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, the denser and faster communications during the 19th and 20th centuries have resulted in a large-scale homogenization of the world's modern languages around a core of globalized concepts with their modern order and hierarchy. The common features of these concepts are hidden below the linguistic surface of the different languages and most speakers are unaware of them. Concepts are abstract and cannot directly guide action in time and space. For this purpose, recourse is taken to metaphor and simile. These in turn lend themselves to become the material for visual representation, for example in political cartoons.
The 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.” This metaphor became common parlance during the 19th 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, and the contact zones where the exchanges take place.