Chinese History: The First Unification

I just started reading 《大秦帝国》(lit big Qin god country), which is about the first time China was unified (I guess you could say the first time it was well, China). It’s slow reading*, obviously, but I’d rather plow through a history book than breeze through a Manga (or even better, breeze through a history Manga, I don’t know any, suggestions?). I love it though and it’s true if you do things you already like in the language you’re trying to learn, you’re more likely to continue to be motivated and learn tons. I guess I shouldn’t have tried so hard to read Manga when my idea of a good time is to sit down with a good non-fiction book or watch a movie. So it goes. For those who don’t like to sit and read big heavy books there’s also a course on coursera it’s taught by professor 吕世浩 from Taipei’s National University and has simplified subtitles.

Back to the book. My conversation partner, let’s call her J, recommended it to me cause she’s also reading it. (Btw I love language exchange, I’ll write a post on that later, but I seriously learn better like that and I’m glad she didn’t think my Chinese wasn’t good enough for the book). According to her, this point in history is really important for China not just because it was the first time China was unified, but also because the way the territory was administrated really hasn’t changed so much. I took her word for it. Within the first few lines of the book I was hooked:

« 中国民族的强势生存


——话说中国民族的强势生存之一 »

lit: China nation’s survival with might, the world once had this kind of China, it is said china nation’s survival with might was on of many

A less literal, but probably equally bad translation: “China, a nation who survived gloriously, the world has known this China, and it is said its glorious survival was unequaled**.”

Now, before you thinking, “Well, that’s kind of arrogant.” You have to admit, there’s no other civilization that has perdured for as long as the Chinese, they have to get some credit for that.

On to the Chinese, there’s an interesting expression in there I found hard to translate: 强势生存. I have it translated as “survive gloriously” I think also “will to survive” could do it, you guys tell me. It makes sense if you take it apart: 强势 (qiáng shì) wich, according to my dictionary (pleco) means “strong momentum”; then you have 生存 (shēng cún), which means “to survive, exist”. The way J explained it to me is basically that the 强势 makes a difference with a weak momentum. That’s to say, you can either survive with glory, or strength or you can survive just barely.

Then comes my favorite phrase explaining this whole “survival” idea:


lit: nation is humanity’s struggle for existence/survival crystal, is surge dredges sand result

And after many tries and thought, I have attempted a more literary translation:

“A nation is the result of humanity’s unrelenting struggle to survive, a crystal dredged up from the sand through the constant crashing of waves.”

I know, it’s a very humble first attempt. The idea is basically that people are constantly struggling to survive, they are like the sand on a beach, subject to the waves and the way people survive successfully is by forming a nation. My interpretation may be off let me know what you think.

[I know the book is pretty much “fictional”, but in my interpretation of history this counts as history, perhaps we would call this a historical novel, full of little details for which we have no “evidence”. That is a different debate.]

For those who are interested, I have stocked up the shared folder and moved it to google drive. Shoot me an e-mail if you want in.

*I really don’t recommend anyone to take this book on, unless they’re really into history and are at an upper-intermediate advanced level. Or want to be looking up every other word.

**You might think unequaled is a bit strong, but the first parragraph makes me think that’s what he meant.

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