China increasingly rejects English

Source: NYT (9/9/21)
‘Reversing Gears’: China Increasingly Rejects English, and the World
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A movement against Western influence threatens to close off a nation that succeeded in part by welcoming new ideas.
By Li Yuan

Credit…Jialun Deng

As a student at Peking University law school in 1978, Li Keqiang kept both pockets of his jacket stuffed with handwritten paper slips. An English word was written on one side, a former classmate recalled, and the matching Chinese version was written on the other.

Mr. Li, now China’s premier, was part of China’s English-learning craze. A magazine called Learning English sold half a million subscriptions that year. In 1982, about 10 million Chinese households — almost equivalent to Chinese TV ownership at the time — watched “Follow Me,” a BBC English-learning program with lines like: “What’s your name?” “My name is Jane.”

It’s hard to exaggerate the role English has played in changing China’s social, cultural, economic and political landscape. English is almost synonymous with China’s reform and opening-up policies, which transformed an impoverished and hermetic nation into the world’s second-biggest economy.

That’s why it came as a shock to many when the education authorities in Shanghai, the most cosmopolitan city in the country, last month forbade local elementary schools to hold final exams on the English language. Continue reading

The man behind China’s aggressive new voice

Source: NYT (7/7/21)
The Man Behind China’s Aggressive New Voice
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How one bureaucrat, armed with just a Twitter account, remade Beijing’s diplomacy for a nationalistic era.
By Alex W. Palmer

Credit…Illustration by Olivier Bonhomme

On the morning of Monday, Nov. 30, 2020, the Australian prime minister Scott Morrison was working from his official residence when an aide alerted him to a tweet by a Chinese foreign-ministry spokesman. Morrison was about to finish a two-week quarantine after returning from a brief diplomatic visit to Japan, and he had spent most of the morning on the phone with Australian wine exporters, discussing Chinese tariffs that had just taken effect — some as high as 212 percent — the latest in an escalating string of punitive economic measures imposed on Australia by Beijing.

But the tweet, posted by a diplomat named Zhao Lijian, represented a different kind of aggression. “Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers,” he wrote. “We strongly condemn such acts, & call for holding them accountable.” Attached was a digital illustration of an Australian soldier restraining an Afghan child with a large Australian flag while preparing to slit the boy’s throat. “Don’t be afraid,” the caption read, “we are coming to bring you peace!” When the tweet appeared online that morning, there were audible gasps in Australia’s Parliament House.

Earlier that month, the inspector general of the Australian Defense Force had released the results of a four-year investigation into alleged war crimes committed by elite Australian troops in Afghanistan. The investigation, which described a systemic culture of brutality and lawlessness, implicated 25 soldiers in the unlawful killing of 39 civilians and prisoners, with most of the incidents taking place in 2012. The report dominated news headlines for weeks and sparked a torturous national reckoning in Australia. To then see the country’s most grievous sins — already documented by its own government — weaponized in a sarcastic tweet from a foreign official was an almost incomprehensible insult. “I don’t think you could imagine a communication that could’ve been more perfectly shaped to be inflammatory in Australia, and so perfectly insensitive,” a former senior Australian government official said. Continue reading

Decoding China Tech Corporate Gibberish

Source: China Narrative 52 (7/5/21)
Trained, Tamed, Coined: Decoding China Tech Corporate Gibberish

Photo by Akson on Unsplash.

Greetings from Chinarrative!

Our previous newsletters featured the stories of employees trapped in the grueling “996” work culture of China’s booming tech industry. In this issue, we learn about a common gripe of newcomers to the sector — its overwhelming tide of meaningless corporate jargon, known in Chinese as heihua (“黑话”).

While the topic is lighthearted, it illuminates important ways that the Asian nation’s tech giants operate. In recent years, these firms have increasingly used their dominant market positions to project their corporate values, invoking their supposedly unique ways of thinking to justify their supremacy.

Like their counterparts in Silicon Valley, the ideological posturing of Chinese internet firms serves several purposes. It buttresses their claims of working for the greater social good and dilutes their reputation for ruthless profit-seeking. It helps them to attract employees seeking meaningful work, not just a salary. And it strengthens ties within the organizations by popularizing language that outsiders can’t understand.

But the strategy has a darker side as well. It can be used to justify long hours and inefficient work practices. It reflects the rising cognitive barriers to entry in China’s tech industry. And it popularizes empty, vague or counterintuitive terminology.

The story below, which originally appeared on the Chinese nonfiction platform Renwu, shows how Chinese tech firms have become hotbeds of gibberish. Some of the terms they use are made up and lack clear definitions; others imbue existing words with new meanings. Don’t worry if the corporate dialect leaves you scratching your head; in most cases, that’s exactly what it’s supposed to do. Continue reading

“Lying flat”

Source: SCMP (6/9/21)
Why China’s youth are ‘lying flat’ in protest of their bleak economic prospects
Young Chinese fed up with gruelling work hours, conspicuous consumption and skyrocketing house prices are protesting by doing the bare minimum. The social resistance movement called ‘lying flat’ is worrying authorities, who see it as a potential threat to China’s dream of national rejuvenation.
By He Huifeng in Guangdong and Tracy Qu

From white-collar workers in bustling cities to university students, young Chinese are adopting a “lie flat” attitude to protest against modern life. Illustration: Lau Ka-kuen

From white-collar workers in bustling cities to university students, young Chinese are adopting a “lie flat” attitude to protest against modern life. Illustration: Lau Ka-kuen

Hu Ai was stuck in traffic with her parents during the Labour Day holiday last month when she finally realised China’s culture of overwork had become too much.

“My boss called and told me to walk from the highway to the nearest subway station and rush back to work on an urgent assignment,” the 33-year-old recalled.

“That’s the first time my parents found out how hard my job is and it made my mum cry in the car.”

In the weeks that followed, Hu – who works for a media company in Shenzhen – found solace in a form of online social protest sweeping through the world’s second largest economy.

Young Chinese fed up with what they see as limited prospects in the face of gruelling work hours, a trend of conspicuous consumption and skyrocketing house prices are choosing to do the bare minimum. Instead of striving to buy a house, car, or even start a family, they are rejecting it all to “lie flat”. Continue reading

National University of Singapore position


The Department of Chinese Studies, National University of Singapore, is one of the leading institutions in the world in the fields of Chinese Studies and Chinese Language and a major academic and research centre in Southeast Asia.   We invite applications for the post of Tenure Track or Educator Track (Open Rank) in Chinese Applied Linguistics and/or Translation/Interpretation. Appointments on the Educator Track are aimed at faculty members who approach teaching as scholarly practice in addition to research in their field of study.

Applicants for this position should have a PhD and be an active researcher or practitioner in a subfield of applied linguistics, broadly interpreted, including but not limited to Translation/Interpretation research or practice.  Scholars who can contribute to interdisciplinarity in research or teaching, whether with humanities or science fields, are particularly encouraged to apply. Continue reading

CCP slogans for 2021

Source: China Media Project (4/14/21)

CCP Slogans for 2021

The site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China. Image available at Wikimedia Commons under CC license.

In a report yesterday, CMP noted the release by the Central Office of the CCP of a propaganda blueprint for the promotion of the 100th anniversary of the Party this year. The “Notice,” which was reported on the front page of the People’s Daily, defines the key propaganda themes that will likely dominate the Chinese media in 2021.

Along with the CCP notice, propaganda authorities released a list of 80 propaganda slogans to be used in this year’s campaign. Such a top-down national release of propaganda slogans was unprecedented in the reform era before 2019, when a list of 70 propaganda slogans was issued for the 70th anniversary of the PRC.

Below is our brief analysis of six key points gleaned from the list of 80 slogans. Continue reading

Language Diversity in the Sinophone World review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Ashley Liu’s review of Language Diversity in the Sinophone World, edited by Henning Klöter and Mårten Söderblom Saarela. The review appears below and at its online home: My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, our literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk A. Denton, editor

Language Diversity in the Sinophone World: Historical
Trajectories, Language Planning, and Multilingual Practices

Edited by Henning Klöter and Mårten Söderblom Saarela

Reviewed by Ashley Liu

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright March, 2021)

Henning Klöter and Mårten Söderblom Saarela, eds. Language Diversity in the Sinophone World: Historical Trajectories, Language Planning, and Multilingual Practices London: Routledge, 2020. xv + 330 pp. ISBN: 9780367504519.

Language Diversity in the Sinophone World is a collection of studies on the language policies and practices in polities that “pursue official language policies on the use of one or more Sinitic languages,” which include the PRC, Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, and Singapore. Whereas the study of language policies and multilingualism in the Chinese-speaking world is not new, the unique contribution of this volume is its “intervention in the developing field of Sinophone studies” (1). Regarding the importance of this volume, Klöter and Saarela highlight the “paradox” that Sinophone studies place an inherent emphasis on language but rarely address issues of language policies and practices (1). The Sinophone world as constructed by Klöter and Saarela is significantly different from that characterized in existing Sinophone studies. Whereas existing Sinophone studies, following the vision of Shu-mei Shih, mainly involve postmodern, postcolonial, and postnational critiques and analyses of literature and cinema, Klöter and Saarela’s volume primarily relies on historical, linguistic, sociological, and quantitative approaches regarding language policies and practices. In doing so, they expand a domain previously dominated by scholars of literature and cinema to include historians, linguists, sociologists, language policy experts, and those who employ quantitative methods. As someone who belongs to the former category—the status quo in Sinophone studies—I evaluate this volume’s usefulness to literary and film studies. Continue reading

Save Cantonese at Stanford petition

A petition is being circulated by Stanford students and alumni regarding the Cantonese language program at the Stanford Language Center. I’m forwarding it along as a Stanford alum and Cantonese speaker, but the petition itself is an interesting read for scholars. You can read the arguments for Cantonese and sign the petition at:

Latest coverage by the Stanford Daily:

Christopher K. Tong

Mongolian language education petition

Petition: “Scholars for the Rights to Learn and Use Mongolian Language in the PRC”

A petition is being circulated to address the elimination of Mongolian-medium language education in the PRC and subsequent ongoing state violence. The text of the petition summarizes the situation and includes links. Please share and circulate!

fwd by Magnus Fiskesjö <>

Investigation into US prof sparks debate

Source: BBC News (9/11/20)
Investigation into US professor sparks debate over Chinese word
By Kerry Allen, BBC Monitoring

Prof Patton has been suspended since his 20 August seminar

Professor Patton has stepped back from his post since his 20 August seminar. Image Twitter.

A US university investigation into one of its professors has ignited a debate over the use of a seemingly innocuous Chinese word.

Professor Greg Patton at the University of Southern California (USC) was telling students in a communications lecture last month about filler, or pause words, such as ‘err’, ‘umm’ or ‘you know’ in English.

Footage of his lecture, which has now gone viral, shows Prof Patton saying: “In China, the common pause word is ‘that, that, that’. So in China, it might be na-ge, na-ge, na-ge.” Continue reading

Protest against curbs on Mongolian language teaching

Source: NYT (8/31/20)
Curbs on Mongolian Language Teaching Prompt Large Protests in China
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“Mongolian is our mother language,” the students shouted. Rights activists say the demonstrations are the biggest in the northern region since 2011.

Checking temperatures at a school in Inner Mongolia, an autonomous region in northern China where Beijing is seeking to reduce the teaching of Mongolian in favor of Chinese. Credit…Costfoto/Barcroft Media, via Getty Images

Thousands of ethnic Mongolians in northern China have gathered outside schools to protest a new policy that would reduce the teaching of their language in favor of Chinese, according to rights groups, a rare display of mass discontent in the border region.

The demonstrations, which began late last week, are focused on an education policy announced this summer, which calls for Chinese to gradually replace Mongolian as the language of instruction in three subjects in elementary and middle schools around the Inner Mongolia region.

For many ethnic Mongolians, who see their language as one of the last surviving markers of their distinct cultural identity, the policy was a step too far.

“We Mongolians are a great race as well,” Dagula, a 39-year-old mother of two, said in a telephone interview from her home in Xilinhot, a city in Inner Mongolia. “If we accept teaching in Chinese, our Mongolian language will really die out.” Continue reading

A diplomatic bow to Xi Jinping

Source: China Media Project (8/3/20)

A Diplomatic Bow to Xi Jinping

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Image by the Austrian Foreign Ministry, available at under CC license.

China faces a growing list of setbacks internationally that might suggest its turn in diplomacy away from a more “cautious and passive” approach in favour of active assertiveness is backfiring. Nevertheless, China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi (王毅), declares in the latest edition of the official Seeking Truth journal that his country’s new model of diplomacy is not just an unqualified success but an historically significant contribution to international relations.

In the florid language of a true devotee, Wang credits Xi Jinping with “the vision and sagacity of a great strategist” in sussing out the complexities facing the world, and crafting “comprehensive” long-term solutions in a tidy package now to be called “Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy.”

But reading Wang’s language in Seeking Truth in order to better understand the substance of Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy would be to miss the point. Wang’s article, which we must assume is the full text, or very nearly the full text, of his speech last month to commemorate the opening of a new “Research Center on Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy,” is really not about China and its relations with the rest of the world so much as grandiose visions of Xi Jinping and his seemingly unassailable position at the “core” of power. Continue reading

Must fiction from China be penned in Mandarin

Source: (8/1/20)
Contemporary Fiction from China: Must it Be Penned in Mandarin?
By Bruce Humes

A few years back I posted a piece entitled A Resounding “Yes” to Mother-tongue Literature — but for Whom and about What?

In this context, “mother-tongue” referred to indigenous languages other than Mandarin. This topic may be of interest to potential readers who perceive “Chinese literature” as encompassing writing in Tibetan, Uyghur, Mongolian, as well as oral literature (口述文学) for peoples who do not have a script widely used in the PRC, such as the Evenki, Zhuang and many others.

In my essay, I posed this question: Who is going to write in their native language — or read what is written for that matter — if they cannot receive a decent education in it?

In this context, “mother-tongue” referred to indigenous languages other than Mandarin. This topic may be of interest to Paper Republicans who perceive “Chinese literature” as encompassing writing in Tibetan, Uyghur, Mongolian, as well as oral literature (口述文学) for peoples who do not have a script widely used in the PRC, such as the Evenki, Zhuang and many others. Continue reading

China is replacing ethnic minority languages with Mandarin

Source: The Hill (7/29/20)
China is replacing languages of ethnic minorities with Mandarin

China is replacing languages of ethnic minorities with Mandarin

© Getty Images

China has been carrying out propaganda that it cares for its minority communities, putting forth this perspective at various international forums, such as the United Nations Human Rights Council and the council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group, and in white papers issued periodically.

In its September 2019 white paper, “Seeking Happiness for People: 70 Years of Progress on Human Rights in China,” Beijing claimed that it has effectively guaranteed ethnic minority rights in administering state affairs, with representation of all 55 ethnic minority groups in the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

It also claimed that it fully protects the freedom of ethnic minorities to use and develop their spoken and written languages, and that the state protects by law the legitimate use of spoken and written languages of ethnic minorities in the areas of administration and judiciary, press and publishing, radio, film and television, and culture and education. China claims to have established a database for the endangered languages of ethnic minority groups, and has initiated a program for protecting China’s language resources. Continue reading

Chinese Grammatology review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Shuheng (Diana) Zhang’s review of Chinese Grammatology: Script Revolution and Literary Modernity, 1916-1958, by Yurou Zhong. The review appears below and at its online home: My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

Chinese Grammatology:
Script Revolution and Literary Modernity, 1916-1958

By Yurou Zhong

Reviewed by Shuheng (Diana) Zhang
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright April, 2020)

Yurou Zhong, Chinese Grammatology: Script Revolution and Literary Modernity, 1916-1958 New York: Columbia UP, 2019. Xiii + 279 pages. ISBN: 9780231192637 (paper); ISBN: 9780231192620 (cloth).

Yurou Zhong’s Chinese Grammatology: Script Revolution and Literary Modernity, 1916-1958 is a noteworthy study of a monumental contestation that took place roughly during the first half of the twentieth century between advocates of Chinese logographs and proponents of various phonocentric efforts “to eliminate Chinese characters and implement a Chinese alphabet” (p. 1). Below, I have structured this review of Zhong’s book around a parsing of its title, which provides an efficient way to approach the book’s main foci/contents and to evaluate the author’s achievements.

While the key term, “grammatology,” may not be known to many readers, it is fairly clear what Yurou Zhong means by it: the science of writing (p. 4). But this is “Chinese grammatology,” which we might think of as “grammatology with Chinese characteristics.” And what would that be? It is grammatology that focuses on the special features and nature of the Chinese writing system that are all too often overlooked in universal schemes of the history of writing and the history of linguistics. That is to say, Zhong wishes to take grammatology seriously, but not at the expense of ignoring the stark differences between phonetic scripts and Chinese characters. In the end, she aims to find a new path that combines phoneticism and logography as the vital embodiment of yǔwén 語文, which is how Chinese language textbooks and classes are denominated in China today. Continue reading