Euro-Chinese Dictionary of Cultural Misunderstandings

The question of cultural misunderstandings is a seminal topic that has underlain the Transcultura project since its beginnings in 1988. At that time, the main objective was to promote reciprocal anthropology between European and non-European researchers and thus broaden concepts and methodologies in cross-cultural studies. Over the years, in different activities promoted by the Transcultura research network, it has become evident that diverging interpretations of a situation impede mutual learning and positive interactions, often leading to disagreements between people, countries and leaders. In the context of the increasing interactions between the EU and China at all levels, key-concepts of the main streams of cultural exchanges have considerable potential for misunderstandings.

On 24th June 2019, on the occasion of the 55th anniversary of the establishment of Sino-French diplomatic relations, the European Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences organized an international conference entitled “Mutual respect, fruitful cooperation, mutual inspiration”. Mr. Nicolas Chapuis, Ambassador of the EU Delegation to China emphasized in his keynote speech that there is a solid foundation for cooperation between China and Europe and those past developments should be realized between France, the EU and China. Mr. Chapuis quoted the Transcultura project of a “dictionary of misunderstandings”, putting accent on the paramount necessity of deepening the mutual cultural understanding.

For almost 40 years now, Transcultura developed a new reciprocal anthropology and a new epistemology for human sciences by introducing the reciprocal observation method, by adapting the philosophical concept “Epoché” (“suspension of judgment”) to transcultural studies (Transcultural Epoché) and by using dynamic processes of dialogue and co-writing methods (syntext) focusing on key concepts of different civilizations, which can lead to a deeper mutual understanding of cultures in a globalized world. 

The project of a “Euro-Chinese dictionary of cultural misunderstandings” summarizes the effort of Transcultura in human sciences. At the present time, the project involves 51 keys concepts that have a significant cultural background or deep roots in history, philosophy, religion, politics and economics. 

The potential for misunderstandings already exists between two European languages such as French and German at the word and concept levels. The proposed Dictionary of misunderstandings is therefore necessary a fortiori between two civilizations (cultures and languages) as important as China and Europe, both for the elites and for a large cultivated public, for researchers or diplomats, businesspeople and tourists. The aim is, therefore, to identify the closest key concepts expressed by a keyword in Chinese and European languages, respectively, and to put them into perspective.