Each language carries its own worldview. You learn that in your first week of linguistics. Categories do not overlap. Understanding a foreign culture is not about memorising new sounds to name the same things we already know. It is about mapping the world afresh.
As a visitor to China, you regularly need to interrogate your own implicit categories.
This, for instance, is how the big Beijing library classifies its copies of the Bible. What does it tell us about religion in China?
Aaron took me to the temple of the Queen of Heaven, next to the old culture street in Tianjin. I asked him why people went to the temple, what they did there – ‘sightseeing’, he replied. I had a similar experience earlier, in the Beijing Temple of Heaven. I was with a Chinese friend and pointed at some tables with characters on them, asking what they were. ‘These are the Gods that do not exist – only the names’, she said.
Many people have the little household Gods in their living rooms – but they seem to hover somewhere between decoration, folklore, and lucky charms. So, well, maybe religion comes into the wide range of ‘lifestyle’ pursuits here, somewhere between massages and gardening.
I’ve got another interpretation of the Beijing categorising. Have you ever seen such books as The Tao of Pooh and A treaty on Zen and motorcycles. Have you seen how, in our libraries, books on the Tao hover somewhere between philosophy and self-help. Why wouldn’t a Chinese bookshop do the same to Christianism?
But then, judging from the list of interdictions in that Tianjin church – Christianism had to make radical concessions to be accepted.
Or is it just a problem with the translation, maybe?