China “Asleep” and “Awakening”: A Study in Conceptualizing Asymmetry and Coping with It

Languages continually enrich themselves and other languages with concepts they exchange. While not a modern phenomenon, denser and faster communication during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has resulted in a large-scale homogenization of the newly-emerged national languages around a core of globalized concepts with a modern order and hierarchy. The common features of these concepts are hidden below the linguistic surface of the respective languages, with most speakers being generally unaware of their existence. As concepts are abstract and therefore unable to guide action in time and space directly, recourse is generally taken to metaphor and simile. These in turn lend themselves to visual representations such as political cartoons. This article investigates the migration of such metaphors and their visualized forms across languages and cultures. It will focus on the metaphor of “China asleep/China awakened”, which became common parlance during the nineteenth century and has remained in the global metaphorical canon to this day. The article addresses the dynamics of this highly asymmetrical translingual and transcultural migration, the cultural brokers involved, as well as the contact zones where the exchanges take place. Keywords: metaphors, asymmetry, transcultural, cartoons, politics, linguistics
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