The beginning is a very delicate time.

At least, it is according to Princess Irulan in Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’.  Ordinarily I’d have no argument with that, except that in this case I feel the need to get to the point fast and if people don’t like what they’re reading – well the internet has no involuntary subliminal compulsion – yet.  Why blog?  For me it seems a great way to explore and discuss the ways in which the humanities subjects have both interacted with and influenced all areas of human culture since Oldupai Gorge.  The study and understanding of history, geography and religion involves concepts and ideas that can be seen as relevant in their particular context, together with ones that have changed and developed over time.

The way in which physical geography works has changed little if at all over the history of the Earth (no matter how long you believe that is).  Historical, religious and political concepts certainly have, a fact which has given us most of our triumphs and tragedies.  For example, historical concepts get viewed differently across the centuries and it’s not always because you’re the victor or the vanquished.  There’s a cultural element at work too.  Take the oft quoted response of  Chinese Premier Zhou-en-Lai to President Nixon’s question on the French Revolution’s impact on western civilisation.

‘It’s too early to tell’.

Now, whether apocryphal or not, it’s often been held up as an example of sage and patient oriental thinking in the face of the impatient occidental mind set.  However, recent comments by Charles Freeman (Nixon’s interpreter on the 1972 China visit), put a different spin on the comment.  Speaking in 2011 at a Washington seminar on Henry Kissenger’s book ‘On China’, Freeman indicated that the real meaning of Zhou’s reply had been lost in translation by those who’d heard what they wanted to hear.  In fact, claims Freeman, it wasn’t 1789 that Zhou was referring to but the Paris student riots of 1968.

Freeman wasn’t able to say how the misunderstanding arose;

“I cannot explain the confusion about Zhou’s comment except in terms of the extent to which it conveniently bolstered a stereotype (as usual with all stereotypes, partly perceptive) about Chinese statesmen as far-sighted individuals who think in longer terms than their Western counterparts,” Freeman said in a follow-up email. “It was what people wanted to hear and believe, so it took hold.”

One of many historical examples where the truth doesn’t read as well as the story…

It also shows that concepts such as revolution, freedom and democracy vary in their interpretation from culture to culture as well as across the centuries.  In a multi-cultural and multi-polar world we forget that at our peril.

That will probably do for now….

Sources:  Financial Times 10.06.2011