11.0549 gleanings from Pacific Asia

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Fri, 30 Jan 1998 15:55:52 +0000 (GMT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 11, No. 549.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Fri, 30 Jan 1998 13:03:22 +0900
From: Steve McCarty <steve_mc@ws0.kagawa-jc.ac.jp>
Subject: The Net Facing Chinese Humanists (Long)

The previous installment was experimental and apparently
not very successful in providing an overview of "Computing
in Japanese." Allow me to continue surveying Asia-Pacific
developments of possible interest to computing humanists,
with a view to fostering the globalization of the discipline.

David Seaman (11.0534) beat me to the punch with a notice
on the Japanese Text Initiative by the universities of Virginia
and Pittsburg. I would just add that the Asian Studies WWW Virtual
Library has given it the highest rating of essential for research.

No rigor implied here, but the Web will be truly worldwide
when more than one non-cognate writing system can be widely
read in the same document or at least by the same terminal.
Universities such as Monash in Australia have advanced software
solutions, but the readers, i.e., subscribers, also need the same
decoding software. The University of British Columbia is looking
for a way to break the usual mold of English plus romanization
by including Asian languages in a proposed electronic journal.
Recent 4.0-series browsers allow for more language choices, and
HTML 4.0 supports tags for reading languages from left to right.
But particularly in non-Western countries, people including myself
do not have access to all the latest technologies, with bells and
whistles adding to the obstacles for non-native acquirers of
English in less wealthy countries.

That is why I could read the above-mentioned Japanese Text
Initiative at my terminal, but to view the Chinese-English one
<http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/chinese/>, I had to run upstairs to
the terminal of my colleague from China, Asst. Prof. MAO Young.
We communicate in Japanese, one of his specializations along
with economics. He said that many Chinese texts are available
electronically, and he showed me brochures for CD-ROMs. The
translation of Chinese documents into other languages, however,
will provide some opening for collaboration with non-Chinese.

Languages that are codified in cyberspace and read by software
are more likely to survive than the ones that are not, another
reason that cyberspace is not unreal. Be that as it may, Chinese
is not in any danger, and will be asserted in cyberspace, just as
the French and Japanese governments have actively promoted
their national standard languages.

The problem seems to be that Chinese scholars are afraid to go
too far out on a limb and be tattled on as too chummy with
Westerners. They are justified in not risking their careers or
attempting the politically impossible. Much as China has been
the butt of jokes over its Internet policies, its government
has consistently gotten its way without compromise towards
Western values.

My colleague Mr. Mao has not received an answer by e-mail to his
acquaintances in China, and I have hardly heard from the Chinese
scholars who were so friendly at the University of Hong Kong in
1996. There are Chinese addresses on mailing lists, but
obscenities or discussions of independence for Tibet, Taiwan,
and so forth render the list mail illegal in China. Mr. Mao agrees
that computing is an ostensibly harmless area where some
Sino-Western rapprochement is possible, but rosy expectations
will continue to be thwarted by the Chinese government.

The above is anecdotal and not asserted as an argument. It may
provide some perspective, however, as the Asia-Pacific Chapter
of AACE conducts the "Global Education on the Net" conference
in Beijing, 14-17 October 1998: <http://www.njtu.edu.cn/icce98/>.
For there may be another sort of Net restraining Chinese scholars.

Mr. Mao also agreed that there is a disadvantage facing Westerners
in the Humanities seeking to reach their Asian counterparts. While
there are Humanities divisions at major Asian universities, the users
of Western languages such as English are more likely to be affiliated
with other divisions. Considering also the need for intercultural
sensitivity, it may be more effective to take a bilingual approach.

Steve McCarty

Humanist Discussion Group
Information at <http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/>