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The weakness in Zhang’s reasoning lies mainly in his confusion over the multiple meanings of the word mínzú 民族. As pointed out on Language Log just a few days ago in “Racist Park”, mínzú 民族 can mean “ethnic group; race; nationality; people; nation”. Coming from the English side, we must keep in mind that “nation” can be translated into Chinese as guó 国 (“country”), guójiā 国家 (“country”), guódù 国度 (“country; state”), bāng 邦 (“state”), and, yes, mínzú 民族 (“ethnic group; race; nationality; people; nation”).
It is clear that, when Biden said “China is a great nation”, he was respectfully referring to the country as a whole. Yet the sensitivity to questions of ethnicity in China, especially with regard to the shǎoshù mínzú 少数民族 (“ethnic / national minorities”), e.g., Uyghurs, Tibetans, and scores of others, caused Zhang to take umbrage over something that the Vice President never intended.
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