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Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Words Speaking Louder Than Actions

Supranational co-operation between China and other nations comes in various shapes and sizes, most often in the form of joint economic, political or military dialogue. Now, China has embarked on a new path of international exchange- that of dictionaries. For the beginning of September saw the unveiling of the new Oxford Chinese Dictionary at the Beijing International Book Fair (as reported by the China Daily), with the book already on sale in China and due to be released in the United Kingdom on Thursday.

When compared to previous English-Chinese/Chinese-English dictionaries released by Oxford University Press, this latest release is a little different. For one, it is bigger, with over 300,000 words and 370,000 translations. However, more importantly, Oxford University Press (OUP) has teamed up with Beijing's Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press (affiliated to Beijing Foreign Studies University-BFSU) to create a dictionary that benefits from native speakers of both languages being involved in its preparation. This has allowed for the inclusion of terms that have only entered the Chinese vernacular in recent years, much akin to the Oxford Corpus project, which monitors developments in the English language and makes sure OUP's dictionaries reflect these.

Of course, as links between countries go, a partnership between two publishing houses is fairly trivial. However, it is worth noting that Beijing Foreign Studies University is directly responsible to the Ministry of Education and has close links to the Communist Party's hierarchy. Indeed, on a topical note, BFSU includes amongst its alumni Wu Dawei, the individual currently tasked with representing China's interests in Korean Peninsula affairs (see this previous Sino-Gist post). With these close ties to the government and political authorities, the partnership with OUP can be viewed within the context of Beijing's emphasis on increased cultural interaction between China and its other nations.

This piece of news also highlights how far China has come in the last couple of decades. In days gone by, this co-operation between businesses would not have been possible, except with official approval. In the China of Chairman Mao, maintaining links with foreigners was a dangerous thing to do. At the height of the Cultural Revolution, as is commonly known, those who were found to have dealings with much of the outside world were viewed with intense suspicion- feeling which could translate into awful consequences for the subject.

For now, the presence of this dictionary on the shelves of China's bookshops will be one symbol of a new era in China's attitude to the outside world. The latter will be hoping that China's experiment with increased openness retains the political favour of the up-and-coming generation of CCP leaders.

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