CCD Exclusive Interview with Cultural Prof. Leopold Leeb: I Want to Be A Bridge between East and West

By Ruth Wang, October 20, 2015 22:10 PM

Leopold Leeb

When mentioning the history of Chinese-Western communication , Matteo Ricci, a Catholic missionary who came from Italy must be mentioned. In 1583 (Wanli Era of Ming Dynasty) he arrived in China, has been servicing in China, and the rest of the 28 years in his life, and was finally buried in this land.

As a pioneer, Matteo Ricci has spread the knowledge of western geometry, astronomy, geography, science and technology throughout China for the first time.

Therefore, he is known as the "first person of the eastward transmission of western sciences.” Meanwhile, he is also the first Western scholar to read and study Chinese classics such as "The Four Book.” Through his translations, the West was able to feel the charm of Chinese classical culture directly for the first time.

When he translated the Bible, he had a great esteem for the traditions and culture of China, specially selecting the word "God" from the references to "God". He put forward the thoughts of "combine Confucianism, benefit Confucianism, additional Confucianism and surpass the Confucian." It had a profound impact on the localization and contextualization of Christianity in China. Until now, Chinese Christians can still feel his wisdom and experience.

Hundreds of years later, the meaning of Chinese and Western communication is increasingly highlighted in the context of globalization

Leopold Leeb also has Matteo Ricci's style and lasting appeal. His hometown is Austria, Leeb came to Beijing in 1995.  On one hand, Ricci learned about Chinese classics, immersed himself in the Chinese lifestyle,and on the other hand, put effort and great concentration on the languages of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Western classical literature,while teaching and working on the research of Christian history and theology. Currently, he is planning to translate China's religious scholars’ workinto English.

Leeb says, Matteo Ricci is a friend of his mind, hundreds of years ago. Matteo Ricci has given him a lot of comfort and strength silently.

Indeed, although in the 21st century, planes, televisions and networks make our huge Earth into a global village, China and the West are still not so familiar with each other and do not understand each other yet.

Today, the difference is that distance is not a problem but the language gap results in difficulty of communication and understanding between both sidess

Although the English craze in china has lasted for years and the Chinese craze tends to ferment and emerge around the world, the gap cannot be filled. Leopold Leeb said: In his opinion, Chinese is originally one of the most difficult languages, while, the ideas behind Western language is the deduction of Hebrew ,Latin, and Greek. If we do not learn it, China cannot understand a real Westerner forever. Meanwhile, without a right way, the Chinese culture will not go to the world successfully and let the world know how wonderful it is.

"I want to be a bridge," says Leopold Leeb.

He never expected to come to China

At 20 years old, he never thought that he would come to China and that he would love it .Remembering those moments, he still feels as if only a generation had passed.

  Under the influence of a traditional Catholic family, his parents have specialized in medical service for 3 years, which left a deep imprint in his mind. At first, his life plan was to be a volunteer to help the poor in Africa after graduation.

But God's will will always exceed people's. During his college years, he happened to have a chance to study in Fujen Catholic University. His friends advised him not to go there because the Chinese language is difficult to learn,but when he heard that, it raised his morale intead. “The more difficult something is, the more there is to learn, I am not afraid of a challenge." So he  when he arrived in Taiwan, he had fallen in love with the Chinese language. Particularly, he was dreaming that it would be so wonderful to understand the original texts of Tao Te Ching and Analects of Confucius.

Returning from Taiwan in 1991,going through Hong Kong, he stayed for two weeks in Beijing.. During his short stay, he also fell in love with Beijing. Then, he returned to Austria complete his master study.In February 1995, he came to the Philosophy department of the Beijing university for a Ph.D. to study under Tang Yijie, China's contemporary philosopher and master of Chinese culture. In 1999, he completed his doctoral dissertation "Zhang Heng, science and religion,” opening the road to his research for his comparative study of Chinese and Western culture.

Later, he started to carry on research and translation in the World Religion Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences while teaching Latin and Ancient Greek. In February 2004, he wrote a self-recommendation to the three top universities in Beijing, proposing that he was able to teach Latin and Ancient Greek.

One univerity takes him for granted and another wanted him to teach German, his mother tongue, which disppointed him. Luckily, he was valued by RUC university and they  invited him to begin class.

During his first year, the school was worried about no students joining the class, making it  hard to open, but reality gives him the most powerful encouragement. So classes opened smoothly and many students benefitted from it. Until now, the lessons never break in.

Also, some students uploaded his classes to the web and has set up a "Leeb group" on Douban, attracting small crowds and very loyal fans who share in Leeb's lessons and experiences in the curriculum Hebrew, Greek and Latin.

Many fans said in the post that they really have no idea about these languages. Because Leeb preaches the importance of these languages, his great enthusiasm and sense of responsibility moved and attracted them to participate and stick to learning. “Leed is a good teacher,”many would say such a message.

Trying to prepare Chinese culture for the world

Beside importing, Leopold Leeb tends to think of exporting. He said that the nature of the bridge is bilateral communication and for now it was a little “single-tracked." So he has a sense of urgency and hope to bring balance. Therefore, he began to actively plan the translation of current outstanding Chinese works into English or German which will make the West know and understand China more.

This year, he has published an English book about introducing the Chinese scholar Liu Xiaofeng's early ideas. Next, he is most eager to translate into English the works of Professor He Guanghu who is a Chinese religious scholar and philosopher.. Theprofessor is one of the most excellent scholars, but foreign countries have already heard of him, but who introduce him? Who is he? Should Leeb take charge of introducing him?

He said that, frankly, his time is too tight and that he has many things have to do. But if he would not do it now, someone will be doing it 20 years later. This sense of mission is what drives him to undertake this work.

In his view, if he could only solve the problem of Chinese characters, the Chinese culture will go to the world. He said that Chinese pronunciation may be difficult but it is not the most difficult. Actually the hardest is learning about Chinese characters because there are 4,000 characters and a study of at least six to ten years is needed to remember all of them. But after studying all this,it is likely one would alreadybe a good reader or writer. But the length of time is what makes the foreigners want to stop learning.

Every time I back to Europe, I always encourage my family to learn Chinese, Chinese is so beautiful and well worth learning. But they just want to learn the easy way. When they begin to read thedictionary of Chinese characters, they find it difficult to find the Chinese character component radical and without tone. The Westerners become confused and it is hard for them to be motivated to continue.

So from the perspective of linguistics, Leeb has played a "greatly enrich one's mind" way of thinking, give a very special scientific solution: "My view is that the Chinese can't be abandoned, but can be simplified. As Chinese characters, because there are many simplified Chinese instead of the traditional Chinese experience, so, we can go step by step. "

Concerning the future plan, Leopold Leeb said that we should take root in the Chinese culture and become a "bridge" of communication between China and Western countries, blazing the trail to undersand each other.

"Facing so much work, when do you plan to go back to your hometown?" In the face of the sudden question, Leeb naturally responded "I have been Chinese, my home is already here." In his heart, he has already started thinking of  himself as Chinese.

His plain answer let me think of 400-years-ago Matteo Ricci. He has also never left China since he arrived and he stayed until he was buried in this land. Leeb not only inherited Matteo Ricci's spirit, he also spread the same light.

Emphasizing Chinese Christian Study Bible as classical text

As a Christian religious scholar, Leeb especially hoped that the Chinese Christians would emphasize on the learning of the original text of the Bible. Every Saturday afternoon, Leeb's regular schedule is involves holding a 3-hour open division in the oldest Catholic church XiShenKu wherein he voluntarily teaches ancient Latin, ancient Greek and ancient Hebrew. He leads the believers to read ancient Hebrew Psalms of the "Old Testament" and the New Testament in ancient Greek and part of the chapter in Matthew. He analyzes carefully the grammatical pattern of every word to let everyone understand the abundant meaning of every sentence directly.

The 70th anniversary of the parade of war of resistance against Japanese aggression in China has just finished on the second day, It is raining in Beijing even until the weekends,but Leeb continues to adhere to giving classes, which continue to be full from around 40 seats to nearly 60 people. Many people were willing to stand at the door or aisles for 2 to 3 hours. Even a young girl didn't come through the door because she was late,so she decided to listen to the teacher while standing outside beside the window. The cool of the late summer after the rain could be felt outside the classroom and  a sincereenthusiasm for learning could be felt inside the classroom.

Ancient Latin, ancient Greek, and ancient Hebrew are the three languages that are called "sacred" in the Western tradition of language, the Bible, and many theology classics.

Leeb believes that studying the text of Bible well may enrich our historical experiences and will better us to to face the many challenges of today. For example, the matter of the localization of Christianity in China.

"Not only Localization, in fact, the Chinese Christian faces many of the problems is not a new situation. A lot of these questions have appeared in the universal church history and have rich and real answers. The only problem is we do not know history, so it is hard to avoid to become vacant." Leeb stressed that the Chinese church needs to strengthen the sense of history and to learn the world church history. At the same time, they shold learn more about their own history because the Christian religion in China from the Tang Dynasty has more than 1000 years, "four into three out,", after a very tortuous develepment process, leaving many experiences and lessons that are available for reference.To be quiet, to dig into the history, to think with the reality, and creatively combined into reality,” he said.

The localization of Christianity is the progress of the social environment. Leeb will regard ”using the science method research Christian" as a career pursuit. Over the past decades, Chinese society has tolerated the Christian religion a lot.This is good progress. However, he also said objectively,the Chinese society and academic circles still need to know more about the Christian religion or at least acknowledge that "we still don't know much about it” and that “we need to understand it."

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