Mark Rowswell liked to tell his Chinese audience a joke that when he showed his father his Chinese name 路士伟 , his Dad said, “it looks good, but … what are the plus and minus signs in the middle for?”
Rowswell is a Canadian and began learning some basic Chinese at the age of 19. In 1988, he came to China to further study this language. He learnt it quickly and so well that he could speak Putonghua (Mandarin) not just fluently but also perfectly in the same accent as those native speakers born in Beijing.
After several Chinese crosstalk performances (which are similar to the tongue twister songs e.g. ‘Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers’ in English) on TV, including the CCTV New Year’s Gala which yields 550 million views every year, he won millions of Chinese people’s love. Alongside developing his career as a highly successful standup comedian, he also serves as a cultural bridge between China and Canada, such as Canada’s Goodwill Ambassador, Commissioner General for Canada at the Shanghai 2010 World Exp, Team Attache to the Canadian team for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
“Mark Rowswell has been making China laugh for 27 years”, it is what ‘The Australian’ introduced him when Rowswell participated into the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in April 2017. He was the only person who performed in Chinese there.
Two of the reasons why Rowswell is a celebrity in China are that he is one of the very few White people who is, firstly, capable of mastering this language, and secondly, respecting sincerely the Chinese culture which is very different from the West’s.
While millions of the Third World peoples learn English, French, Spanish and German, very few White people learn Chinese, Russian, Japanese and Arabic. Most Western journalists and scholars instead rely on the indigenous intellectuals’ English translation to report or study the local affairs in the Third World. How accurate are these works? How important it is to learn a foreign culture through knowing its language? Here is a useful perspective from Professor Charles King, Chair of the Dept of Government at Georgetown University, for our consideration:
“The rise of the United States as a global power was the product of more than merely economic and military advantages. Where the country was truly hegemonic was in its unmatched knowledge of the hidden interior of other nations: their languages and cultures, their histories and political systems, their local economies and human geographies.”
However, less and less American kids are going to learn foreign languages, Prof. King told us how bad it is:
“… enrollment in foreign-language courses at U.S. colleges fell by 6.7 percent between 2009 and 2013. Most language programs experienced double-digit losses… Today, the third most studied language in U.S. higher education, behind Spanish and French, is a homegrown one: American Sign Language…”
“The National Security Education Program (NSEP), which offers students financial assistance for foreign-language study and cultural immersion, was established in 1991…. Last year (2014), the total number of students enrolled in NSEP — Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Swahili, Turkish, Urdu, and Yoruba — was under a thousand.”
Do you believe it? Less than a thousand Americans are learning these foreign languages for ‘national security” purpose!!!
In China, there are at least 15 public and 10 private universities or tertiary colleges which are nationally accredited schools specialized in teaching foreign languages and literatures. Some of them are Beijing Language and Culture University, Beijing Foreign Studies University, and Shanghai International Studies University. They offer a great variety of languages and dialects being used in all the five continents. No less than 2,000 young men and women graduate annually to serve China with their capacities to read, write and speak at least one foreign language other than English.
Right now, Beijing is hosting the One Belt One Road forum. More than 100 countries send their delegates, of which 28 are state heads. Without a huge and diversified team of translators and interpreters, Beijing cannot do it well. At the other side, when more nations want to join this common economic zone, more young people in each of them will learn Chinese and other non-English languages. Hopefully, the New Silk Road project will generate a benign economic cycle — the more prosperous the project is, the more the next generations learn Asian, African and Eastern European languages will be; and a virtuous cultural cycle — the more the people learn other nations’ languages, the better understanding of each other’s history and customs it will be. Isn’t it good for world peace?
If the Americans keep on being so prideful and refusing to learn other nations’ languages and cultures, they are to blame for their own decline as they will know nothing except how to drop bombs on other countries.
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