, has long studied Chinese classical operas and novels. He is proficient in the languages ​​of China, Japan and Korea. In recent years, he has paid attention to the history of exchanges in the cultural circle of Chinese characters in East Asia.

How did the Chinese language become a vessel for cultural exchanges in the East Asian world?

China News Agency's "West Questions" recently interviewed Professor Jin Wenjing to explore what references the history of exchanges in the East Asian Chinese character cultural circle can provide for today's global civilization exchanges.

The interview transcript is summarized as follows:

Reporter from China News Service: You have been working in the field of Sinology for many years and have achieved a lot. Can you tell us, under what circumstances did you pay attention to the relationship between Chinese characters and East Asian cultural exchanges?

Kim Moon-kyung:

I am a Korean born in Japan. I have been concerned about the history and culture of my mother country since I was a child. However, when I was a child, I didn’t have many Korean-related books around me, but there were many books related to Chinese history and culture.

So, I started reading these books and became interested in China, especially the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Later, when I went to university, I chose the Department of Chinese.

Until the end of the 20th century, I often went to China for meetings, and observed that many scholars were concerned about East Asian cultural exchanges, and some people suggested that I do research in this area, so I was unknowingly involved in this trend.

People in Daegu, South Korea put up Spring Festival couplets.

Photo courtesy of Yonhap News Agency/Vision China

China News Agency reporter: In the East Asian world, what role do Chinese characters play in cultural exchanges?

Jin Wenjing:

Although Chinese characters are Chinese characters, they have been used in the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and Vietnam for a long time, and the classics of Chinese characters and the culture they represent, whether Confucianism or Buddhism, have long been a regional consensus. It has always been the common language of the region. In terms of past East Asian cultural exchanges, Chinese characters are the only language that can be used for communication, and its importance is self-evident.

The fly in the ointment is that the pronunciation of Chinese characters is different between countries, and the reading methods of Chinese books are also different. Therefore, cultural exchanges between countries only stop at reading books and understanding articles, and there are few direct interpersonal exchanges, or interpersonal exchanges. Written talk, it is difficult to achieve real conversation.

Temple of Thien Phuc, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Photo courtesy of Visual China

China News Agency reporter: What is the East Asian Chinese character cultural circle?

Kim Moon-kyung:

The countries and regions that used Chinese characters in the past are called Chinese character cultural circles, mainly referring to China, Vietnam, Korea, Ryukyu, and Japan. It is the name proposed by Japanese scholar Mr. Kono Ichiro.

However, countries in the circle have different views on Chinese characters. Although China's neighboring countries use Chinese characters, their reading and writing methods are quite different from Chinese.

Behind the different cultures surrounding Chinese characters, there are actually different views on language, country and even the world.

In 2018, in Osaka, Japan, students of Kaminomiya High School wrote the Chinese character "Mengxia Strikes" in a calligraphy competition to describe the hot summer in Japan that year.

Photo courtesy of Kyodo News/Vision China

Reporter from China News Service: What kind of reference can the history of exchanges in the East Asian Chinese character cultural circle provide for today's global civilization exchanges?

Jin Wenjing:

The exchange of Chinese character culture circles in East Asia has a history of almost two thousand years, and it has never stopped. It is rare in the history of cultural exchanges around the world.

Among them, there are things that the current world can learn from, such as how to reach mutual consensus through communication, avoid crises, and so on.

However, the ancient cultural circles in various places, including the cultural circle of Chinese characters in East Asia, are currently facing the challenge of globalization. Outside is the torrent of globalization (language is Englishized), and inside is the raging tide of nationalism.

For example, a few years ago, Georgia, a country spanning Eurasia, changed the pronunciation of the country name from Georgia to Georgia in English; last year, Turkey applied to the United Nations to change the name of the country from Turkey in English to Türkiye in its own language.

Georgia's change to English pronunciation is the orientation of globalization, and Turkey's change to its own name is an outpouring of nationalism.

These two currents sometimes conflict and sometimes confluence, thus exerting great pressure on the current world.

South Korea has always advocated that proper nouns should be pronounced in their own country. This can also be seen as the result of the impact of these two trends.

Because on the one hand, it is necessary to deconstruct the old habits of the cultural circle of Chinese characters and adapt to global principles; on the other hand, it is necessary to respect the local pronunciation, which is nothing more than nationalism.

Gwanghwamun, Seoul, South Korea, taken in 2013.

Photo by Zheng Shaochun

  When it comes to the pronunciation of proper nouns in East Asia, countries have their own opinions, and new rules are quietly forming.

However, Chinese people seem to be very little concerned about this issue today. We hope that Chinese people will further raise their concerns and learn more about what is currently happening in South Korea and Japan.

Even though the evolution of language is arbitrary and uncontrollable, there is still a significant difference between knowing and not knowing.

If we let the status quo go, don't care, and go our separate ways without consensus, we may encounter a chaotic and extremely embarrassing situation in the future.

This issue is still in progress, and various and contradictory phenomena arise simultaneously.

We can say that we are standing on a fork in the road, but to choose a feasible path, it is best to discuss with our peers and look back at what the road we came from is like.

In view of the above, we have to construct a new communication model, we need to review the past history, reflect on the past, and look forward to the future.


  Respondent profile:

  Kim Moon-kyung, born in Tokyo, Japan in 1952, is a Korean. He used to be a professor and director of the Humanities Research Institute of Kyoto University, Japan. He is currently the chairman of the China Society of Japan. His major works include "The World of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms" and "The World of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms", etc. Co-edited "Handan Dream Notes" and "Ancient Edition Collection of Romance of the Three Kingdoms".

With "Chinese Language and the World of East Asia" (Iwanami Bookstore, 2010), he won the 2011 Kadokawa Foundation Academic Award, and his Chinese book "Chinese Language and the World of East Asia" (Shanghai Sanlian Bookstore, 2022) was recently published.