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Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Condoleezza Rice's Mission to Middle-East

Weiji, "Cris-atunity" and Iraq

Glenn Kessler's report from Riyadh in the Washington Post contains interesting nuggets about opinions held by Saudi Arabian foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, an influential voice in the Arab world. Secretary Rice threw in a comment about weiji, the Chinese term for crisis but an article in NY Times tells us that she was wrong.

What Secretary Rice said:
"I don't read Chinese but I am told that the Chinese character for crisis is weiji, which means both danger and opportunity," Rice said. "And I think that states it very well. We'll try to maximize the opportunity."

Rice did not say where she learned this aphorism but oddly enough it was once featured on "The Simpsons," as this excerpt from an episode shows:

Lisa: "Look on the bright side, Dad. Did you know that the Chinese use the same word for 'crisis' as they do for 'opportunity'?"

Homer: "Yes! Cris-atunity."

From New York Times, Reading File: December 18, 2005

By Any Other Name

On pinyin.info, a Web site about the Chinese language, Victor H. Mair, a professor of Chinese at the University of Pennsylvania, explodes the myth that "crisis," in Chinese means both "danger" and "opportunity."

A whole industry of pundits and therapists has grown up around this one grossly inaccurate formulation. A casual search of the Web turns up more than a million references to this spurious proverb. It appears, ... often complete with Chinese characters, on the covers of books, on advertisements for seminars, on expensive courses for "thinking outside of the box" and practically everywhere one turns in the world of quick-buck business, pop psychology, and orientalist hocus-pocus. ...

Like most Mandarin words, that for "crisis" (weiji) consists of two syllables that are written with two separate characters, wei and ji. The ji of weiji, in fact, means something like "incipient moment; crucial point (when something begins or changes)." Thus, a weiji is indeed a genuine crisis, a dangerous moment, a time when things start to go awry. A weiji indicates a perilous situation when one should be especially wary. It is not a juncture when one goes looking for advantages and benefits. In a crisis, one wants above all to save one's skin and neck!

Washington Post

Regarding Bush's plan, Saud was distinctly tepid. He said that he supports "the objectives" of the plan -- i.e., an end to violence and a stable government -- but he made no mention of the specific details. Indeed, when questioned on whether he supports the details, Saud shrugged off the question. Reporters knew that Rice, who arrived in Riyadh at 8 p.m. on Monday, had stayed up until 2:30 a.m. in a visit to the king's hunting camp. She then also had morning meetings. But Saud said there was not enough time to discuss the details of a plan that Bush had outlined in a 20-minute speech.

Then, Saud unexpectedly allowed another round of questions. Asked what he would do if Bush's plan does not succeed, Saud skillfully sounded a positive note -- "why speculate on such dire consequences?" -- while offering a devastating description of the situation in Iraq.

"Why not speculate on the positive side that everybody will come together and hopefully move out of the morass that exists in Iraq which serves nobody -- Shiites or Sunnis or Turkmen or Kurds. It serves no one," Saud said. "It serves no neighboring country, no regional power and no international power."


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