Pinyin Info in the New York Times

Pinyin Info made the Reading File of this Sunday’s New York Times, with Victor H. Mair’s essay danger + opportunity ? crisis being quoted:

On pinyin.info, a Web site about the Chinese language, Victor H. Mair, a professor of Chinese at the University of Pennsylvania, explodes the myth that “crisis,” in Chinese means both “danger” and “opportunity.”

A whole industry of pundits and therapists has grown up around this one grossly inaccurate formulation. A casual search of the Web turns up more than a million references to this spurious proverb. It appears, … often complete with Chinese characters, on the covers of books, on advertisements for seminars, on expensive courses for “thinking outside of the box” and practically everywhere one turns in the world of quick-buck business, pop psychology, and orientalist hocus-pocus. …

Like most Mandarin words, that for “crisis” (weiji) consists of two syllables that are written with two separate characters, wei and ji. The ji of weiji, in fact, means something like “incipient moment; crucial point (when something begins or changes).” Thus, a weiji is indeed a genuine crisis, a dangerous moment, a time when things start to go awry. A weiji indicates a perilous situation when one should be especially wary. It is not a juncture when one goes looking for advantages and benefits. In a crisis, one wants above all to save one’s skin and neck!

source: By Any Other Name, New York Times, December 18, 2005

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