I am happy to announce the recent publication of my book and to provide a discount code (see below) for anyone interested in purchasing it:
Yurou Zhong. Chinese Grammatology: Script Revolution and Literary Modernity, 1916–1958. New York: Columbia University Press, 2019.
Today, Chinese characters are described as a national treasure, the core of the nation’s civilizational identity. Yet for nearly half of the twentieth century, reformers waged war on the Chinese script. They declared it an archaic hindrance to modernization, portraying the ancient system of writing as a roadblock to literacy and therefore science and democracy. Movements spanning the political spectrum proposed abandonment of characters and alphabetization of Chinese writing, although in the end the Communist Party opted for character simplification. Continue reading
In an October 11 (The Myth of Political Brainwashing ) reply to my recent piece on the genealogy of “brainwashing,” Professor Magnus Fiskesjö of Cornell takes issue with my critique of the term’s Cold War misappropriation. He asks, in particular, “if you don’t like the term ‘brainwashing,’ then what will you call the violent conversion therapy currently practiced on hundreds of thousands of concentration camp detainees in Xinjiang?”
At several points in his reply, Dr. Fiskesjö seems to imply, inaccurately, that my tracing of the origins of the Chinese term xinao was intended as a commentary on current events—specifically, as some kind of defense of ongoing Chinese state practices in Xinjiang and elsewhere. “I would have thought that it should be impossible,” he writes, “for any scholar … to touch on this topic of brainwashing today without touching on these dramatic current developments.” This leads into a subsequent charge of “intellectual dishonesty.”
In this brief response, I will not dwell on the question whether it is fair to raise such weighty charges over a piece focusing on the origins of a Chinese word, written under space constraints, and beginning with events in Hunan in the 1890s, solely because it does not go on to extensively discuss 21st century events in Xinjiang that many describe by using that word. Continue reading
The Ryan Mitchell paper is very nostalgic, very bilateral, and rather ivory tower. Xinao, yes. Heard about it, read about it before. Interesting. But this article sounds like a kind of old-school liberal scholarship that has long existed in the West in the Cold War. And in Hong Kong. Removed from the reality of places where there is no academic freedom. Could he have written this in Taiwan nowadays, without someone telling him how it was under Chiang Kaishek? Scientific doesn’t mean nice and neutral, never did. Science wasn’t something better before the Cold War. Not at all. Remember race. Most science on race. Or Scientific Communism. A somewhat discredited term in Central and Eastern Europe. Some still use it, of course. Nothing wrong with Marx. Something tedious about ivory towers. Re-centering, oh god. In love with his idea of China or the East through the ages. Is he still writing in Hong Kong now? Sorry, I know this is very rambling, not very polite and so on. Has anyone looked when the word brain-washing came up in other languages? In Russian, for example. Did Orwell know it? It’s a classical modern scholarship thing to bring up a word, a term, a phenomenon, to declare it Western, Euro-centric, then de-construct it with non-Western facts. In China it works the other way around, ever since the times of the reformers around Liang Qichao Mitchell mentions, and earlier. Marx was very close to the political reality of his time. He wanted that very much. I suspect Mitchell doesn’t. I understand the impulse. But reality has overtaken Hong Kong, hasn’t it?
Martin Winter <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Language has history, and I thought Ryan Mitchell did an important and illuminating job of exploring the history of the term “brain washing.” To read the term only through current experience, deplorable as that experience may be, is exactly the error Mitchell is hoping to correct.
Ron Janssen < email@example.com>
It’s eerie to have this article, which argues brainwashing is a pointless Cold War term only bounded about for political purposes and with no analytical purchase either on the past or on today, with no reference at all to the recent waves of forced-confession spectacles which are the results of months of “brainwashing” (exchange with another word if you don’t like it), surely the polar opposite of “individuals’ active attempts to re-examine their own ideas,” — whether or not that was an original sense of this word xinao, as the article says it was.
Worse, if you don’t like the term “brainwashing,” then what will you call the violent conversion therapy currently practiced on hundreds of thousands of concentration camp detainees in Xinjiang?
Even if Mitchell is right that “the term is used frequently by ideologues of all stripes to define the opinions of those whom they disagree with as the result of external mind control rather than an independent thought process,” how is it remotely possible to even write on this topic without touching on the massive campaign forcing people at gunpoint, in the Xinjiang camps, to regurgitate CCP dogma and then denounce themselves and deny their identity day out and day in — as copiously documented by numerous witnesses — surely a full-throated contemporary revival of Maoist CCP torture-brainwashing? Continue reading
Source: Made in China (10/8/19)
China and the Political Myth of ‘Brainwashing’
By Ryan Mitchell
‘Investigative Study of Brain Essence’, article and diagrams in the Zhixin Bao, 1897. Source: 全国报刊索引 database.
‘Brainwashing’ is a ubiquitous word, a basic part of the vocabulary in various languages around the world. In fact, the allegation is used so frequently in modern discourse that we might be puzzled as to how political arguments ever got by without its striking, pejorative imagery. It is de rigueur to describe those with different viewpoints as incapable of independent thought—instead, for example, Mainland Chinese citizens must have been ‘brainwashed’ into fervent nationalism, or, alternatively, Hong Kong protesters must have been ‘brainwashed’ by Western media or governments. Though it was the English word that became globalised from the middle of the twentieth century, writers on the topic have long claimed, with varying degrees of certainty, that it was in turn a calque of a preexisting Chinese term: xinao (洗脑), literally ‘to wash the brain’. Continue reading
Source: China Media Project (10/8/19)
Understanding China requires a high-level of sensitivity to the nuances of the political language used by the Chinese Communist Party, and also how that language impacts our imagined points of connectivity with China. Simple words like “innovation,” an apparent reference to Silicon Valley-style disruption through technology, can signal things we might not associate — such as tighter political and social controls, and widespread surveillance.
In the realm of media and public opinion, one of the most misunderstood words in contemporary mainland Chinese, completely co-opted by CCP discourse, is “mainstream,” or zhuliu (主流). Continue reading
Call for Papers: 5th Workshop on Innovations in Cantonese Linguistics (WICL-5)
The 5th Workshop on Innovations in Cantonese Linguistics (WICL-5) will take place on Sunday, 19 April 2020, at The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A. The WICL conference — an event hosted every two years by different institutions in North America — focuses on new advances in Cantonese Linguistics, including innovations in methodologies, tools, and/or computing software. New approaches and research on language variation within the Cantonese (or “Yue”) subgroup of the Chinese language family, language contact phenomena, and new subfields and their interfaces are especially welcome.
Keynote speakers are: Professor Roxana Suk-Yee Fung (Hong Kong Polytechnic University) and Professor Genevieve Leung (University of San Francisco) Continue reading
Source: China Media Project (9/6/19)
THE PARTY IS STRUGGLING
by David Bandurski
In his address to a training session for young leaders at the Central Party School on September 3, Xi Jinping spoke of the immense challenges facing the country and the Chinese Communist Party. The language he chose, however, was not “challenge,” “test” or “obstacle.” He spoke instead of “struggle,” or douzheng (斗争), a word that bears the weight of a painful political history — recalling the internal “struggles against the enemy” that tore Chinese society apart in the 1960s and 1970s.
For many still, douzheng invokes not just the need for unity toward common goals, or a can-do attitude, but warns instead of deep and potentially traumatizing division.
A passage from the Xinhua News Agency release on Xi Jinping’s September 3 speech, with the word “struggle” highlighted. Continue reading
We are pleased to announce that the 32nd North American Conference on Chinese Linguistics (NACCL-32), will be held at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, on April 24 – 26, 2020. The theme of NACCL-32 is collaborativity and interdisciplinarity in Chinese linguistic studies.
Conference Website: https://sites.google.com/site/naccl32uconn
Abstract submission: http://linguistlist.org/easyabs/naccl_2020
NACCL-32 invite abstracts in all subfields of Chinese linguistics, including but not limited to, phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, dialectology, historical linguistics, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, and corpus linguistics. We particularly encourage submissions that are relevant to our conference theme: connectivity, collaborativity and interdisciplinarity in Chineese linguistic studies. Authors whose abstracts are accepted will be allotted 20 minutes to present their research and 10 minutes to answer questions. Abstracts and presentations can be given in either English or Mandarin Chinese. Continue reading
Thanks. I don’t hate Germany, or the German language, nor China or the Chinese language. Or any language.
I understand your reaction, and would like you to hear me out on this. I made a comparison which I think is very much valid: If your country organizes mass oppression on the scale of what the Chinese regime is doing now, a Hitlerian scale, it will, unfortunately and unavoidably, make a deep stain on its reputation which it will take a very long time to remove.
The Nazis did this to Rilke’s German, and the current Chinese regime is doing this to Lu Xun’s Chinese. There are other examples, of course (don’t expect a Saami person to love Swedish literature), but the Nazi comparison is apt.
As you know, the Chinese regime is carrying out a massive genocidal campaign to destroy indigenous identities, including by prohibiting native languages, and imposing Chinese at the point of a gun. Continue reading
That sounds like a very unfair judgment; why taking Magnus’ remarks so personally? This is an academic platform where we at the very least should expect some respectful manners. “I do not like his articles”: this is a statement not an argument. Could you elaborate please? Besides why not addressing him directly? “Magnus, I don’t like your articles (and here is why)” sounds a bit closer to a dialogue than a public attack.
My own reading is that Magnus was trying to emphasise the traumatic experience of people who are forced to abandon their mother language and to learn the dominant language. Some chose to use this dominant language to express themselves, some radically reject that language. The current Chinese policies in the Uyghur region, rather than building bridges and harmony, are creating the same rejection process; though indeed, as in the German case, some chose to use the dominant language to express their identity (like Tibetan writer Pema Tseden for instance).
Concluding from this comparison that Magnus hates Chinese and Germans… there might be other platforms to “laver votre linge sale” as the French saying goes.
Vanessa Frangville <firstname.lastname@example.org> Continue reading
Magnus Fiskesjö seems to hate China. I do not like his articles. Magnus seems to hate Germany. Please let me ask, the Nobel prize winner Elias Canetti who wrote in German was German? Kafka was German, Rilke was German? They all wrote in German, but they were not Germans at all. German is the language of Nazis? There is something else. Like me. Writing in German and in Chinese I am fighting Nazis etc. all the time.
The late Irene Eber – I loved her very much – once told me there were so many Germans who helped her… There is something else….
Wolfgang Kubin <email@example.com>
China’s banning and suppressing of the Uyghur and other native languages of Xinjiang, and the forced teaching of Chinese there, reminds me of the Nazi occupation of Norway, when kids there were forced to learn German. My mom was one of those kids, and she never regained a respect for the German language; even I, born much later, failed to study German, just because the Nazis forced my mom to study it. Now I wonder, will the Chinese language suffer similarly, because of the vile oppression they are carrying out now? In the camps, people are starved and beaten if they don’t keep up, in singing Chinese Communist songs glorifying their Führer. With this sort of campaign, why would anyone want to study Chinese language any more — the language of the concentration camps?
Magnus Fiskesjö <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Source: Hong Kong Free Press (6/18/19)
A language under attack: China’s campaign to sever the Uighur tongue
By Rustem Shir, Research Associate with the Uyghur Human Rights Project
Uighur protest in Washington, DC. Photo: Wikicommons.
Of the 7,111 languages being spoken around the world, 41 per cent can be classified as endangered, meaning that face-to-face use by speakers across generations is in decline.
At first glance, it may seem inaccurate to designate the Uighur language as endangered – more than 11 million people speak Uighur as a first language and Uighur is an official language of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (also known as East Turkestan) in China.
Yet, despite these indicators of vitality, the Uighur language is in peril because it has been targeted by the Chinese Communist Party for erasure. Continue reading
Source: Goldthread (5/29/19)
5 Chinese internet slang phrases you should know, illustrated
By Frankie Huang
Frankie Huang is a Shanghai-based illustrator who writes a daily Twitter column called #PutongWords, where she dissects the origins of commonly used Chinese phrases.Many of them are poetic and visual—such as 吸猫 (ximao), “inhaling cats”—but they carry much deeper meanings. (In this case, “inhaling cats” is internet slang for people who are addicted to taking care of their pets.) We asked Frankie to illustrate some common Chinese internet slang and explain the deeper meaning behind the literal phrases.
Get shot lying down
Sometimes you go out of your way to avoid trouble, but trouble finds you like a stray bullet during a firefight. 躺枪 (tangqiang) literally means “to get shot lying down,” and it perfectly describes a situation where you become the victim of a fight in which you had no stake in fighting. The phrase is frequently used in online forums and conversations where multiple parties are present and things get a little too messy or heated. Continue reading