Monday, March 3, 2008

Nature as pictured in a Chinese children's book

This is from a post on I came across today. It's a picture from a Chinese children's book that illustrates the Chinese word for "nature". Some commenters remark that it's actually mistranslation, and the phrase pictured here means something more like "the great outdoors". Either way, the (western) blogger titled this entry "Strange nature scene". I'm not sure if the wilderness dichotomy is truly less prevalent in China, but this simple example suggests that it is.


Laura Martin said...

Very cool. It's very important to keep in mind that although this course focuses upon American culture, each culture has its own distinct conceptualizations of nautre and the natural world. Can you think of ways in which US and Chinese history has differed that may have lead to this divergent definition of 'nature'?

Robert Gottlieb said...

This classic example of Hudson River School art comes complete with mountains in the distance, water in the foreground, middle ground, and background, and the obligatory puny human.

It appears the book is designed to teach children words in both Chinese and English, so I suppose the maker would want to cram a lot of objects onto each page. I'm not sure how a nuclear power plant and a dam are grouped into nature, though. There aren't any plants or animals either, but maybe those have their own sections. Perhaps it's a bad translation of the word.

I don't know much about China's history, and I'm sort of stumped on this question. I started thinking about how large China's population is, but the country is also very large. Some areas are very industrialized, but that doesn't help explain why this book would want to depict the wilderness and human constructions coexisting so pleasantly. I also don't know if such a scene (artistic oddities aside) occurs in China with any regularity.