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

3 responses to “Wordcatcher Tales: Kanson Minpi

  1. I’d call Nelson’s excellent entry a gloss/an explanation rather than a translation. I’d recommend as a “close” translation:
    “respecting officials [while] disrespecting citizens”.
    By the way, 官尊民卑 would be pronounced guan1 zun1 min2 bei1 in Mandarin and gwanjolminbi 관졸민비in Korean. The Chinese call these four character sayings cheng2 yu3 成語 = idiom/set phrase and Koreans generally call them sajaseong-eo 사자성어 四字成語 = four character idioms.

  2. jhr

    There’s actually another compound that has basically the same structure: 男尊女卑 meaning roughly “domination of men over women”.

  3. Correction of 1st comment: ” . . . gwanjolminbi 관졸민비in Korean” should read ” . . . gwanjonminbi 관존민비in Korean”.

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