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  • Wittgenstein, A One-way Ticket, and Other Unforeseen Benefits of Studying Chinese

Wittgenstein, A One-way Ticket, and Other Unforeseen Benefits of Studying Chinese

Edited by Perry Link

English , 2019/11 The Chinese University of Hong Kong Press

Tags: Languages & Linguistics, Essays

216 x 140 mm , 264pp ISBN / ISSN : 978-988-237-094-4

  • US$28.00

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…. to imagine a language means to imagine a form of life.

––Ludwig Wittgenstein

(Philosophical Investigation, 1953)

Whatever specific goal motivated people who study Chinese at first eventually dissolves into the larger Chinese world, and that world—its loves and joys, its stings and frustrations, in any case its incapability of being boring—takes over.

This is a fascinating, insightful collection of essays by some of the world’s most renowned China experts, who share personal recollections of their time in China—often beginning in the 1970s, when foreigners were just beginning to navigate the linguistic and cultural terrain of that country—and reflect on what learning Chinese has meant to them in their careers and lives. These ten native English speakers share rare and, at times, humorous and intimate moments, of how learning and speaking Chinese has removed barriers, built rapport, opened doors and sometimes led them down entirely unexpected roads that have changed the course of their lives.

This book collects essays from native speakers of English who studied Chinese, learned it unusually well, and then used it in very successful careers in journalism, business, government work, and academe. Many essays show that answers to the question of “what difference is made?” can have a charming unpredictability. The ten essays converge on some important points: that speaking Chinese leads much more quickly to deeper trust with Chinese people than can be had through speaking English or by using translation; that thinking “inside” the Chinese language in some ways offers different ways to understand the world. This book is unique in the language-teaching field. It can also be an eye-opener for a general reader who believes that learning a second language is a simple matter of switching codes and does not realize how life-changing the embrace of a different language can be.


Given China's growing impact on the world, all countries need to better understand Chinese thinking, and the Chinese language is a vital tool for making the breakthrough. This book has brought together a group of outstanding people who have learned Chinese and here give a nuanced, informed view of how one makes the breakthrough and what difference it makes.


Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences Emeritus, Harvard University The authors evoke various transformative, enriching experiences that enable generations of future students to enter new worlds of meaning. Readers of disparate backgrounds will gain fresh insight to what mastering a foreign tongue can accomplish beyond academic research.


Emerita Professor of History and East Asian Studies, Wesleyan University By turns probing, provocative, playful, and at times even profound, the essays gathered together here have much to offer those fascinated by China, as well as those who are simply intrigued by the challenges of translating between any pair or set of languages and cultures.


co-author of China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know......they show how a solid working knowledge of Chinese allows foreigners to make unmediated and eye-opening contact with China’s amazingly diverse citizenry. Must reading for anyone interested in China.


Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History and Chinese Studies, University of California, San Diego


Perry Link is Emeritus Professor of East Asian Studies at Princeton University and Chancellorial Chair for Teaching Across Disciplines at the University of California, Riverside. He is well-known both as an innovative scholar of modern Chinese literature and as an authority on contemporary Chinese politics and intellectual life. He edited and published many important works, including An Anatomy of Chinese: Rhythm, Metaphor, Politics (Harvard University Press, 2013), Liu Xiaobo’s Empty Chair: Chronicling the Reform Movement Beijing Fears Most (New York Review of Books, 2011), The Uses of Literature: Life in the Socialist Chinese Literary System (Princeton University Press, 2000), Evening Chats in Beijing: Probing China’s Predicament (Norton, 1992), and Butterflies: Popular Fiction in Early Twentieth-Century Chinese Cities (University of California Press, 1981).

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