Monday, 27 October 2014 00:00

The Second Life of the “Grand Ricci”


At the end of August 2014, Beijing Commercial Press (or Shangwu, one of the biggest Chinese publishing house, owner of the Xinhua Dictionary, the world's most popular reference work) launched a volume more than 2,000 pages: The Ricci-Shangwu Chinese-French Dictionary, a revised and shortened edition of the "Grand Ricci", the seven-volume dictionary published in 2001 by the Ricci Institutes of Taipei and Paris. (Since then, the two Institutes have entrusted the Ricci Association with moral and financial rights over the work.)


Wednesday, 17 September 2014 00:00

La seconde vie du Grand Ricci


Fin août 2014, les Presses Commerciales de Pékin (l'une des plus grandes maisons d'édition chinoise, éditrice, entre autres, du Dictionnaire Xinhua - le dictionnaire le plus vendu au monde) ont sorti un volume de plus de 2000 pages, le « Dictionnaire Ricci Chinois-Français », une édition révisée et raccourcie du Grand Ricci , le dictionnaire publié en 2001 par les Instituts Ricci de Taipei et Paris, dont les droits ont depuis été confiés à « l'Association Ricci pour le grand dictionnaire français de la langue chinoise » . L'ouvrage devrait atteindre les librairies de Chine début octobre.

Depuis les premiers contacts entre les Instituts Ricci et les Presses commerciales (Shangwu), il aura fallu attendre quinze ans... Mais le délai était largement justifié : les Presses commerciales ont effectué un travail d'exception, qui fait de ce dictionnaire – et pour très longtemps – l'outil de référence lexicographique entre le chinois et le français. Le choix des expressions a été fait avec scrupule, les expressions douteuses ou fautives ont été corrigées, un choix éclairé de nouvelles expressions venues du chinois contemporain a été introduit sans pour autant affadir l'ancrage du Ricci dans l'histoire de la langue et de la pensée chinoises. Les traditions lexicographiques combinées des Presses Commerciales et des Ricci ont livré ensemble ce qu'elles avaient de meilleur... Ouvrant le dictionnaire, je me remémorais avec joie ma première visite dans le « temple » intimidant des Presses Commerciales en 1999 : Zhang Wenying, l'éditrice qui m'accueillait alors a finalement coordonné jusqu'au bout le projet. Entre tous les partenaires impliqués, la confiance et l'estime n'ont fait que croître au long des années.

L'origine du grand Ricci remonte au « Bureau d'étude sinologique » de Zikawei, à Shanghai, dans les années 1880, et au travail accompli par les sinologues jésuites français Léon Wieger et Séraphin Couvreur dans le Hebei à partir de la même époque. Il avait été repris notamment par les pères Eugen Zsamar, Yves Raguin, Jean Lefeuvre et Claude Larre après qu'ils avaient quitté la Chine. Il était grand temps que ce fruit de la sinologie jésuite « rentre » en Chine, et qu'il le fasse corrigé, mûri, porté à fruition par la meilleure institution lexicographique chinoise. La parution du « Ricci-Shangwu » n'est pas seulement un événement éditorial. Ancrée dans une longue histoire, elle est un signe fort de fidélité et d'espérance.


Wednesday, 09 January 2013 15:28

The Width and Depth of the Ocean within Me: In Memory of Yves Raguin

In 2012, we celebrated the centenary of the birth of Father Yves Raguin, founder of the Taipei Ricci Institute. Born in November 1912, Father Raguin died in December 1998 at Tien Educational Center in Taipei. After having studied theology in Paris and Sinology at Harvard, Yves Raguin lived in China, Vietnam, The Philippines and, for most of his career, Taiwan. He was a prolific author, mainly but not solely on comparative spirituality, and also a lexicographer who for many years directed the Ricci Dictionary project – the largest Chinese –foreign language dictionary in the world – and a beloved spiritual director.


The connection between his centenary anniversary and Pacific studies may seem an odd one, but there are several reasons for associating the Pacific with Fr Raguin's life and spirituality. First, there is the creation of the Taipei Ricci Institute in 1964-1966: Fr Raguin made the Institute a place of encounter, research and creativity till he left its direction in 1996 – and it is because of fidelity to his inspiration that the Institute later on shifted its focus towards Pacific studies. Second, Fr Raguin himself was no stranger to the Pacific world. Not only did his long stays in Vietnam and Taiwan make him a man of the Asia Pacific, but he also directed spiritual retreats and gave courses in The Philippines, Canada or Papua New Guinea among other places.


The main connection between the celebration of his birth and Pacific studies is that Yves Raguin focused all of his life on the quest for resonance and encounters between the different spiritual experiences that humankind has engaged in – and the spiritual style he slowly developed has oceanic undertones; pondering over his experiences may help us integrate the melodies and resonances we are gathering these days into the polyphony of world spirituality. I still remember Yves Raguin telling me one day, shortly before his death, how much he had always desired to see Chinese spiritual resources "fully integrated into humankind's spiritual computer." Yves Raguin used a typewriter all his life and never browsed the Internet. He had only a vague understanding of what a computer was like, but knew well enough the point relevant for his metaphor: a computer was a machine processing the data entered into it as an integrated whole, in which connections could be drawn in all directions.


Yves Raguin always placed the virtue of attentiveness at the core of any spiritual adventure. In "Contemplation East and West" he writes:


Contemplation is not a means of attention towards things beyond this world but rather an attention to things as they are. All things possess within themselves a mystery, and the more knowledge we have of these things, the more we realize the depth of the mystery within them. (...) If I practice what is called in Confucianism, investigation of things ge wu , I will be facing a mystery of things and I will be taken in by a kind of contemplation. It is the concrete awareness of the essential nature of things which puts me in silence before the mystery of this same nature. It is this essential nature of reality that science cannot grasp. This deep inner attitude described by the two terms serenity and a quiet being together with all things, has always been what wise women and men have been searching for in all parts of the world."

Elsewhere he notes:

Prayer is nothing but a simple awareness that in the beginning can be very painful. (The soul) feels cutoff from her normal activity and so, from herself. This barely perceptible presence forces the soul into deep solitude. She has no felt support outside this presence that draws her attention.

It seems to me that the primal role given to the "attention to the mystery of things' in spiritual development is what anchors Yves Raguin's spirituality within a multifaceted tradition open to what the writer Romain Rolland, in his correspondence with Sigmund Freud, called the "Oceanic feeling." Through this expression he was trying to encapsulate a feeling of infinity that palpitates beyond all structured religious belief. Nowadays, Rolland's "Oceanic feeling" has become no more than a footnote in the history of religious psychology. Freud was not very appreciative: "How foreign to me are the worlds in which you move! Mystique is as closed to me as music" he wrote to Rolland – who replied," I can hardly believe that mysticism and music are foreign to you. I rather think that you are afraid of them, as you wish to keep the instrument of critical reason unblemished."

Going one step beyond Rolland, one may say that, for the one who through attentiveness enters into the mystery of things as they are, the presence of the ultimate mystery in the soul is like the triumphant sound of the waves - and this "like" means two things at once: first, it speaks of the universal character of spiritual experience; and secondly, it recognizes the fact that no comparison can account for the way this mystery makes itself present within the depths of man. What the Oceanic feeling helps us understand is that joy arises in our soul always as something nascent. The joy that comes from the light of the day within the darkness of our depths is sung and evoked by the movement of an ocean everlasting and yet nascent, by the rhythm of the waves engraving and erasing their writings on the sand with a finger trembling and yet assured. Eventually, the Oceanic feeling makes us glimpse at the mystery of the birth of the divine within the soul: a gift eternally offered – and always new.

As an example of Yves coming into contact with this "oceanic experience", let us look at this passage from his spiritual diary in February 1979:

My internal being was enlightened, and an intimate touch of softness was entering into me. It was like a tenderness that was invading and attracting me, but without uprooting me from my humaneness. On the contrary, it was like the constant realization within me of a new incarnation. (...) Departing from Paris on January 5, I have given retreats in Thailand and in Papua New Guinea. I am now in the Philippines and in a few weeks I will be again in Taiwan. I can only say 'thanks" for all the love shown to me by the Lord during this trip around the world started in June. Everything has become very simple. This love of the Lord asks simply from me to be myself so as to let him be himself within me.

The deceiving simplicity of this paragraph should not hide the depth of meaning it opens: a given spiritual tradition – here, the western mystical tradition, with undertones coming from St Bernard, Meister Eckardt and St Ignatius - becomes somehow "globalized' by an operation of "rarefaction" or "distillation" that connects it not only to so-called Eastern spiritualities but to spiritual experiences as lived in many tongues, many customs and many settings. The experience here related is about the realization of what one is really called to be, in one's given tradition and calling, so as to let one's particularity become the creative humus in which other people will learn to similarly recognize what they are themselves called to be. Universality is not an "essence", but rather a process, awakened by the creative fidelity to what I come from and to what I am called to be. The ocean on which Yves Raguin tirelessly traveled was certainly that of the infinity of god – emptiness and plenitude – dwelling within our limited self; it was at the same time the ocean of the astounding variety of our human spiritual experiences, scattered like islands among the Sea of Unknowing. In his view, these two immensities were revealed and illuminated by one another. His writings and his example still encourage us to explore both the width and the depth of the Ocean that gave us birth and carries us beyond even our dreams.

Excerpt of a speech pronounced during the 2012 International Austronesian Conference in Taipei, November 27th


Thursday, 24 May 2007 09:15

How Culture Transcends Politics

First of all, starting from the position I am holding in Hong Kong since a few years, I ask myself: what do Hong Kong people see in Taiwan, and what attracts them there?
They come to see the cultural values of this place, from Eslite bookstore to small eateries in the mountains, puppet shows of the Huang family, aboriginal people’s songs and craftsmanship, the Hakkas’ flower festival, inns… this is the Taiwan that deserves to be appreciated.
Especially the night life, the night markets of Taiwan attract a lot of Hong Kong people who come to Taiwan for the evening markets of Shilin and Liuhe, the colorful night life and riverside coffee shops of Kaohsiung…

Seen at a first glance, the so-called cultural values seem to be an abstraction, Once they are located in a well-oriented space, most characteristics however find their respective position.。For example say, if “creativity” and ’ “pluralism” (including democracy and the protection of the weakest among us) are considered as two axis, the Taiwan characteristic of discussing, debating that goes within all cultural activities appears out naturally : the Huang family puppet show originates from a variety of cultural currents, showing Taiwan’s pluralism, elasticity and capacity of absorption.
Same thing for the night market with the heterogeneity of its flavors and the plurality of its manifestations.
The experience of the night market life echoes Richard Florida ‘s “The Rise of the Creative Class” (2002) on the characteristics that most awakens the creative mind .

How the stranger sees us is one thing, the other side of the mirror is how we consider ourselves. Considering oneself allows one to go beyond external representations and false pretence. For instance, the idea of “the human rights originating from one’s talent “ originally opposes “the divine right of kings” and the reflection on what “talents” entails has been developed through the Enlightenment. Creativity is not a characteristic of a given place, Margaret Boden in “The creative mind” shows that such mind can indeed improve through practicing. By being conscious that we are a people filled with creativity, we naturally reinforce our creative power.
The founding spirit of every country starts a process of self-reinforcement.
For example say, after the French Revolution, the red blue white three color flag was not an ethnic symbol but was attached to the universal ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity.
The U.S.A., by becoming a melting pot was fulfilling the democratic ideal of its founders and the ideal of human rights enshrined in the Constitution. Also refer to Turner’s “The Significance of Frontier in American History” when it comes to the Western spirit , a mythology that can be adulterated, but, even in its political uses and abuses of today, refers to a founding spirit - and Americans still keep up a dream of youth, progress and heroism.

As to us, Taiwanese, where are the cultural values that define our identity?
If “creativity” and “pluralism” are indeed our cultural characteristics, they also might become a topic for tourism promotion. Becoming “the island of creativity” , “pluralist island”, whether it refers to the experience of going to Eslite, coffee house experience , night market experience (Florida says: for the creative man, “Experience” replaces goods and service as the main consumption item), and recognizing this characteristics as our assets will bring in people from the whole world.
In other words, this is a self-reinforcing characteristic that can be put into practice at the level of community life. Building consensually on these values, accumulating tacitly a certain lifestyle, we, Taiwanese, who are extremely flexible, are able to design and mould the figure of our own culture as perceived everywhere.

In fact, this will allow Taiwanese to display self-confidence too, linking “the island of creativity” with the creativity displayed in the world as a whole. This is a direction full of potentialities as it will allow us to go beyond the stranger’s idea of a Taiwan flowing with money, and also to go against an image built on “hardware” for enhancing the Taiwanese “software’ provided by creativity and pluralism.

Let us turn back to the way Hong Kong, Taipei and Kaohsiung are respectively underestimating each other. Hong Kong is always treating Taiwan with contempt for its messy politics, Taiwan sees Hong Kong as a bird cage, while Hong Kong people, with a functionalist approach, will find the narrow alleys or the humble airport building too unattractive.
Our “island of creativity and pluralism” is actually hurt by over-politicization and by the primacy given to money as a value and means of decision:
Narrow political vocabulary
Vulgarized Confucianism used to consider the relationships between political decision makers and the people on the Father-Son relationships model
In modern time, the willingness to counterbalance the ancient attitude and establish democracy has led to overstate the influence of politics.
Money oriented value system
Commercial values are predominant, standardizing not only products but also demands. “The Disappearance of Childhood” by Neil. Postman was already saying, many years ago , that standardization and brands were threatening the experience of childhood, making the child use the vocabulary of adults and losing creativity.
In our Chinese tradition, the great mission of any individual was to continue the family lineage, and the sense of insecurity created by the possibility of the lineage not continuing was fostering the accumulation of wealth. So far, what Taiwan worries about most is the decline of the economic figures and of having no money. But is it that kind of accumulation that will earn us the respect of the world inhabitants?

If Taiwan indeed nurtures a colorful cultural scenery, then, borrowing the expression of Benoit Vermander, though it cannot become a “normal (ordinary) member”, it might transform itself into a “outstanding (extraordinary) member” of the international community ----This kind of self- understanding is actually what Taiwan can share with other people, and the personnel stationed abroad of Taiwan, could help to popularize and introduce this specific culture. A bolder proposal (forgive me for I am also a creator) would be to merge the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the Ministry of Culture and the Tourism bureau…
Taking again as an example Hong Kong which I comparatively know very well, in November 2006, our centre made great efforts to introduce a “Taiwan month”, overcoming the doubts raised about Taiwan politics, mobilizing Taiwan residents and entrepreneurs, surmounting political divisions, during that month, in the Hong Kong media, the “November-Taiwan month” formula was spread all around, while exchanges naturally developed from heart to heart, and it is worth mentioning that on the ground, the course of arrangement was by itself a creation process, with fundraising being more and more provided by Hong Kong charities proper, and the “creativity of Taiwan” being more and more connected to concerns about Hong Kong local society.
In a word, when looking at Taiwan from the cultural viewpoint, its peculiar vision is displayed by the accumulation of experiences in civil society and democratic politics for so many years now. Think about it: if one day, on the signboards on the buses, train station, performance halls on the each metropolis of the world is on display the creative culture of Taiwan, maybe Taiwan does not need to be worried by the number of its diplomatic allies! Using the cultural card this way, letting Taiwan go to the world, letting the world see Taiwan, this might be the best present to offer to this “island of creativity.”
And going one step further, if in each place in the world cultural pluralism and creativity are the basis for international relations, then, hostility in the world will be reduced, goodwill increased, and cooperation too will increase naturally, reaching the objective of ensuring “world governance”…



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