Named and shamed

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The famous Sinologist John King Fairbank was better known as Fei Zhengqing in China. His Chinese name was regarded as one of the best names for a foreigner, carrying a meaning of integrity and purity. It was given to him by Fei’s good friend Liang Sicheng, a Chinese architect and son of the scholar and reformer Liang Qichao.

Jonathan Spence, another renowned scholar of Chinese history, named himself Shi Jingqian. His Chinese family name Shi translates as ‘history’, while Jing means ‘admire’ and Qian is taken from the name of grand Chinese historian Sima Qian of the Han Dynasty.

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has been honing his spoken Mandarin for more than a year. And last month when he crossed paths with Xi Jinping during the Chinese president’s state visit to the US, Zuckerberg was confident enough in his language training to converse with him in Mandarin. “On a personal note, this was the first time I’ve ever spoken with a world leader entirely in a foreign language. I consider that a meaningful personal milestone,” he wrote on his Facebook timeline.

Seated with Xi at the head table at a White House state dinner, Zuckerberg then took things a step further by inviting Xi to nominate a Chinese name for his as yet unborn daughter, according to news website Xi declined to help, adding politely that it would be “too much responsibility”.

Zuckerberg wants Beijing to lift a ban on Facebook in China. But his plea to have Xi bestow a name on his daughter has won him little applause in China, where many netizens concluded that it sounded a little too fawning. “The request itself shows that Zuckerberg still doesn’t understand Chinese culture too well, though he is married to a Chinese woman,” one netizen wrote on weibo.

“Maybe Priscilla [his wife] should think of a Chinese name for Zuckerberg first,” another said.

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