Tag Archives: england

China who? Why Chinglish is not ‘sweeping around the world’

6 Sep

chinaflagOh dear. Reasons why China won’t rule the world #359. A classic People’s Daily article caught my eye last weekend. It describes how Chinese loan words and Chinglish phrases are finding their way into everyday English conversations across the planet.

As if this weren’t a subtle enough message from the Communist Party mouthpiece, it wheeled out a rent-a-quote academic, in this case Meng Dehong from Beijing Foreign Studies Uni, who claimed, with reference to the Middle Kingdom:

“The more civilised, more advanced and more attractive the country is, the more influential the language gets.”

Now Meng is spot on there, with one crucial caveat – that applies to English (England and the US), not China.

The Daily gives as its examples of China’s growing cultural-linguistic importance in the world the words shuanggui (quasi-investigation); chengguan (municipal officers); jiujielity (hesitation); and, most tellingly, don’ train for “bullet train”.

Er, sorry guys, I know you and Japan have history but you have to admit, if any loan word is going to appear in English for “bullet train” it would be shinkansen, hailing as it does from the country that invented the frigging things. I can’t honestly say I’ve ever read or heard the other words out and about, and I live in Hong Kong.

Ditto the Chinglish phrases We two who and who? meaning “We are good friends”; Go and look meaning “We will see” and No money no talk, apparently meaning “Without money, any talk is spared”. Even the People’s Daily translations sound a little odd so to utter them down the pub they probably come across at best as the incoherent mumblings of an escaped psychiatric patient.

“Hello, can I introduce you to Steve? We two who and who!”

“Er, sorry?”

“We two who and who!!!”

“Um, are you having a seizure?”

As Shanghai Daily points out, the only Chinese words that have ever found their way into English, include gung-ho and kowtow and the phrase “long time no see”, which translates in that word order from the Cantonese.

They are incredibly few and far between. Now I’ve no doubt this will change gradually as China flexes its muscles on the world stage, but let’s not confuse economic dominance for cultural. It’s not helped by the fact that, with the best will in the world, Chinese students often don’t assimilate particularly well with others when studying abroad – preferring their own cliques to sharing their culture, and language, with those from other shores.

To my mind the only Westerners likely to drop obscure Chinese words into sentences are pompous journalists and the sort of people you make a habit of avoiding at parties, but will inevitably be stuck with for 30 will-sappingly long minutes, usually at the beginning. In the kitchen. While you’re still sober.

Another route Chinese language could take to find its way into the Western lingua franca is if the Middle Kingdom had a free press we could respect, engage with and learn from, but that’s about as likely to happen as Xi Jinping taking a dump on The Communist Manifesto. Until then, spurious articles on how Chinglish is sweeping around the world are exactly the reason why it won’t.

One other route for the Chinese language to penetrate our homes is of course through popular TV shows and movies. But honestly, when was the last time you saw one of them? If the combined firepower of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Ang Lee, and over 100 years of colonial tinkering in the Middle Kingdom hasn’t made an impact then I’m sorry, but it’s probably never going to happen.

Or as they say in Beijing: “We two definitely not who and who!”

China’s beef? It’s the pork stoopid

6 Jul

pigThere’s something about living abroad that tends to accentuate one’s sense of national pride. You’ll see them all crowding the ex-pat bars in Wan Chai and LKF, these rudderless travellers, suspended in time thousands of miles from their homes, shouting on their sporting teams till they’re red, white and blue in the face.

Living cheek to jowl with other displaced ex-pats in a place like Hong Kong also casts an illuminating light on our various different cultures. Basically the one lesson to take home from this is that no, we’re not all really the same when it all comes down to it. We may all have eyes and ears and arses, but actually that’s pretty much where the similarities end between Brits, Yanks, Saffers, Aussies, Frogs, Chinese etc etc.

As a proud (see above) Englishman, I am adept at saying sorry twenty different ways, a master of the sarcastic aside, acutely embarrassed by confrontation and outward displays of affection and wearily accustomed to my national sporting teams spectacularly failing at every major tournament. Having invented most sport played in the world, we feel it would be unseemly to also be unbelievably good at it and so deliberately underachieve wherever possible. (Obviously our cricketers are an aberration).

It is with great amusement then that I read of the aftermath of the Chinese versus United States women’s volleyball game. First, though, a bit of background: China for many thousands of years regarded itself as the centre of the world – actually it still does, even the characters for the country mean “centre land” – and is not very keen on coming second in anything. I mean anything: sport, the space race, the production of pirated DVDs and cigarettes, the rearing of toxic meat. Anything. It is one of life’s great joys to see China fail at something – which it rarely does in the end – and desperately grapple to save face with some truly terrible excuse-peddling.

Well, on losing this World Grand Prix volleyball match in three sets on home soil, the Chinese coach came up with possibly the best excuse I’ve ever heard for a sporting defeat – his players were not able to eat pork before the match.

Yup, apparently Coach Yu Juemin said his players were literally too weak to win the match, having been denied the Chinese meaty staple in the days preceding the game over fears they may test positive to a drug commonly used in China to produce leaner meat.

“We dared not eat pork when we went out to play matches as we were afraid of clenbuterol. We took pork only after we returned to Beilun,” said the coach.

Apparently beef, chicken, lamb and fish are just not good enough for those strapping volleyball titans – pork it must be or the match will end in humiliating defeat.

As we English all know, it’s not the winning that counts, or even the taking part, but the opportunity to simultaneously laugh at tut at those poor sports who don’t even have the manners to lose graciously. That’s one thing we are world beaters at.