Our English name “Our Chinese Past” was selected to reflect our view of Australia’s Chinese history as an integral part of Australian history, something that belongs to all of us as Australians, whether descendants or not, just like our Irish or Scottish history. And while Australia’s Chinese history is our initial focus, the name allows us to extend our purview to the Chinese history of other places. The simplicity of the name’s wording reflects our down-to-earth approach.
Our Chinese name “本華社” was fashioned as an idiomatic equivalent, but its sense is more layered. The third character simply means “association”, while the second character means both “Chinese” and “splendour”. The first character has three distinct senses: “this/our” (as in “本村” “this/our village”); “original/early” (an extension of its primary sense of “root”—the character is a pictograph of a branched tree “木” with a stroke across its base to mark the root); and “to examine” or “to study” (this is a Literary Chinese verbal sense, as in the line “本其成敗之迹” and the words “本原” and “本察”). All of these senses were intended, and give rise to the following compound sense: “an association dedicated to what is ours and Chinese, to what is early and Chinese, and to examining and studying what is Chinese”, the connection to “splendour” being present throughout on account of the double sense of the word used for “Chinese”. (Of course, we don’t think that everything about Chinese Australian history was splendid, but as the Cantonese intellectual 康有為 K’ang Yu-wei observed on visiting Pompeii, the calamity that preserved it, like the cruel tyranny that produced the Great Wall, resulted in a splendour of a sort from the perspective of the modern observer.)
In Cantonese, spelt according to Yale romanisation, Our Chinese Past’s Chinese name is pronounced “bún wàh séh” (the U being sounded like the U in the English word “put”, and the EH like the word “air”). Our thanks to SBS Cantonese radio presenter Mr Aaron Wan for the polished Cantonese reading in the attached animation.
Posted by Our Chinese Past translator Ely Finch.