Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Man’chi is not liking

A post at tor.com: “Man’chi” Is Not the Same as “Liking”: Intercultural Communication in C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner Series

My very first reaction: well, of course not. No one translates man’chi as “liking.” It would be more correct to translate it as “loyalty.”

Reading the article, I see that it spends rather more time on a plot summary of the first three books than I would prefer, and then focuses on linguistics. The linguistics part is interesting, but not as interesting as the concept of man’chi. That’s what I want to focus on.

It’s not that humans mis-translate man’chi as “liking” or “loving.” That isn’t the problem. The problem is that humans expect atevi to feel friendship or some similar positive emotion in the same contexts that humans feel that kind of positive emotions, and therefore act in the same way a human would act. Then those those expectations get in the way of predicting atevi behavior.

But man’chi doesn’t mean anything similar to “liking.” It’s a word that, when atevi use it, always means something more like “loyalty” — or so it seems to me. Speaking as someone who has read the whole series several times.

It seems to me that it works like this: man’chi is a direct sense of hierarchy; an emotional tropism toward the leader. Those individuals who all feel man’chi toward the same leader are associates and feel some positive emotion toward each other that might best be expressed as “that person can be relied on.”

Thus, for example, I don’t believe it’s correct to say that Banichi and Jago feel man’chi toward each other. They both feel man’chi toward Bren and toward Tabini, but they feel something toward each other that is different. I would argue that this is something like a sense that the other person has rock-solid reliability in the identical man’chi. Atevi do not appear to have a word for this feeling, but it seems to me that this is the feeling that replaces “friendship.”

It’s even quite possible they use the word man’chi to mean both kinds of feelings, just as English uses the world “love” to mean a boatload of different feelings. That doesn’t mean the emotion is the same, and in fact, it cannot be the same.

As it happens, English has a word for “positive emotions toward other individuals.” This word is “affiliative.” It encompasses the positive emotions a person feels toward their spouse or lover, toward their parents, towards their children, and towards their friends. All of those are positive. All of them can be called “love.” All of them are different. I hereby declare that this word — affiliative — can also be used to encompass at least three distinct types of positive emotions that atevi experience toward other individuals.

The affiliative emotions atevi feel must, at a minimum, include:

–man’chi, a feeling directed toward a leader.

–something else, possibly also called man’chi, a feeling that someone else reliably feels man’chi in the same direction and can be depended on.

–something else, probably not called man’chi, a feeling toward an individual whose loyalty is unimportant; for example, a young child. Some emotion has to cause a mother to take care of her baby. Tabini cannot feel man’chi toward his son Cajiri. He has to feel some other affiliative emotion. This is that.

It is important to note that these are all positive emotions and that it is quite all right for a human to think that an ateva feels a positive emotion toward him. The emotional experience is not the same, but it’s an emotion and it’s positive and that’s why Bren’s emotional needs can in fact largely be met by atevi.

If one defines loyalty to the leader as the central atevi emotion, and a feeling that others can be relied on to share that loyalty as the emotional glue that holds people together, then poof! Atevi social behavior at once becomes predictable. If humans had framed Atevi associations in that way to begin with, and acted in accordance with that understanding, they wouldn’t have accidentally caused the War of the Landing.

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2 Comments Man’chi is not liking

  1. Hanneke

    I agree with your analysis, and think that the translation of the emotion as “that person can be relied upon” is spot-on.

    That’s an emotion that can vary in intensity towards different people in different circumstances, from the mild and sort of abstract/institutional sense of “I trust my postman to deliver my mail and not steal my cheques” up to very powerful and strong bonds in both atevi and humans too, e.g. in some families and in strongly bonded teams that operate in difficult circumstances. Not so different there, after all.

    It might also explain the downward part of man’chi, what a leader feels towards his followers – there’s a clear expectation of responsibility there, though an absence of sentimentality. A leader might (should?) feel supported by the trust that followers place in him, and reciprocate with the feeling of “I will not throw away this reliable support”, or like a general “I will not waste these troops’ lives for nothing, though I may need to spend them to gain something important” – where the followers need to agree that what their leader sees as important will be important to the group/country, not just his own ambition.

    Some of this may also play an instinctive part in the parent-child bond; the child’s man’chi in the early years is directed towards its (caretaker) parent, and the parent may feel the responsibility for nurturing this devoted follower, to ensure lifelong loyalty, and not waste all the resources spent on creating and nurturing it. Failing the nurturing expectations of the child may cause the child to look for such care elsewhere, and lose the parent their chance at a reliable co-supporter in their leader’s group.

    The few hints of some people wanting to marry someone from an incompatible man’chi group might be people who had such an “unsafe”, instable, attachment to their home group, who finally found someone with similar ideas who proved themselves reliable – or it could be a different biological system driving that.

    Both the urge to find a mate to procreate with, and the urge to protect and nurture the offspring (in species like atevi and humans that went for the few large-investment offspring strategy rather than the neglectfull mass-offspring strategy) are very strong and old, and may predate the herd behaviour and its attendant biological processes.

  2. Rachel

    Great comments, Hanneke. I really like the way you laid out “this person can be relied on” on a spectrum from postman to close kin. You could well be right about the feeling atevi have toward children, which has given me some trouble.

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