|And surely we do! "A gift and a curse"|
Over the years, I've continued to look for it -- it seems certain that the saying doesn't exist in Chinese.
The idea of the weekly short column, then, was that I would cover things that were interesting in themselves, but maybe didn't really exist. Take the vaunted Chinese "inscrutability", for example. It doesn't exist -- Chinese are often open and direct, to the point of brutal frankness. As Dr Geremie Barmé points out in this article from the Financial Times:
.... the widespread western view of an 'oriental obliquity' that thought far into the future and was somehow profound. Whereas in China, you mostly hear that the leadership is short-sighted, radically pragmatic and anything but subtle.I decided against the column out of laziness. I couldn't bring myself to commit to a weekly deadline, having just retired to the freedom of doing whatever took one's fancy.
This very article is one of those that would have featured in an "Interesting Times" column:
The impact of the French Revolution? “Too early to say.”
Thus did Zhou Enlai – in responding to a question in 1970 about the popular revolt in France almost two centuries earlier – buttress China’s reputation as a far-thinking, patient civilisation.
It turns out he was thinking of the 1968 students' riots in Paris, just the year before! And the interpreters were too polite -- and too politically savvy -- to correct the misunderstanding.I was half-way through the article when I came across a reference to the above-mentioned Geremie Barmé of the Australian National University.
Geremie and I were at the Peking Languages Institute together in 1976. He was a brilliant linguist, easily the best in our class. He used to spend all his spare time -- as when he sat on the bus during our regular jaunts to the country -- practicing his cursive Chinese characters, so that he came to write better than most Chinese. [here he is]
And it brought back to mind the "Interesting Times” concept. Then I read through to the end of the article....
The oft-quoted Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times”, does not exist in China itself, scholars say.Oh dear, scooped again!