The Economist in China: Old Hands

Marking the first month of its dedicated China section and the recent christening of its ‘Analects’ blog, The Economist surveys its almost 170 years of China coverage:

In December 1843, The Economist relayed its first reported anecdotes about China: tales of foreigners being deceived by fake Chinese products. These included, according to one written account, “counterfeit hams” made of wood, coated in dirt and wrapped with an outer layer of hog’s skin: “The whole is so curiously painted and prepared, that a knife is necessary to detect the fraud.” Another foreigner, “M. Osbeck”, told of being duped by a blind flower-salesman on the street: “I learned from this instance that whosoever will deal with the Chinese must make use of his utmost circumspection; and even then must run the risk of being cheated ….”

The Economist established a permanent China bureau in Beijing in 1997 (the application was first made in 1994; the authorities were in no hurry to approve it). From that perch, the newspaper chronicled the historic transformation of the economy and China’s place in the world that has compelled so many news organisations, including ours, to expand our presence …. Both in print and here at Analects, we endeavour to convey a fuller picture of a China that has changed dramatically since we began paying attention in 1843—politically, socially, culturally and economically. Certainly, the story has developed beyond the narrow scope that the newspaper conceived in that first article about China, in October 1843:

…that our demand for their produce will stimulate increased industry, produce among them more wealth and more ability to consume our goods, is certain; and a large and regularly increasing trade with this extraordinary people may be experienced for many years to come, and in the course of time…arrive at an amount at present little thought of.

On the choice of ‘Analects’ for the new blog title, over suggestions such as ‘Confucius’, ‘Hundred Flowers’, ‘Bamboo’ and ‘Interesting Times':

In the end it came back to Confucius, or at least to a word connected with him. The Analects is the title of a collection of his sayings, but our fondness for the name does not imply endorsement of his philosophy. Its appeal is as a word in English. Its origin is the ancient Greek analekta, meaning “things gathered up”. James Legge, a Scottish missionary whose 1861 translation of The Analects was the first in English, described the Chinese name of the work, Lunyu ( 論語, or 论语 in simplified characters), as meaning “digested conversations”. His use of the classical-sounding “analects” to render this idea reflected the learning that the West’s earliest China-scholars brought to the new field. “Analects” is now inextricably linked in English with the Confucian work, but the word itself means something very close to what our new blog is: gleanings, in this case from China.

February 28, 2012 2:08 AM
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