Posts tagged ‘language’

Monday, December 10, 2018

Pete Myers, 1939 – 1998

December 15, this coming weekend, marks the 20th death anniversary of Pete Myers, probably the past century’s greatest radio personality without a Wikipedia entry of his own.

Here is an excerpt from one of his programs, broadcast on October 11, 1992, an official day of mourning in the Netherlands, one week after the Bijlmer disaster.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Plans for English as an Official Taiwanese Language

Duties and a receptive mode (online and offline) are keeping me from blogging at the moment.

by-products

If I had blogged this month, one topic might have been about Taiwan’s (sensible, I believe) plans to make English their second official language. To survive under Chinese pressure, international perceptibility – i. e. communication – is a key issue for Taiwan.

There had been plans to make English official for some time, but they appear to have been taking shape this summer. Pan-blue leaning United Daily News (UDN) published an online article in March this year, quoting both people in favor and against the idea, including criticism by a Chengchi University professor:

Chengchi University professor Her One-Soon says that this, in ideological terms, is about surrender to Western power. “Currently, most of the countries of the world that have made English an official language have been colonized by Britain and America”, but has Taiwan? If [English] is really to become an official language, it only represents Taiwan’s inferiority complex towards its own language and culture.

政大語言所教授何萬順則說,這樣在意識形態上是向西方強權屈膝,「目前世界大多國家以英文做為官方語言,都是被英美殖民過」,但台灣有嗎?若是真的定為官方語言,只是代表台灣對自身語言文化的自卑。

If statistics of six years ago are something to go by, there may be more practical issues that would need to be solved. In November 2012, the English-language Taipei Times quoted a foreign education company’s study which said that proficiency in English was low.

Currently, Taiwan is ranked as a country with rather low proficiency by “Education First” (which emphasizes the importance of perceptibility by listing Taiwan as “Taiwan, China”).

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Donald Trump’s Quiztalks

When Donald Trump speaks without a script, it sounds like BBC Radio 4 entertainment – the I’m-sorry-I-haven’t-a-clue style, where people are supposed to talk without repeating a single word, or without mentioning a specific world. Something like …

Host: Mr. President, you are supposed to speak about clocks for sixty seconds, and you must use the word “clock” only once.
Trump: I don’t mind clocks. I like those things. I actually love them. We have a great relationship. The only problem with clocks is …
Detector: BUZZ!!!


Anyway. Why is the president supposed to participate in a game where winning is not important? That’s preposterous.

Friday, March 30, 2018

CCTV, CRI, CPBS: by any other (English) Name

Bloomberg appears to have been the first media company outside China to publish the news, and the Financial Times followed with an article about the creation of “a new broadcasting behemoth”, designed to “broaden [China’s] global news footprint and bolster its soft power abroad,” still on March 21.

While the CCP may have the means to feed more than one propaganda monster, the new organization will apparently be the result of a “merger” of China Central Television (CCTV), China Radio International (CRI) and China National Radio (CNR, or, in Chinese, Central People’s Broadcasting Station/CPBS).

But this may not have as far-reaching implications for the three organizations as it first seems.
[Update – See bottom of this post for updates – the implications appear to be quite far-reaching, actually.]

Call it a deer: Radio Beijing QSL (1990) – the broadcaster’s current name is China Radio International

“Voice of China”, the planned “merged” organization’s future name, isn’t necessarily an imitation of the “Voice of America”, as supposed by the FT author. Central People’s Broadcasting Station’s first channel (there are nine channels altogether) has long been referred to as “Voice of China” (zhongguo zhisheng), but always in Chinese, while the station’s occasional English-language identification announcements have simply referred to the network, as “China National Radio”. In its “about us”, CPBS/CNR, on their website, refer to their first channel as “zhongguo zhisheng” in Chinese, and as “News Radio” in English.

On shortwave, China’s “voice” frequently co-channels undesired broadcasts from abroad – it kills two birds by with one stone, “telling the good China story” and hooting down less desirable stories.

The document announcing the merger of the three media organizations – Deepening Reform of Party and State Institutions – was released by the CCP’s Central Committee, unabridgedly published by Xinhua newsagency on March 21, and republished, among others, by the Chinese State Council’s website.

The naming of China’s media has been somewhat messy for decades – “China National Radio” for a foreign audience and “Central People’s Broadcasting Station” for the Chinese-speaking audience, a lot of tampering with CCTV (China Central Television) or, in its foreign guise, as CCTV News, or as CCTV 9, or as CCTV English), and (perhaps the messiest bit) China Radio International’s (CRI) strategy of “borrowing boats” abroad.

The Central People’s Broadcasting Station/CPBS) was given the English handle of “China National Radio” in 1998, while in Chinese, it has always remained CPBS (zhongyang renmin guangbo diantai).

According to the Deepening Reform of Party and State Institutions document, the Chinese-English double-naming remains the approach of choice. While all three organizations – CCTV, CRI and CPBS (CNR) are going to retain their traditional names at home, they will be referred to as “Voice of China” in English.

If that means that CRI listeners will listen to the “Voice of China”, die “Stimme Chinas”, la “Voix de la Chine” and to “zhongguo zhisheng” (CRI has a Chinese service, too) remains to be seen.

The China Media Project (CMP) at the University of Hong Kong picked up the merger story on March 22, one day after it had first been reported. They provide a full translation of the portions of the Program dealing with media and public opinion. In the leading in to their translation, the CMP points out that

… China Central Television was previously overseen by the General Administration of Press, Publications, Radio, Film and Television (previously just SARFT), a department under the State Council. The super-network will now be situated as a state-sponsored institution, or shiye danwei (事业单位), directly under the State Council, and directly under the supervision of the Central Propaganda Department.

The sections of the document (as translated by CMP) also arrange for a transfer of the General Administration of Press, Publications, Radio, Film and Television’s (SARFT) responsibilities to the Central Propaganda Department.

But for CCTV, CRI and CPBS, the biggest (real) changes don’t appear to be about organization. Shen Haixiong, Wang Gengnian and Yan Xiaoming may well keep their jobs and status, provided that they always make the right ideological adjustments.

Update 1 [April 2, 2018]

CRI online, March 21, 2018, editor: Yang Lei

2018-03-21 | 来源:国际在线 | 编辑:杨磊

CRI online news: In the morning of March 21, Central People’s Broadcasting Station, China Central Television, and China Radio International held a mid-level cadre meeting and announced a decision by the Central Committee to establish to form the Central Radio and Television Station  [in People’s Daily’s English translation: Central Radio and Television Network] and its leadership. Comrade Shen Haixiong is to serve as the Central Radio and Television Station’s director and party secretary.

国际在线消息:3月21日上午,中央人民广播电台、中央电视台、中国国际广播电台召开中层干部大会,宣布中央关于组建中央广播电视总台和领导班子任职的决定。慎海雄同志任中央广播电视总台台长、党组书记。

The organization’s deputy director Zhou Zuyi read out the Central Committee’s decision and delivered a speech. Central propaganda department standing vice minister Wang Xiaohui presided over the meeting and delivered a speech.

中组部副部长周祖翼宣读中央决定并讲话,中宣部常务副部长王晓晖主持会议并讲话。

According to a Beijing Daily article published online on March 28, Yan Xiaoming, who used to head CPBS, will serve as the new organization’s deputy director, while Wang Gengnian, formerly CRI’s director, has retired.

Wang will reportedly be 62 in May this year. Online encyclopedia Baike says that he joined the CCP in May 1986. He was CRI’s director from 2004 until last month. He was also CRI’s party secretary.

Update 2 [April 5, 2018]

This article by the South China Morning Post (SCMP) puts the merger of domestic and foreign radio and television into perspective: upgrading the CCP’s “leading groups” (领导小组) to commissions, [t]he offices in charge of religious and overseas Chinese affairs now .. under the United Front Work Department, responsible for overseas liaison work, merging the Chinese Academy of Governance with the Central Party School, or the creation of a “central education body” over the education ministry for “improving political education in schools and universities”.

In general, the party takes more direct control in several fields, sidestepping the government (as seems to be the case with the “central education body”). In another article of the same day, March 21/22, the SCMP noted that

China is to broaden the scope of a controversial Communist Party department responsible for its overseas liaison work to include ethnic and religious affairs.

The consolidation of the United Front Work Department is part of a restructure of party agencies announced on Wednesday. It will take over the duties of state agencies overseeing ethnic and religious affairs, as well as the overseas Chinese portfolio.

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Notes

If China Copyright and Media (a great resource if you look for the CCP’s/PRC’s bureaucratic output) isn’t faster, I might summarize the document sometime during Easter.

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Updates / Related

十九届三中全会要点, CD, March 1, 2018
Foreign Experts wanted, May 2, 2016

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Hong Kong’s public broadcaster replaces BBC World Service with Mainland Relay

A QDaily article, republished by Fenghuang (Hong Kong) main link – on August 14, 2017. QDaily (好奇心日报) is a news website from Beijing, focusing on commerical news. Links within blockquotes added during translation.

CPBS may be better known as “China National Radio” these days. However, the Chinese name of the station has never changed. CPBS remains the accurate translation of 中央人民广播电台.

Original title: Central People’s Broadcasting Station’s Voice of Hong Kong to replace BBC’S 24-hours broadcast

原标题:中央人民广播电台香港之声,将取代BBC24小时转播

RTHK (Radio Television Hong Kong) published a notice on its official website on August 11, saying that “on September 3 at 24:00 hours, the digital audio broadcasting (DAB) service will be officially terminated. There will also be new program arrangements, including the BBC World Service being broadcast  on RTHK’s Radio 4 channel every night, from 11 p.m. to seven a.m., and Central People’s Broadcasting station’s Voice of Hong Kong being broadcast on RTHK’s Radio 61) channel.

8月11日,香港电台(Radio Television Hong Kong,缩写RTHK)在官网发布通知,表示“将于9 月3 日午夜12 时正式终止数码声音广播服务”,并会有节目新安排,其中英国广播公司国际频道将于每晚11 时至早上7 时,在港台第四台转播;中央人民广播电台香港之声将于港台第六台转播。

This adjustment has attracted broad attention within Hong Kong society, because this means that Hong Kong’s Radio 6 channel which used to relay the BBC World Service 24 hours a day will be decidated to China People’s Broadcasting Station from early morning on September 4, beginning at 00:00 hours midnight. Besides, the newly-designed airtime will be when most Hong Kongers enter the land of dreams.

这一调整在香港社会引起广泛关注,因为它意味着,原先全日24 小时转播英国广播公司国际频道(BBC World Service)的香港电台第六台,将从今年9 月4 日凌晨零时开始,专属于中央人民广播电台香港之声;同时,更换到港台第四台转播后,BBC World Service 的转播时长将被压缩到8 小时,且新设定的转播时段,是在大多数香港人进入梦乡之时。

This is another step in RTHK’s response to the Hong Kong government’s March 28 notice of “ending digital audio broadcasting”.

这则通知,是香港电台对今年3 月28 日香港政府发布的“本港终止数码声音广播”,做出的进一步回应。

At the time, Hong Kong’s Commerce and Economic Development Bureau pointed out that within a short period, three commercial organizations – Fenghuang Uradio, Digital Broadcasting Corporation and Metro Broadcast Corporation – had withdrawn from the market, stating operation problems and insufficient audience numbers as reasons for their withdrawals, showing that the market had lost interest in digital audio broadcasting, leaving RTHK (Hong Kong’s only public broadcaster, and a subordinate agency under the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau) as the only provider of digital audio broadcasting services. This meant “a lack of commercial organizations’ participation”, and “no feasibility”. RTHK was therefore required to terminate relevant operations.

当时,香港商务及经济发展局指出,2011年获发数码声音广播的三家商营机构(凤凰优悦、DBC 数码电台及新城电台),“短时间内均以经营困难和没有足够听众群为由退出市场,反映市场对数码声音广播失去兴趣”,而仅剩香港电台(下属商务及经济发展局,香港唯一的公共广播机构)独自提供数码声音广播服务,“缺乏商营机构参与”,“并不切实可行”。因而要求香港电台在六个月内终止相关的服务。

RTHK DAB was officially launched on September 17, 2012. This broadcasting method means “use of digital compression technology for the transmission of various radio program signals, transformed into strings of digital signals.” The advantages [of this procedure] is that a single signal path can cover all of Hong Kong, avoiding interference, improving sound quality, and provide text information service, etc.. In an area like Hong Kong, where up to 70 percent of the territory are mountainous, and high-rise building standing closely to each other, this way of broadcasting is a good choice.

香港电台的数码声音广播在2012年9月17日正式启动,采用数码方式广播电台节目,具体的操作方法是“利用数码压缩技术,把音乐、访问和不同类型的电台节目等信息,转化为一系列数字信号发送”,其优点在于通过单一信道,即可覆盖全香港、避免受到干扰、改善音质、提供文字信息服务等。在山地面积达70% 且高层楼房密集林立的香港,这种广播方式,是一个不错的选择。

To this end, RTHK established dedicated digital channels and five new frequencies, among them Digital-32, broadcasting China People’s Broadcasting Station’s Voice of Hong Kong all day, and Digital-34, broadcasting RTHK’s Channel 6 content, namely the BBC World Service.

香港电台为此专门设立了香港电台数码台,并开发了5个新频道,其中数码32 台全日转播中央人民广播电台香港之声,而数码34 台全日转播香港电台第六台的内容,即BBC World Service。

Voice of Hong Kong is the Central People’s Broadcasting Station’s 14th program. It uses standard Chinese and Mandarin broadcasting news, arts and cultral programs, financial news and life services, whereas the BBC World Service has been relayed on RTHK’s Radio 6 since December 3, 1989, and before it was relayed from five in the afternoon until early next morning, on RTHK’s Radio 5 (stablished in 1978).2)

香港之声是中央人民广播电台的第十四套节目,使用普通话、广东话全日24小时播放新闻、文化艺术、财经、生活服务等内容;而BBC World Service,在1989年12月3日于香港电台第六台开始转播之前,均在每日下午5点至翌日清晨,在香港电台第五台(1978年创立)转播。

Closing RTHK’s digital radio spells the need to newly adjust the content of the originally five channels. The results of this readjustment has been described at the beginning of this article.

关停香港电台数码台,意味着原先5个频道的内容要做新的调整。调整的结果,在本文开头已指出。

RTHK’s communications director Amen Ng Man-yee believes that to maintain Central People’s Broadcasting Station’s Voice of Hong Kong is essential: “this channel was tailor-made at the time of RTHK’s DAB launch, and it can strengthen the cultural exchange between mainland China and Hong Kong.”

香港电台机构传讯总监伍曼仪认为,保留中央广播电台香港之声是必要的:“该频道是为香港电台推出数码广播时度身打造,而且可以加强大陆与香港间的文化交流。”

She also said that the compression of the BBC World Service relay broadcasts to eight hours had been made because listeners could listen directly to the BBC’s website for releveant content. As for the choice of the airtime [from eleven p.m. to seven a.m.], her answer was that because of the time difference, there would be more news updates during the night [by relaying the BBC programs at that time].

她还表示,将BBC World Service 压缩到每日8小时,是因为听众可以直接在BBC 网站收听到相关的内容;至于播放时段的选择,她的回应是,由于时差缘故,在香港深夜时会有较多的新闻资讯更新。

The BBC’s high-ranking publicity commissioner Helen Deller said in an interview with the “Guardian” that they were disappointed about the adjustments, and encouraged listeners to continue listening to the BBC programs through the internet.

BBC 的高级宣传专员Helen Deller 在接受《卫报》采访时表示,他们对这一调整感到失望,并鼓励听众通过互联网服务继续收听BBC 的节目。

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Notes

1) Radio 6 refers to the 675 kHz medium wave transmission (reportedly at 1 kilowatt) which can be heard all over Hong Kong (and in parts of Guangdong province, particularly at nighttime).
2) This seems to deviate from RTHK’s statement which says that [t]he BBC World Service has been broadcast live on RTHK’s Radio 6 on AM675 since 1978.

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Related

Highly symbolic, The Guardian, Aug 13, 2017
DAB no longer realistic, SCMP, March 28, 2017
RTHK Radio and TV, Wikipedia, acc Aug 26, 2017
DAB, Wikipedia, acc Aug 26, 2017

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Friday, May 20, 2016

Tsai Ing-wen’s Inagurational Address: an Economy with New Bones

The inaugural address in → Chinese and in → English, published by CNA. Prior to President Tsai’s inaugural speech, there were two songs: an indigenous one, and the national anthem of the RoC.

Language observation: I used to think that 脱胎换骨 was merely an mainland Chinese figure of speech (to be reborn with new bones, see footnote →there. This is not so. President Tsai used it too, this morning:

我們要讓台灣經濟脫胎換骨,就必須從現在起就下定決心,勇敢地走出另外一條路。這一條路,就是打造台灣經濟發展的新模式。

The CNA translation puts it less pictographic:

In order to completely transform Taiwan’s economy, from this moment on, we must bravely chart a different course – and that is to build a “New Model for Economic Development” for Taiwan.

So, chances are that Wang Meng and his generation learned that →phrase long before joining the Communist Party. It’s either “KMT”, or still older.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Tibetan Society Abroad

Guess where that picture was taken. The landscape might look Tibetan (to untrained eyes like mine, anyway), so does the building, and, obviously, the traditionally-dressed man in front of the building, anyway. But it is a scene from the U.S. state of Minnesota, and the photo is part of a Hampshire College student’s final year project – Tibetan migrants in the USA, and how they maintain their traditional way of life, or aspects of it.

More information about the project there.

Tibetan society and culture is extremely underreported, online and in the printed press. To make things worse, when you want to read Tibetan online sources, Google Translate doesn’t offer translations. Every bit of information in English helps.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The BoZhu Interviews: If you want to Believe the Best or the Worst about China, it’s easy enough –

Ji Xiang about getting started with China, stereotypes, and finding a balance between Chinese and Western ways of life.

Ji Xiang is a blogger from Europe who lives in China. In his first blog post, in 2008, he explained how he got his Chinese name. And he is probably one of very few foreign China bloggers who started blogging almost right on arrival in the country, and have kept to the habit ever since.

Q: Ji Xiang, you are Chinese by name, but you are actually from Europe, right?

That’s right. My mom’s British, and my dad’s Italian. I grew up in Italy, although I have also lived in Britain. It’s not too obvious unless you look at my blog very carefully though. Interestingly, some of my readers have assumed I was American in the past.

Q: Could that be because your stance comes across as more “pro-Western” than that of most sinologists or Westerners who speak Chinese? It seems to me that both Foarp and you stand out as rather critical of what might be called “cultural relativism”, or a preparedness to find human rights violations tolerable because of a country’s culture, a “situation on the ground”, etc.

Well, I’m not sure if that makes you seem more like an American or not. Foarp is after all British. But to be honest, I think a lot of Westerners who speak Chinese have the same sort of opinions as I do. I don’t think of myself as “pro-Western” really, I am quite aware of all the bad things Western countries have done around the world, and the shortcomings of the “West” (if there really is such a thing as the West. But that’s another debate). But that doesn’t necessarily mean being pro-Chinese.

When it comes to human rights violations, I don’t really buy cultural justifications. I mean, East Asian countries like Japan and South Korea have created systems where basic human rights are respected, so it obviously isn’t only Western countries which can reach that point. The argument that human rights have to be put aside when a country is still poor and developing is more complicated. I think certain basic rights, like the right not to disappear, be tortured or speak your mind without going to jail, should be respected, and I don’t think the right to have a full belly clashes with these other rights.

There might however be a good argument for not holding elections in countries where most of the people are illiterate, or divided along ethnic or tribal lines. Say in Yemen or Burkina Faso. Even in Arab countries, it is clear that elections often bring religious fundamentalists to power.

Q: You went to China as a teacher in 2005, and came back to the country as a student. How did you get interested in China? You’ve spent a number of years there now, haven’t you?

I actually taught in China in 2004, and that was just for a summer. I then went back to China because I got a scholarship to get a master’s degree there. I have spent over six years in China by now.

Q: Was 2008 a good time to start a blog? You might have started one in 2005, the heydays of the (English-language) “Chinese blogosphere”. Was there a key moment where you felt that you should share your experiences, which got your blog started?

Well in 2005 I didn’t live in China, and had only spent a few months there. I had no basis for writing a blog about it. I only discovered recently that that was supposed to be the heyday of the “Chinese blogosphere”. Pity I missed it. I started my blog when I started living in China full-time. In the beginning, it was mainly to share my experiences with my family and friends back home. Now it’s turned more into a blog of commentary about China.

Q: Do the statistics or feedback give you an idea about who your readers are?

A bit. Most of my hits are from the United States, but I think that might be to do with the fact that most of the VPNs people use in China redirect there. Curiously, I also seem to have a lot of readers from Germany, Ukraine and Russia (well, you are one of the ones from Germany). Other than that, my most read posts are the ones with titles which people can come across randomly on Google.

Q: Apart from the blogs your blogroll, are there others – about China or other countries and topics – that you read regularly?

To be honest, not really. I mostly look at those few blogs on China which are on my blogroll (which includes your one). And there is my uncle’s blog, he lives in Israel and blogs about his life there and Israeli topics.

Q: Did family history contribute to your interest in China?

Not really. I don’t have any relatives who have lived or live in China. Having said that, the first time I came to China was with my parents. They are active in the international Esperanto movement, and in 2004 the World Esperanto Congress was in Beijing, so they were going to China to attend it and I went with them. That’s when I first got interested in China. Being able to speak Esperanto helped plug me in to the community of Chinese Esperanto speakers, which has been a nice way to get to know some cool, unusual Chinese people.

Q: Most bloggers will sometimes be surprised by the responses a post of them triggers. Have there been reactions and comments that surprised you during the past seven years?

After visiting Vietnam, I wrote a post on why the Vietnamese dislike China. It got quite a few reactions from Vietnamese readers, most of them proving my original point. One of them actually claimed that Daoism, the I Ching and the idea of Ying/Yang originally came from Vietnam and not from China. Total nonsense as far as I know. Unfortunately unreasonable nationalism is widespread throughout Asia. At its basis lies a wall of mental rigidity and misinformation which is very hard to break through.  Then again, Europe was probably similar up until the Second World War. And Westerners have their own unreasonable prejudices, just look at the persistence of antisemitic tropes among some people, or how so many Europeans will complain that immigrants get more benefits from the state than locals even when it just isn’t true.

Q: It seems that you’ve got most of your Chinese education in the North. Is that so, and do you think it differs from learning Chinese language, ways of interaction, etc., in the South?

You are correct. Although I’ve traveled all over China, I live in Beijing. It’s a stereotype to say that the North is best for learning to speak Mandarin, but actually I think you can learn just as well in most big Southern cities, because nowadays most people speak it there too. I think the Southern Chinese do tend to be a bit more like we imagine the Chinese to be (quiet, indirect, reserved), but in the main I don’t think the cultural difference between Northern and Southern China is that huge. It might not even be as big as the one between Northern and Southern Italy! Whether you live in a small or a big city, and a rich or a poor part of China, probably makes more difference to your experience. But I’ve never lived in Southern China, so I stand to be corrected.

Q: How would you describe your daily life? Is it becoming still more “Chinese”, concerning your choice of food, newspapers, internet sources, or television?

In some ways I am, and in some ways I’m not. I would say that my lifestyle has stopped becoming more Chinese for a while. In fact, after an initial enthusiasm for “going native”, which many foreigners have at first, I think I have found a balance. In a city like Beijing you can find loads of foreign amenities, and it would be silly not to make use of them. On the other hand I wouldn’t want to live in a bubble like some expats do. It really comes down to who you hang out with, and I still hang out with lots of Chinese.

When it comes to food I am pretty Chinese: I like eating Chinese food when it’s properly made, and I even do my best to cook it at home. I have long stopped eating street food or patronizing cheap, hole-in-the-wall type places though, because of concerns about the hygiene and the quality. Many Chinese seem to have come to the same conclusion. Foreigners who pride themselves on being able to eat in such places without minding the consequences are either young foreign-exchange students, or they are pretty dimwitted.

When it comes to media, I still look at Chinese newspapers every now and again to see what they say, but for real news I mostly turn to foreign sources. Of course the language is one issue (it is obviously still much quicker for me to read in English or Italian), but also I think the European media is just superior in terms of giving you a decent picture of what goes on in the world, and, when it comes to sensitive issues, even in China! Same for entertainment: although I sometimes watch Chinese shows and films, in the main I still watch far more foreign ones. I make full use of Chinese internet sites like Baidu or Weibo though.

Q: Do you see changes on Weibo, in terms of real-name requirement, censorship, etc.?

When I got an account in 2011, it still wasn’t necessary to give your ID/passport number. As far as I know now it is, although I have heard you can still get away with giving a false one. In any case, I am sure that if they really want to they can find out who you are.

Q: Generally, when reading your blog, I got an impression overtime that you might think of China as a project, as a country or civilization headed into a rather benign future, compared with Western societies. And on the other hand, your criicism of China, or its political system, sounds pretty much like the general global criticism of it. Is this an accurate impression?

I’m not entirely sure where you got that impression from. I have unquestionably been getting more pessimistic about China, its system and its prospects over the last few years. I think to an extent the current system is geared in such a way that China always gives the impression to outsiders that it’s almost on the cusp of becoming a decent, progressive, modern and confident society, but then it never quite does. I think the political system is good at producing GDP growth, but pretty hopeless at solving the country’s huge social problems. Yes, China has more and more subways and high speed railways, and that’s useful and good for the people, but surely a country like China could do so much better than just that?

I hope China gets better with time, but I don’t think it’s a given that, if you wait 20 or 30 years, it’s all going to be much better. That’s how a lot of Chinese seem to think: just wait a few decades, and everything will solve itself. Unfortunately it’s not that simple.

I think my criticism is also a bit different from that of someone who’s never lived in China, because I am far more aware of aspects like the rise of Chinese nationalism, which many foreign commentators seem blissfully unaware of.

Q: That unawareness seems to be quite a phenomenon. This is what Bruce Anderson (himself not necessarily a human-rights champion) said about Edward Heath, in a BBC radio documentary. Former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt might be another case in point.

Is there something Russia (for example) could learn from China, in terms of soothing external propaganda, or winning influential people over abroad?

Well, Chinese officials certainly are very good at flattering foreign visitors, saying the right things to them, and appearing reasonable and friendly. I don’t have much experience with the Russians, but I doubt they are as good at it. It’s probably not something you can learn either, it’s deep-rooted in the culture.

You have to remember that most Westerners know little about China, and obviously want to be open-minded. The unawareness of the rise of Chinese nationalism probably also lies in the fact that China does tend to leave other countries alone, as long they don’t have any territorial disputes with China of course, and as long as they don’t express any views on what China defines as its “internal affairs”. Of course China’s neighbours are very aware of its nationalistic side, especially the ones which have territorial disputes with it. But people in other parts of the world don’t get to see this side of things. And its not obvious to the casual visitor either.

The European media also focuses too much on the Middle East and almost never talks about Asia’s potentially explosive problems, like the dispute in the South China Sea and the anti-Japanese feeling in China or Korea. The only thing they ever talk about is the issue of Tibet, which has certainly damaged China’s image.

Then again, the real issue is one of projection. Many left-wing Westerners are predisposed to think well of any power which challenges the United States anywhere, regardless of what it really is or does. If you want to believe the best about China (or the worst for that matter), and you don’t live there, it’s easy enough. Right wingers on the other hand may see China’s rise as a vindication of free market economics, or god knows what. Everyone sees what they want to see in China, and no one knows much about it. This has always been the case.

Q: Do you have arguments with Chinese nationalists?

Well, in a sense I do, because I have political arguments with people in China, and most Chinese are nationalists at some level, although the level varies. The level of open-mindedness towards opinions which clash with modern Chinese nationalism, as the schools and media have constructed it, also varies. I know many Mainlanders who are perfectly open minded even about issues like Taiwan, and don’t just toe the line. I think they are a minority however. And by the way, they aren’t necessarily the people with most international exposure. On the other hand if you are talking about dyed-in-the-wool fenqing, rational debate is all but impossible.

Q: You have blogged in English for nearly seven years, and quite recently, you have also started a blog in Italian. What’s next? A blog in Chinese?

My written Chinese is really not good enough to blog in it. I would actually be more likely to start a blog in Esperanto, a language I also speak.

Q: Ji Xiang, thanks a lot for this interview.

The interview was conducted by an exchange of e-mails.

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