By promoting dialogue between China and the West, the Marco Polo Project hopes to contribute to the important work of citizen diplomacy. Citizen diplomacy describes the action of average citizens engaging as representatives of a country or a cause, inadvertently or by design.
Some analysts see the rise of China as a risk for the world. We see it is as an immense opportunity, but only if solid, grass-roots exchanges are built, to bridge the (real or imaginary) gap between cultures. Increased international travel and an added interest in sister cities initiatives with China align with our project. The Marco Polo Project proposes to be part of this grassroots web knitting between China and the rest of the world.
Other programs and projects exist. Some are institutional, such as artistic and sports exchanges, school partnerships, international student exchanges, or sister city parterings. With the rise of social media, there are also decentralised systems like couch-surfing and hospitality club. We will partner with actors in this sphere, to echo this web of relations in the real and the virtual world.
Our focus on translation is of specific importance here. The act of translating is a diplomatic negotiation, between common usage in the source and target langauges. Good translators are experts at monitoring this stylistic gap – they are trained cultural mediators. The website will build intercultural competency through linguistic exercise.
Linguistic and cultural comprehension are distinct; however, they are not disconnected. Learners will read contemporary Chinese essays which Chinese speakers have found were good enough to be sent internationally. They will also build up their language skills, to discuss issues and articulate point of views. But mostly, they will learn to mediate, interpret choices for others, through their comments and edits, discussing the meaning of passages among themselves.