Thursday, July 20, 2023

"Beijing" or "Peking"?

In 4th grade Geography I learned "Peiping" was the capitol city of China. Later I learned that was a more recent transliteration for what had long been known in English as "Peking." Today the Chinese dictatorship insists on "Beijing" and most American publications use that.

I must say, even from the point of view of the ordinary uses of English, that it is not customary to quote a term in a foreign language, a capital town, a geographic place, when there exists a perfectly well-known English equivalent. It is usual to say ‘Paris,’ not ‘Paree.’
Peter Hichens:
.... We call many foreign capitals by English names which bear scant resemblance to what their inhabitants call them. Warsaw for Warszawa, Vienna for Wien, Prague for Praha, Dublin for Baile Atha Cliath, not to mention other major cities which are not capitals, such as Florence for Firenze and Munich for Muenchen. As for countries, who even tries? You may have been on holiday in Hrvatska, but did you even know it while you were there? Where is Bharat?

But the point remains that foreign cities and countries have no business telling people in other countries how to refer to them. They can do what they like in their own sovereign territory, but not beyond it. ....

There simply is no consistency in the great fashion for using ‘authentic’ names for various countries and cities. The only thing these affectations have in common is a desire for self-abasement.

For a start, they very seldom apply to the countries involved as well as the cities. Why not? How many people who pretentiously call Bombay ‘Mumbai’ (more on this later) or Calcutta ‘Kolkata’ call India ‘Bharat’? But that is in fact its name, if you believe that we should call foreign places what their inhabitants call them. Likewise, how many of those who insist on calling Peking ‘Beijing’, and Nanking ‘Nanjing’, refer to China by its actual name of ‘Zhongguo’? In my experience, none of them even know that this is what this country calls itself. My favourite is of course ‘Baile Atha Cliath’, the ‘official’ name for Dublin, which appears on the number plates of cars registered there. ....

So it still is when most other countries are concerned. I know of nobody in Britain who speaks or writes of ‘Sevilla’, ‘Wien’, ‘Roma’ , ‘Den Haag’, ‘Kobenhaven’, or come to that ‘Sverige’ or ‘Suomi’, let alone ‘Hrvatska’, ‘Polska’, ‘Magyargorszag’ or ‘Ellas’. ....

On and on the examples go. A little learning is a dangerous thing. Do they think foreigners call England ‘England’ or London ‘London’? Not often. They have their own names for our country and its famous cities, and this is a compliment to our country and those cities, for being important enough to deserve a Russian or French or Italian renaming. I might add that the last time I checked, major French, German and Italian newspapers referred to the capital of Zhongguo as ‘Pekin’, not as ‘Beijing’ . Perhaps, not having had to kowtow to China over Hongkong or Taiwan or the Dalai Lama, as we do, they just don’t take part in our cultural cringe.

And so back we come to Bombay. A good friend of mine who comes from there is livid at the way people in the West, thinking they are being enlightened, call it ‘Mumbai’. He associates this name with a rather nasty local demagogue, a crude Hindu nationalist who insisted on the name change. So my friend (along with many of his friends and family from Bombay) flatly refuses to use it whether he is there or here. In his view, every time a Westerner uses ‘Mumbai’, that Westerner helps strengthen a nasty political tendency, of the kind he would almost certainly disapprove of, if it operated in Britain. He is never sure whether to laugh or cry.
Peter Hitchens, "The 'Beijing' Kowtow and the Mumbai Jumbai Cringe," Daily Mail, September 28, 2020.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. I will gladly approve any comment that responds directly and politely to what has been posted.