Is it a crime to learn a foreign language?

These days, learning a foreign language is considered a useful thing. The advantages are many: from travelling to foreign countries to getting a preferential treatment in the ethnic restaurants of your own to keeping the dementia away.

This was not always a case though, at least for China. Until 1844, it was illegal for a foreigner to learn Chinese. That changed for America, when Caleb Cushing had negotiated the Treaty of Wanghia, which made it possible for Americans – and Americans only – to learn Chenese. Later, the privilege was extended to Britain and other countries.

This whole story comes up, because China has a new project of translating Chinese classics into modern Chinese, English and – potentially – other languages. This Library of Chinese Classics spans 5000 years of Chinese culture and includes all the famous works.

It should be useful for language learning as well as for general reading pleasure, as it will come with original and English text on the facing pages.

It would also be very interesting to find out what other languages are planned and in what order. Russian used to be a language that many official documents got translated to early on. Would Russian be even on a list now? Would Esperanto, still one of the transmission languages of the China Radio International?