Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Chinese Minister Champions Esperanto

He wasn't opposed to that being Mandarin
May you live in interesting times” isn’t actually an old Chinese curse, but Wu Ting Fang certainly did live in such an era. In 1908, he was the China’s Minister to the United States. The government he served under, the Qing dynasty was just four years before its demise. Wu would go on to serve in the government of the Republic of China before his death in 1922.

It is not clear if Mr. Wu was an Esperantist himself, although in 1908 he had not learned the language. He showed an interest in Esperanto that did not rise to the level of taking the time to learn it himself.

Although the December 24, 1908 Bismark Daily Tribune prints Mr. Wu’s statements as a piece of commentary, they seem to be drawn from a speech he made at Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York City, as part of the King’s Birthday Dinner, on November 9, 1908. The statements recorded in the New York Times overlap with those in the Bismark Daily Tribune. Both newspapers focused on Mr. Wu’s endorsement of a universal language.
A Universal Language Would Strengthen World’s Peace
By WU TING FANG, Chinese Minister to the United States.
ESPERANTO has in recent years been offered as an idiom for communication between different nations. I do not know if it would suit our purposes, but I would be glad if it could be adopted and greet to BY ALL NATIONS AS A UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE. It would especially help Asiatic peoples, who now have to learn English, French, German, Italian, and so on.

Of course I would like to see Chinese adopted universally, for I think our language is the philosophical language, but I do not think there is much chance of it, and so if Esperanto can be agreed upon I should be glad. Life is too short to learn so many foreign languages. If Esperanto is not adopted, then I think we must come back tot he English language. It is now well known in Asia and in the greater part of Europe, but I would like to see some improvement in the way of spelling and pronunciation.

I think that if the different nations only understood each other’s language all differences of opinion could easily be settled. China, I know, is not seeking trouble with any other nation. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred where there has been trouble it has arisen from a misunderstanding. If you want perpetual peace I think a common language would be a great factor to that end.
I did not slavishly follow the typography of the Bismark Tribune which put the first two paragraphs in a regular serif type and the final paragraph in bold san-serif capitals. The full caps words in the first paragraph were their doing. Mr. Wu’s words were the first of four pieces, occupying the left-most column (itself two columns wide); each of the pieces[1] follow the same idiosyncratic typography. For example, the final piece is titled “American Audiences Appreciate Good Acting,” and it is attributed to Alla Nazimova.[2]
AMERICAN audiences are particularly sensitive to the slightest false note in a performance. The moment the play or acting fails to ring true THEY LOSE INTEREST.
As fascinating as Ms. Nazimova might be, unless I can find a connection between her and Esperanto, it’s time to get back to Mr. Wu. Further confirmation that Mr. Wu did not know Esperanto at the time when he was promoting it is found in the January 1911 Amerika Esperantisto, which says that Mr. Wu had written to the magazine asking for literature and a textbook of Esperanto. Mr. Wu wrote to the magazine:
I am in favor of a universal language as a means of communication between all countries. By this means the people of all nations can communicate with each other without any difficulty. I would like one of the living languages to be adopted, but as there is no hope for that being done, the next best thing is to resort to a language which will not cause any jealousy on the part of any nation. For that reason I mentioned Esperanto in my speech the other day.
The March issue of Amerika Esperantisto notes that “Mr. Wu Ting-fang, the Chinese minister to the United States, has championed Esperanto and is now studying the language.” It doesn’t seem likely that Mr. Wu’s studies went all that far, because n a July 1910 profile of Samuel G. Blythe in the American Magazine, Mr. Wu is said to be fooled by a letter in Esperanto sent by Blythe to William Loeb, Jr.,[3] which would indicate that he couldn’t read it. Wu seems to be a proponent of simplified spelling, which was championed by Loeb's boss, President Theodore Roosevelt, until the press ridiculed Roosevelt for it.

Finally, let’s look at Mr. Wu’s statement that “In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred where there has been trouble it has arisen from a misunderstanding.” The man was a well-educated diplomat and writer (personally, I hope the name of one of his books, America Through the Spectacles of an Oriental Diplomat was forced on him by his publisher),[4] and although the idea that misunderstanding is the root of most conflicts is one that he shared with Zamenhof, a review of history shows that many conflicts happen in an atmosphere of perfect understanding.

Still, anything that might bring peace is worth a shot, right?

  1. For the record, they are “A Universal Language Would Strengthen the World’s Peace” by Mr. Wu, “Graft Permeates Our Government” by Dr. G. Frank Lydston, “American Children Are Too Clean, Too Vain And Too Puffed Up” by Professor Fritz Koch, and “American Audiences Appreciate Good Acting” by Mme. Alla Nazimova.  ↩
  2. Wikipedia notes that Nazimova was born with the more prosaic name Miriam Leventon.  ↩
  3. The American Magazine doesn’t indicate why Mr. Blythe, a journalist, sent Mr. Loeb (then assistant secretary to President Theodore Roosevelt) the letter, and the phrase in the article “which he was quite unable to read” is somewhat ambiguous. From the sentence it seems to be Loeb, but the article makes it seem likely that Blythe couldn’t read it either. Mr. Wu comes in with the statement that:  ↩
    Wu Ting Fang declared it to be a fragment from the odes of a Chinese poet who lived prior to Confucius.
  4. Not an attempt at an exhaustive bibliography, but he also wrote Confucius and Menicus, Chinese Jurisprudence, Mutual Helpfulness between China and the United States, China’s Relation with the West, and Causes of the Unpopularity of the Foreigner in China. It is my hope that America and the Americans from a Chinese Point of View is a retitling of the book I mentioned in the main text.  ↩

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1 comment:

  1. "If Esperanto is not adopted, then I think we must come back tot he English language. It is now well known in Asia and in the greater part of Europe, but I would like to see some improvement in the way of spelling and pronunciation."

    Interesting that he could also see that English spelling and pronunciation are actually very difficult. Although English spelling could be reformed, I don't see much chance when it comes to pronunciation, since at that point we are talking about creating a new language.


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