Daily Archives: 24 February 2009

Wordcatcher Tales: Kanson Minpi

Kyushu-based blogger Ampontan, who reads a broader range of Japanese media much more carefully than do the habitués of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo, cites a useful Sino-Japanese four-character idiom (yojijukugo) in his lengthy analysis of former Prime Minister Koizumi’s exasperated lambasting of the backsliding by his successors on key aspects of his popular reform agenda.

The New Nelson translates glosses 官尊民卑 kanson minpi as ‘overemphasis on government at the expense of the people’, a phrase that applies all too well to the rest of the world, too.

kan (= tsukasa) means ‘government; officials’, as in 官僚 kanryou ‘bureaucracy, officialdom’ and 官話 kanwa ‘Mandarin language, officialese’.

son (= tattoi, toutoi) means ‘respect, honor’, as in 尊敬 sonkei ‘respect, reverence’ and 尊厳死 songenshi ‘death with dignity’.

min (= tami) means ‘people’, as in 民衆主義 minshushugi ‘democracy’ and 民間活力 minkankatsuryoku ‘private sector vitality’.

hi (= iyashii) means ‘humble, base, vulgar’, as in 卑見 hiken ‘my humble opinion (MHO)’ and 卑金属 hikinzoku ‘base metal’.

So a literal rendition of the compound might be ‘officials [get] respect, citizens [get] disdain’ or in Doc Rock‘s smoother formulation: ‘respecting officials [while] disrespecting citizens’.


Filed under democracy, Japan, language