Discussion Section: Illegal China Metaphors

The China Digital Times pointed us in the direction of this BBC article: “African view: China’s New Long March“. Sigh. Is commercial practice and Chinese diplomacy in Africa really that similar to the actual Long March? No, it isn’t, but we can’t blame the BBC. They’re not exactly alone. Have a look:

Etc. (Keep in mind that’s just articles with that metaphor in the title). To be fair, this is not a Western-media thing; Chinese sources also use the phrase quite frequently and it was even an official policy title in the 1970s. Still, it’s tired, and often wildly inappropriate. Just because something is challenging, time-consuming, or happens over great distances doesn’t make it a “new Long March”. We move that the phrase be made illegal, and journalists who use it be fined 50,000 RMB.

Worse, still, is any combination of the words “Red”, “Dragon” and the verb “to rise”, often combined to refer to China’s recent economic development, i.e. books like Red Dragon Rising, Red Dragon Rising, games like Red Dragon Rising, and articles like “Red Dragon Rising“, “Red Dragon Rising“, and “Red Dragon Rising“, among many, many others.

This combination of words is popular because it combines the (only) three things John Q. Public knows about China: it’s communist (“red”), its culture is full of dragons and/or we’re scared of its military (“dragon”), and its economy has improved dramatically (“rising”). It was probably clever the first time it was written — which I assume was probably some time in the 19th century* — but it hasn’t been since then. I suggest that journalists found using this metaphor be punished with a fine of 500,000 RMB. All these fines can be deposited directly into my bank account, by the way.

Anyway, the question we put to you is this: What other tired China tropes would you add to our list? What punishments would you recommend for the offenders? Or alternatively, do you think these overused metaphors are not such a bad thing?

UPDATE: Can’t believe I forgot about this, but a great China blog recently ran a similar rant. Check out Bendi Laowai’s take on the changing-China trope.

*If nothing else, Napoleon Bonaparte famously said, “China is like a sleeping giant, and when she awakes, she will astonish the world,” in 1803. Not the exact same metaphor, but a similar idea.

0 thoughts on “Discussion Section: Illegal China Metaphors”

  1. I posted a comment asking them to refrain from using that, Great Leap Forward, and Cultural Revolution ever again. They haven’t displayed it.

    “Rising” is shitty too, but I blame the Chinese for that one.


  2. Um… the pairing of two objects to signify some sort of ancient, deep, very Chinese truth, e.g. “Iron and Silk,” “The Great Wall and the Empty Fortress,” “The Dragon and the Jade,” etc. (that last one I made up).

    Note: “The Great Wall and the Empty Fortress” is actually a really good book. I just want people to stop with this stuff before it goes too far…


  3. Oh, and enough with foreign journalists recently arrived in Beijing writing their first few articles only on how China is a country where “Maoism has given way to consumerism” or about how Mao would be surprised by Wangfujing or crap like that. YES, yes, we all know that China has changed. What else can you tell us?


  4. @ everyone: Nice! Keep ’em coming! Also, what about punishments?

    @ OTR: There are a billion things called “Jade Dragon”, if that counts. Also, along the “China has changed” lines I was remiss in not posting a link to this, a rant along similar grounds from 本地老外.


  5. “What else can you tell us?”

    They’d tell you more if they were allowed to travel and report freely.

    On a related note, remember those two British travellers who retraced the Long March? Unsurprisingly they discovered it was exaggerated to the tune of 4000 km. China’s reaction? Condemn the Brits. Hahaha! Love it!

    Anyway, it seems Custer is right to quibble with the metaphor – it wasn’t such a big deal after all.


  6. totally agree, and especially with OTR re: Mao vs Consumerism. Photos where Mao is in the background of some kid doing something “capitalist” should be banned.
    In fact, same should go for all photos that work on a contrast between a young person and an old person.


  7. One of my classmates from graduate school works for the News Office of the Foreign Ministry, basically she’s one of the translation team. They dropped “rise” a long time ago.

    First – perhaps in the 1990s – it was “China’s rise,” then “peaceful rise,” and now it’s been changed to “peaceful development.” You’d be hard-pressed to find “rise” in Foreign Ministry documents nowadays.


  8. When I was at AFP we used to amuse ourselves in slow periods by pulling pieces of paper out of the “Write your China book” hat. As you may know, many journalists see fit to produce a China book after a tour of duty in Beijing/Shanghai. We wrote some of the component words of typical titles on paper and put them in the hat, and drew out combinations which would dictate the title of our next China book. Some of our favourites: “Wild Ghosts”, “Hungry Dragons”, “Red Swans”, “Black Dragon, White Dragon”and “Bitter Emperors”. Non-political tomes included: “Dragon Stands Up” (Tai Chi manual, or new translation of Jinpingmei?), and “Sweet and Sour Swans” (cookery – royalty only).


  9. You don’t seem to be aware of the common practice of using deeply entrenched stereotypes in headlines and titles of books, papers etc. in the West. Yes they are hackneyed and old-fashioned and refer to many things that you would prefer to be able to move on from but that simply isn’t going to happen. The practice is so widespread in the English speaking world that the countries that do it will often have other countries writing such headlines etc. about them. You may be tired of it but it is not that big a deal as we occasionally feel the same way. It’s all about learning to find the irreverent side to the whole thing and just accepting that journalists and authors will do it because (as a headline or title’s job is just that) it tells the reader instantly what the piece is about in a slightly more clever way than say “China’s new economic strategy launched” or “A book about China’s troubled past” or something. No matter how much you hate this you are not going to see it go away but take solace that rest of us tire of it too sometimes.


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