Watching China Watching (XXIX)
China Heritage launched the series Watching China Watching in early 2018 by quoting the observations of László Ladány and Simon Leys on reading the Chinese Communist press. Among other things, Simon Leys remarked that:
Communist Chinese politics are a lugubrious merry-go-round … and in order to appreciate fully the déjà-vu quality of its latest convolutions, you would need to have watched it revolved for half a century. The main problem with many of our politicians and pundits is that their memories are too short, thus forever preventing them from putting events and personalities in a true historical perspective.
The latest contribution to Watching China Watching introduces and translates ‘Three Critiques of Inflatuation’ 人民網三評浮誇自大文風, a series of essays on writing style and media hyperbole published by People’s Daily in early July 2018. It also adds to our ongoing work on New Sinology 後漢學, that is an approach that takes seriously Official China while guiding students of China to find abiding elements of cultural value beneath the Communist farrago.
— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
10 July 2018
- In keeping with the in-house style of China Heritage, the following editorial essays and introduction employ full-form Chinese characters. The bilingual translations of the three People’s Daily essays reproduce the original texts in simplified characters.
- A Lesson in New Sinology
- The Three Winds
- Taking the Air
- The Wind
- Mendacious, Hyperbolic, Fatuous
- Three Critiques of Inflatuation
- People’s Daily Preface to the Three Critiques
- I: Don’t You Know How to Write?
- II: Do the Chinese Lack Self-confidence?
- III: Style is Anything but Trivial
A Lesson in New Sinology
In China Heritage we celebrate the vital aspects of the Chinese tradition both by introducing readers to Nouvelle Chinoiserie 奇趣漢學, as well as by adding to our long-term advocacy of New Sinology 後漢學, which we first articulated in 2005. Previously we have illustrated this way of appreciating contemporary China in the context of the tradition in the series New Sinology Jottings 後漢學劄記.
What’s useful about New Sinology? As we have remarked previously:
Today’s corporatised education system too often leaves students of China well versed in the professions, but unable to understand with ease and fluency the wellsprings of what China is today. Deprived of the broader linguistic and cultural context, they are ill-equipped to understand, translate or engage with such daily essentials as online discussions, coded commentaries or sometimes even newspaper headlines, let alone the myriad traditional concepts used by Chinese thinkers, politicians, economists and strategists in articulating China’s sense of itself and its new place in the world. …
New Sinology advocates an approach to contemporary China that appreciates the overculture of the dominant Chinese Communist Party and what, through ideology, its policies, the mass media, the education system and its internal and global propaganda efforts the Party promotes as Official China. It also inducts those engaged with China into the particularities of Translated China, that is the versions of China advocated by the Party authorities through their selective approach to and interpretation of the Chinese world, be it in the contemporary context or that of the tradition or the twentieth century.
The ‘Lesson in New Sinology’ presented here begins with a discussion of the ‘Three Winds’ 三風 that formed the core of the Communist Party Rectification Movement in Yan’an in 1942-1943, which was called a ‘campaign to correct the direction of the prevailing wind [in the Party up to that time]’ 整風運動. We then extend our understanding of the role of that crucial campaign to contemporary Chinese politics by noting the use and significance of the word fēng 風 ‘wind’, ‘air’ before going on to offer an outline review of the ‘winds’ fēng 風 that have shaped the Chinese landscape since 1949. Only then do we introduce the ‘Three Critiques of Infatuation’ published by People’s Daily.
Today, the Xi Jinping-era version of The China Story claims to be the sole legitimate way to understand China, both present and past. Many writers, journalists and academics, be they inside China or overseas, strain to hear, report, create stories or translate the polyphony of voices, the jostling of ideas, aspirations and the melding of the traditional with the contemporary that can inform an engaged yet independent appreciation of the Chinese world unencumbered by Communist Party dogma. It is the task of Party organs like People’s Daily, however, to corral a Chinese multiverse that is constantly threatening to break out of the prison of words. Through our advocacy of New Sinology we hope to aid and abet people to appreciate better the limits of that party-prison.
The People’s Daily Three Critiques contain various literary references, quotations from important traditional and modern works, and the use of historical analogy. These may well be overlooked by the careless reader or dismissed as mere affectation, nothing more than a crude effort by hack writers to appeal to sanctified tradition, a kind of pedantic footnoting or a phony display of ill-digested scholarship. However, for those familiar with modern Chinese prose more generally, such devices are par for the course. They are not necessarily a lazy quotational version of a Sinitic Reader’s Digest. This kind of literary-historical-intellectual 文史哲 usage adds both literary validation and strength to expository prose. To dismiss this practice, or to fail to appreciate the broader cultural ambience it reflects — one far beyond the limited purview of the Communists — is to overlook an essential part of Chinese cultural expression.
The Three Critiques translated in full below employ a range of neologisms, stock Party formulations and acceptable clichés. Here, however, we will point out only a few of the more obvious cultural and historical references, most of which would be familiar to the average interested reader. Our short glossary of terms, names and ideas takes the form of a series of ‘New Sinology Notes’ appended to the three essays. For, although the prose style of official Party writing is verbose, grammatically ungainly and syntactically tortuous, authors frequently enhance their work by employing flourishes of erudition, or by drawing on Chinese and international literature, history and thought. For students of contemporary China, even the most deathly writing may offer cultural leads that can enrich and enliven an understanding of China’s cultural multiverse. These notes are offered then for non-Chinese readers as an outline guide to how they might expand their understanding of the Chinese world beyond the earthbound pull of contemporary culture and ideas into an empyreal realm of abiding value. In the past, looking up references in Party prose required painstaking work in libraries and dictionaries, as well as a reliance on memory; today, fortunately, for most readers ‘research’ generally relies on little more an online search engine.
— The Editor
- The Editor and Lee Yee 李怡, Deathwatch for a Chairman, China Heritage, 17 July 2018
- The Editor and Others, Drop Your Pants! The Party Wants to Patriotise You All Over Again (Part I) — Ruling The Rivers & Mountains, China Heritage, 8 August 2018
- The Editor and Others, The Party Empire — Drop Your Pants! The Party Wants to Patriotise You All Over Again (Part II), China Heritage, 17 August 2018
- The Editor and Others, Homo Xinensis — Drop Your Pants! The Party Wants to Patriotise You All Over Again (Part III), China Heritage, 31 August 2018
- Geremie R. Barmé, A People’s Banana Republic, China Heritage, 5 September 2018, also published as Peak Xi Jinping?, ChinaFile, 4 September 2018
- The Editor and Others, Homo Xinensis Ascendant — Drop Your Pants! The Party Wants to Patriotise You All Over Again (Part IV), China Heritage, 16 September 2018
- The Editor and Others, Homo Xinensis Militant — Drop Your Pants! The Party Wants to Patriotise You All Over Again (Part V), China Heritage, 1 October 2018
The Three Winds
With the dawn of the Xi Jinping Epoch, one characterised by increased official secrecy, the policing of errant opinion, the closing down of diverse sources of information and commentary, and the general one-man-rule style of hegemonic discourse, some of the old techniques may well require dusting off. Similarly, with Xi Thought 習近平思想 now enshrined in the Constitution of the Chinese Communist Party, it is not surprising that, as in other areas, China’s Chairman of Everything and his think-tankers have delved into Party history, not only for inspiration, but also to re-engineer techniques that have over time proved to be well suited to compliance and thought manipulation.
Among other things, they draw on the lessons of the late 1930s and early 1940s when Mao Zedong, having achieved ascendancy over his rivals launched what was known as a mass campaign to ‘Rectify the Three Winds’ 整頓三風 of the Party. The Three Winds or ‘styles of doing things’ were: The Wind of the Party 黨風, The Wind of Study Methods 學風 and The Wind of Writing 文風. The movement — which included the study, recitation and internalisation of a corpus of approved political texts along with a punishing schedule of meetings and constant confessions — was aimed at the elimination of enemies (both ideologically and, in some cases, physically), but more importantly, and in contrast to the Moscow Trials of Stalin’s Soviet Union (1936-1938), to impose in thought, word and deed a strict adherence to the precepts of Mao’s Sinicised brand of Stalinism-Marxism-Leninsm. The process would require Party members not only to acknowledge verbally the dominion of the new dogma 口服 but also to embrace it in the depths of their hearts 心服.
Overseen by Mao, his ideological vizier Kang Sheng 康生 and Liu Shaoqi 劉少奇 (an ardent supporter who, in early 1945, would formally articulate the theory of Mao Zedong Thought 毛澤東思想) and others, the Rectification Movement was launched in early 1942. Party members — a motley collective of individuals from a range of backgrounds and regions — were required first to study in exacting detail selected texts, analyze, discuss and repeat core tenets of the evolving Party dogma; then they had to open themselves up to rounds of confessions and ideological renewal (distastefully called ‘dropping your pants to cut off your [bourgeois] tail’ 脫褲子, 割尾巴).
The Rectification Movement forged a new unity among the Communists at a time of ideological contestation and wartime disruption. It was an ideologically unified political party with a disciplined and coordinated armed force that would lay the basis for the one-party state after 1949. The Yan’an Rectification prepared the way both for the early achievements (purges, pogroms and mass murders) of the Mao era, as well as the national disasters of High Maoism, in particular the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution from 1957 to 1977. (For more on the origins of the rectification, see our five-part series ‘Drop Your Pants!’)
The Yan’an Rectification 整風 was of historical importance, it was also the first of three ‘wind corrections’: the second was launched in mid 1950, shortly after the founding of the People’s Republic. It was aimed at reorienting the Party to effectively rule China; it entailed rounds of self-criticism among Party members to fine hone their political awareness and an anti-corruption campaign. The third, and most devastating ‘rectification’ was launched in 1957, following the Hundred Flowers Campaign that had led to widespread criticism of the Party (see ‘New Sinology Note 1’ appended to the third essay from People’s Daily below). China’s intellectual and cultural life have never recovered from the ‘correction’ of 1957, nor has it been disavowed by the Communist Party.
Today, eighty years later, Xi Jinping and his propagandists recall the achievements of 1942-1943 approvingly as Party members are required to undergo a similar Personal Renovation 自我革命. (The Yan’an Spirit 延安精神 has loomed large from before Xi’s rise to power and, since his accession as party-state-army leader in 2013, his apparat has been assiduous in imposing practices perfected in the old wartime base. These include collective study sessions aimed at training participants to parrot the Party line verbatim, ideological reporting — and snitching, as well as pro forma confessions and rounds of liturgical criticism-and-self-criticism).
In the opening salvos of the Rectification Movement launched in Yan’an in February 1942, Mao Zedong said that they had to confront the problems the Communist Party had with ‘The Three Winds’ 三風 for there was:
Something wrong with our style of study, with our style in the Party’s internal and external relations and with our style of writing. 我們的學風還有些不正的地方，我們的黨風還有些不正的地方，我們的文風也有些不正的地方。
In dedicated speeches he addressed each of these ‘winds’ in turn:
- Reform our Study, 改造我們的學習;
- Rectify the Party’s Style of Work, 整頓黨的作風; and
- Oppose Stereotyped Party Writing, 反對黨八股.
Here we are concerned with the term wénfēng 文風, the focus of the three People’s Daily opinion pieces that appeared in early July 2018. Wénfēng 文風 or ‘style of writing’ (which Mao used to attack ‘stereotyped writing’, that is, the theoretical writings of his factional enemies) connotes ‘the way of expressing oneself in a written form’, or simply ‘rhetorical style’ (the common word for ‘rhetoric’ in modern Chinese is xiūcí 修辭). As we have pointed out elsewhere, Chinese politics imbues many words with a powerful ‘moral-evaluative’ dimension (see On New China Newspeak). Thus, wénfēng 文風 doesn’t simply mean ‘style’, it also describes the manner in which an author express something unique about themselves fēnggé 風格 while revealing to the reader both their social demeanor and moral persona zuòfēng 作風.
The opinion pieces translated below from People’s Daily focus on the question of Literary or Writing Style 文風 and how it both reflects the mood of the nation and has an impact on the political and social mores of the country. In particular the opinion pieces discuss fúkuā zìdà wénfēng 浮誇自大文風 which we translate as ‘Hyperbolic and Boastful Style’. It could just as easily be rendered in terms of superlativism, overkill or exaggeration. It means, in short, ‘rhetorical gigantomania’. But, before proceeding to the opinions of People’s Daily, we will say a few words about fēng 風, ‘wind’ or ‘air’ itself, and review some of the compounds and expressions in which it is generally used.
Taking the Air
Fēng 風 has from the earliest times denoted ‘popular temper’, ‘sensibility’, and even style or manner. The Book of Songs 詩經, an anthology of 305 poems supposedly selected by Confucius himself, is one of the Six Classics 六經 of the Confucian canon. It is what the scholar C.H. Wang calls ‘the fountainhead of Chinese literature’. The folk songs in the ‘Airs of the State’ 國風 in the Book of Songs were collected from various regions of predynastic China. For the most part, they celebrate daily life as well as reflecting the temper of the times. Since then, the concept of social mores, popular sensibility, styles of expression as well morality itself has often been expressed by the word fēng 風. ‘Observing the winds’ 觀風 or ‘collecting the wind’ 採風, that is, noting the contents of popular ballads, was one way that power-holders gauged popular opinion. Ill winds 歪風 (also 歪風邪氣) represent dangers to the health both of the individual and of the state. For millennia assiduous officials and literary figures attempted to understand what such fēng 風 might truly signify; all too often, they would jump to conclusions about the nature of popular sentiment, and as a result they might be derided for foolishly ‘pouncing on the wind and grasping at shadows’ 撲風捉影.
Fēng 風 notably features in the term fengshui 風水, and ‘wind and light’ 風光 (also 風景, ‘windy scene’) means ‘scenery’. It features as wind in globally recognised traditional Chinese medicine and it appears in words and expressions related to risk 風險 and hardship 風雨. Prevailing winds determine how one might ‘secure a strategic advantage’ 佔上風, or graciously concede defeat 甘拜下風. The word features too in terms related to rapid change or transformation, such as ‘trend’ 風潮, ‘the flavour of the month’ 風靡一時, and in the expression ‘with lightning speed’ 風馳電掣.
Fēng 風 appears too in terms to do with ingrained social behaviour, customs and practices. For instance, the Communist Party’s tireless efforts ‘to remake and improve social mores’ is called 移風易俗 (literally, ‘move winds and change habits’), while those same authorities decry all that is deemed to ‘undermine [Party approved social] practices and morality’ 敗俗傷風.
Fēng 風 similarly occurs in the words for ‘social ambience’ 風氣, ‘customs and habits’ 風俗習慣 and ‘positive public behaviour’ 新風, as well as in the word for ‘fashion’ 風尚, roughly ‘the dominant wind’.
Fēng 風 too denotes the movement of news and information, and it is found in the compound word for ‘hearsay’ or ‘rumour’ 風傳, as well as in the phrase ‘to response with alacrity what has been heard on the wind or rumoured’ 聞風而動. ‘Waters whipped up into a frenzied wave’ 風潮 connotes turbulence or a political maelstrom. Whereas fēng 風 is used for ‘ventilate’ or ‘to let air in’ 透風, it is also similarly employed when talking about ‘letting air out’, as in ‘leaking information’ 走漏風聲. It is a term that can also denote the witty or humorous style of an individual, 風趣.
A model citizen or person worthy of emulation 風範 is the embodiment of disciplined behaviour and good morals 風紀, their example may even provide a model for others 風世. The word ‘elegance’ 風采 usually connotes class and refinement but, from 1986, it took on a more militant dimension when it was featured in the song ‘Bloodstained Glory’ 血染的風采. Among other things, the song was sung to commemorate the ‘Party martyrs’ — that is the heavily armed PLA soldiers — who were killed during the Beijing Massacre of 4 June 1989. The popular People’s Liberation Army hymn was famously sung by the singer-soldier Peng Liyuan 彭麗媛, later China’s First Lady.
In early 2016, when discussing Party guidance concerning the media, the Chairman himself introduced a new ‘four-character fixed expression’ 成語, that is: 成風化人. It means ‘to engineer a positive social and moral ambience 風氣 through public information and the news media, and thereby educate and enlighten 教化 the individual [so that they can internalise Core Socialist Values]’. The formulation appears repeatedly in the People’s Daily critiques below.
Fēng 風 is similarly used in relation to individual character and integrity where it can mean demeanor 風度, style (literary or personal) 風格, and even the steeliness of one’s manner (or calligraphic flair) 風骨. The use of fēng 風 is not limited to positive expressions, since it appears too in expressions that describe political opportunists and fence-sitters 風派人物, that is those people who observe which was the wind is blowing 觀風 and trim their sails to the prevailing wind 望風轉舵. Some winds are reckless and violent — the foul-tempered and murderous Li Kui 李逵 in the classical novel Water Margin 水滸傳 was known as ‘Black Whirlwind’ 黑旋風 (now also the brandname of an insect repellent) — but, from early in the tradition, writers have equally extolled the ‘Hero Wind’ 雄風 (see the rhapsody by Song Yu below), an afflatus that is possessed by rare individuals. Heroic heroic figures are lauded for being ‘at one with the winds and currents [of destiny]’ 風流人物.
Mao Zedong used the expression 風流人物 in his most celebrated ci-lyric poem Snow 雪 which he had published in the wartime capital of Chungking at the time of the Yan’an Rectification Movement. To many readers not in the thrall of Mao’s unfolding personality cult at the time it revealed unseemly personal, if not imperial, ambition:
For truly great men, 數風流人物,
look to this age alone 還看今朝。
Translated by Burton Watson
Song Yu (c.290-c.223 BCE) served at the court of the State of Chu and was a disciple of the famous poet-statesman Qu Yuan. … The poem may be intended simply to delight the reader with its gusty portrait of the two winds of the land of Chu. But if commentators are to be believed, a more serious purpose underlies it, the expression of veiled reproaches against a king whose way of life is so far removed from that of his impoverished subjects that the very winds that blow upon them are of a different nature.
— Burton Watson
King Xiang of Chu was taking his ease in the Palace of the Orchid Terrace, with his courtiers Song Yu and Jing Cha attending him, when a sudden gust of wind came sweeping in. The king, opening wide the collar of his robe and facing into it, said, 楚襄王游於蘭台之宮，宋玉景差侍。有風颯然而至，王乃披襟而當之，曰：
How delightful this wind is! And I and the common people may share it together, may we not? 快哉此風。寡人所與庶人共者邪。
But Song Yu replied, 宋玉對曰：
This wind is for Your Majesty alone. How could the common people have a share in it? 獨大王之風耳，庶人安得而共之。
‘The wind,’ said the king, ‘is the breath of heaven and earth. Into every corner it unfolds and reaches; without choosing between high or low, exalted or humble, it touches everywhere. What do you mean when you say that this wind is for me alone?’ 王曰：夫風者，天地之氣，溥暢而至，不擇貴賤高下而加焉。今子獨以為寡人之風，豈有說乎。
Song Yu replied, 宋玉對曰：
I have heard my teacher say that the twisted branches of the lemon tree invite the birds to nest, and hollows and cracks summon the wind. But the breath of the wind differs with the place which it seeks out. 臣聞於師：枳句來巢，空穴來風。其所托者然，則風氣殊焉。
‘Tell me,’ said the king. ‘Where does the wind come from?’ 王曰：夫風始安生哉。
Song Yu answered: 宋玉對曰：
The wind is born from the land
And springs up in the tips of the green duckweed.
It insinuates itself into the valleys
And rages in the canyon mouth,
Skirts the corners of Mount Tai
And dances beneath the pines and cedars.
Swiftly it flies, whistling and wailing;
Fiercely it splutters its anger.
It crashes with a voice like thunder,
Whirls and tumbles in confusion,
Shaking rocks, striking trees,
Blasting the tangled forest.
Then, when its force is almost spent,
It wavers and disperses,
Thrusting into crevices and rattling door latches.
Clean and clear,
It scatters and rolls away.
Thus it is that this cool, fresh hero wind,
Leaping and bounding up and down,
Climbs over the high wall
And enters deep into palace halls.
With a puff of breath it shakes the leaves and flowers,
Wanders among the cassia and pepper trees,
Or soars over the swift waters.
It buffets the mallow flower,
Sweeps the angelica, touches the spikenard,
Glides over the sweet lichens and lights on willow shoots,
Rambling over the hills
And their scattered host of fragrant flowers.
After this, it wanders into the courtyard,
Ascends the jade hall in the north,
Clambers over gauze curtains,
Passes through the inner apartments,
And so becomes Your Majesty’s wind.
When this wind blows on a man,
At once he feels a chill run through him,
And he sighs at its cool freshness.
Clear and gentle,
It cures sickness, dispels drunkenness,
Sharpens the eyes and ears,
Relaxes the body and brings benefit to men.
This is what is called the hero wind of Your Majesty.
‘How well you have described it!’ exclaimed the king. ‘But now may I hear about the wind of the common people?’ 王曰：善哉論事。夫庶人之風，豈可聞乎。
And Song Yu replied: 宋玉對曰：
The wind of the common people
Comes whirling from the lanes and alleys,
Poking in the rubbish, stirring up the dust,
Fretting and worrying its way along.
It creeps into holes and knocks on doors,
Scatters sand, blows ashes about,
Muddles in dirt and tosses up bits of filth.
It sidles through hovel windows
And slips into cottage rooms.
When this wind blows on a man,
At once he feels confused and downcast.
Pounded by heat, smothered in dampness,
His heart grows sick and heavy,
And he falls ill and breaks out in a fever.
Where it brushes his lips, sores appear;
It strikes his eyes with blindness.
He stammers and cries out,
Not knowing if he is dead or alive.
This is what is called the lowly wind of the common people.
- John Minford and Joseph M. Lau, Classical Chinese Literature: An Anthology of Translations, Volume I: From Antiquity to the Tang Dynasty, New York: Columbia University Press, 2000, pp.270-272. The original Chinese text has been added.
Mendacious, Hyperbolic, Fatuous
Constant exaggeration is always bound to lead to ever greater exaggeration, with the result that a dulling of the senses, skepticism and finally disbelief are inevitable.
— Victor Klemperer, ‘The Curse of the Superlative’
LTI – Lingua Tertii Imperii: Notizbuch eines Philologen
(The Language of the Third Reich), 1947
The three-part People’s Daily attack on what it dubbed ‘Writing in a Hyperbolic and Boastful Style’ in early July 2018, translated and reproduced below, follows in the grand Communist tradition of rhetorical hypocrisy. Despite his denunciation of ‘stereotyped Party writing’ 黨八股 in 1942, Mao Zedong was himself the author of reams of wordy and overblown Communist Partyspeak. As for Xi Jinping, after only five years in power the deluge of the party-state-army leader’s logorrhea threatens to submerge the not-inconsiderable writings of Mao, Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping combined. It comes as no surprise that anecdotal accounts suggest that Xi’s works are read with the same enthusiasm that greeted the bloviation of previous leaders.
In the wake of the military coup of October 1976 that ousted the recently-dead Mao’s political faction — a group best called the ‘Gang of Four + 1′ — the Party media, now under new management, launched an attack on what it called ‘Gang Style’ 幫文風 writing, propaganda and speechifying. It was summed up as ‘Mendacious, Hyperbolic and Fatuous’ 假、大、空. The aim was to still the residual gusts of wind 遺風 of the Mao era.
From late 1978, Party leaders claimed they would return to the days before the Cultural Revolution to recuperate the Yan’an tradition of ‘Seeking Truth from Facts’ 實事求是. Before the linguistic atom bomb of High Maoism, however, wild exaggeration and overstatement were already de rigueur in Party propaganda and media reports. In the 1950s, for example, Party decisions were routinely hailed as stunning victories for the people, and every move of the leadership reflected unparalleled sagacity. The echo chamber of self-congratulation had profound, and murderous effects, first during the mass elimination of class enemies in the early 1950s, then during the Hundred Flowers Movement and subsequent purge of ‘Rightists’ in 1956-1957, and ultimately and monumentally, in the self-delusional policies of the Great Leap Forward when Mao and the Party convinced themselves that China was on the verge of entering a Communist Utopia.
As the death toll mounted due to economic dislocation, and bureaucratic folly egged on by reckless media bombast, the Party reluctantly moved to correct policy missteps which, among other things, it euphemistically referred to as an ‘ill wind’ 歪風. The worst of all was the ‘Communist Wind’ 共產風, a gale-force hurricane generated by Mao Zedong and his sycophants that imposed the collectivisation of agricultural production, rural life and an attempted dissolution of private property itself. With much of the country laid waste finally, in late 1960, Mao reluctantly drafted a formal Party directive blaming the devastation on The Five Winds 五風 of Bureaucratism 官僚主義風, Commanding from On High 強迫命令風, Rash Leadership 瞎指揮, Wild Exaggeration 浮誇風 and Communisation 共產風.
Evil Winds or Devilish Airs 妖風 billowed also at the inception of the Cultural Revolution, an era conventionally dated 1966 to 1976, although its ideological year-span is closer to 1964 to 1978. ‘Reply to Comrade Kuo Mo-jo, 七律 · 和郭沫若同志, a lu shih‘, a famous poem by Mao dated 17 November 1961 (quoted in A Monkey King’s Journey to the East, China Heritage, 1 January 2017) was ostensibly a critique of the Soviet Union, but its references to the classical novel Journey to the West 西遊記 were soon used in metaphors about rebellion against the status quo in China itself.
A thunderstorm burst over the earth, 一從大地起風雷
So a devil rose from a heap of white bones. 便有精生白骨堆。
The deluded monk was not beyond the light, 僧是愚氓猶可訓，
But the malignant demon must wreak havoc. 妖為鬼蜮必成災。
The Golden Monkey wrathfully swung his massive cudgel 金猴奮起千鈞棒，
And the jade-like firmament was cleared of dust. 玉宇澄清萬里埃。
Today, a miasmal mist once more rising, 今日歡呼孫大聖，
We hail Sun Wu-kung, the wonder-worker. 只緣妖霧又重來。
The thunderstorm bursting over the earth was reinterpreted to mean the political struggle in China, and the Demon Mist 妖霧 represented the enemies of Mao Zedong Thought. Mao and his supporters were the Golden Monkey Sun Wukong who would unleash chaos on the world as a prelude to a new age of revolution.
Mao also used an expression inspired by the novel Journey to the West to ridicule Peking University, which to his mind was a bastion of reaction, ‘There’s a formidable Devil Wind at that small temple,’ he is believed to have said. ‘The pond there might be shallow but it is full of turtles [bastards] 廟小妖風大，池淺王八多. Attacks on writers and intellectuals were also couched in terms of beating back Demon Winds 妖風, while the nationwide purge called for true revolutionaries to ‘Sweep Away All Cow-demons and Snake-spirits’ 橫掃一切牛鬼蛇神.
The juddering end of the Cultural Revolution era came with winds of its own: there was the Anti-Lin Biao Rectification Movement 批林整風運動 from late 1971 to mid 1973, and the unforgettably named Criticise Deng Xiaoping and Repudiate the Right-wing Wind to Overturn Verdicts 批鄧、反擊右傾翻案風 campaign of 1975-1976. Over the four decades since the Cultural Revolution, even as the Communists have initiated reality based policies based on empirical evidence, an ingrained totalitarian mindset has meant that in many areas and over many periods the Party has expressed itself through overstatement, bellicosity, extremism, emotionalism and militancy. These remain key features of Party communications today. Of course, over the years there have also been periods when reality has broken through as well as times of excessive rhetorical overreach which invariably lead to a dose of self-correction. After all, the Party lauds itself as being uniquely capable of ‘self-perfection’ 自我完善. The following essays reflect one of these periods of limited self-correction but, for better or worse, the hyperbole 浮誇 and self-aggrandisement 自大 criticised below remain at the core of the Party’s worldview, one it encourages among the citizens of the People’s Republic.
Blasting Winds of Bombast & Coruscating China
One of the tendencies that had to be modulated resulted from the increased sycophancy encouraged by the Party due to Xi Jinping’s irresistible rise. By 2016, media commentators had identified what they called Shit-scared Prose 嚇尿體 (writing about how foreigners are terrified of China’s achievements and looming Chinese dominance) as being typical of Xi-era populist hubris. Although the three People’s Daily essays translated below address the dangers of recent hyperbole and self-aggrandisement, their authors tiptoe along a propagandist’s tight rope: while online content providers and individual writers were chided for their rhetorical overreach, the articles are taking to task a media environment in which the Party is the ultimate arbiter. The world of hype and overstatement is concocted, authored, guided, sculpted and disseminated either directly by or with the immediate involvement of the Communist apparat. But, since the Party has both the first, and the last, word on such matters, vox populi is expected to fall silent in the face of vox Dei.
The authority of the Party’s Propaganda Department — euphemistically recast as the ‘publicity department’ in the 1990s (although internationally the head of the system is sometimes called China’s ‘information minister’) — has been greatly enhanced since a major party-state restructure initiated in March 2018. So, it might be argued that the Three Critiques are an expression of the expanded purview of Party publicists, even if the essays generally do little more than amplify previous warnings, including remarks made by the propaganda chief Liu Qibao 劉奇葆 in early 2017. Regardless of that, in effect, the task of the propagandists of a one-party Communist state is to deal with constant shifts in policy and language. An essential requirement of their job involves therefore a form of ‘semanticide’, the repeated making of a rod for their own back. But, as Mao Zedong once observed:
To lift a boulder only to drop it on your own feet is a Chinese way of saying stupid.
Amazing China 厲害了, 我的國 was a six-part CCTV and China Film production released on 2 March 2018. It was developed on the basis of an earlier TV documentary called Coruscating China 輝煌中國 (also officially called Amazing China in English). In it the narrator hailed the first five years of Xi Jinping’s reign (December 2012 to October 2017), extolling in the most gushing terms developments in science, technology, industry as well as in poverty reduction. In April 2018, the Party Propaganda Department issued instructions for Amazing China to be given the widest possible release, both online and in cinemas.
The ‘Blasting Winds of Bombast’ discussed below may not mention Amazing China by name, but by implication the production is identified in the righteous finger-wagging.
- Mao Zedong, Rectify the Party’s Style of Work, 1 February 1942; 毛澤東, 整頓黨的作風,1942年2月1日
- Mao Zedong, Oppose Stereotyped Party Writing, 8 February 1942; 毛澤東, 反對黨八股, 1942年2月8日
- David E. Apter and Tony Saich, Revolutionary Discourse in Mao’s Republic, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994
- Victor Klemperer, LTI — Lingua Tertii Imperii, The Language of the Third Reich, A Philologist’s Notebook, translated by Martin Brady, London: Continuum, 2000
- 高华, 《紅太陽是怎樣升起的——延安整風的來龍去脈》, online PDF
- Geremie R. Barmé, ‘Red Eclipse’, in Red Rising, Red Eclipse: China Story Yearbook 2012, 2013
- Heritage Glossary, China Heritage (in particular the entries on Tides 潮 and Zheteng 折騰)
- The Yanks Are Scared Shitless — The Social Causes Behind the Popularity of ‘Shit-scared Prose’ 「美國嚇尿了」，嚇尿體橫行的社會原因, SinaBlog, 7 October 2016
- Liu Qibao 劉奇葆, We Are Constantly Reforming Our Writing Style 改文風永遠在路上, Xinhua, 3 March 2017
- The Yanks Are Scared Shitless, The Japs Are Fainting in Floods of Tears — Why is China Full of ‘Shit-scared Prose’? 美國嚇尿了,日本哭暈了…「嚇尿體」為什麼橫行中國社會, Wenxue City, 24 February 2018
- Gao Hua, How the Red Sun Rose: The Origin and Development of the Yan’an Rectification Movement, 1930–1945, translated by Stacey Mosher and Guo Jian, Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2018
- News Media according to Xi Jinping Thought (2018 edition)《習近平新聞思想講義（2018年版）》, Beijing: Renmin Chubanshe and Xuexi Chubanshe, 2018, summarised in ‘Seven “New Dimensions” in Xi Thought and the Media’ 習近平新聞思想的七個「新」, China Youth Network (Zhongguo qingnianwang), 10 July 2018
Three Critiques of Inflatuation
from People’s Daily
On 3 July 2018, David Bandurski of the China Media Project reported that:
Yesterday, the Party’s official People’s Daily began running a series of commentaries on the pitfalls of “boastful and arrogant” discourse, warning that “certain media” had become careless. These “certain media,” we should note, were not fringe voices, but rather mainstream Party ones. The first piece criticized is sourced to China Central Television, and was shared on a number of official news sites back in March. The second is a video produced by Weichen Finance, posted to Tencent Video, that quotes Tsinghua University economics professor Hu Angang — who has in recent years loudly advocated the view that China’s current political system is superior to systems in the West — to support the view that China already has a technological edge on the United States.
Missing from the criticism in the People’s Daily, of course, is any acknowledgement that the Party’s own information controls, which have emphasized positive news, trumpeted “positive energy,” and militated against criticism, could possibly bear any responsibility for China’s inflated view of itself.
— Dialing Down the Hype
China Media Project
3 July 2018
The decision by People’s Daily to publish three articles on the theme of the negative impact of bombast in the Chinese media is certainly an indication of the significance of the topic, as well as a way to advance the argument beyond the more obvious: that, as David Bandurski points out in the above, after years of rhetorical excess, China was trying to ‘dial down the hype’ about it economic successes and global power (as well as the increasing perception that it is a threat to the international ‘rules-based order’ itself) during a period of particular sensitivity in the Sino-American trade relationship. It also came at a time when the party-state was reviewing the possible overreach of its worldwide aspirations.
The three articles translated below were published seriatim under collective pen names in the Opinion Pages of the online version of People’s Daily, the official media organ of the Chinese Communist Party. They would have most probably been written under the guidance of the Party’s Propaganda Department and this is why independent online commentary was particularly scathing: critics of the critiques immediately lambasted the articles and pointed out that as the Party propaganda system was the main source of media hyperbole and bombast, such editorial finger-wagging deserved nothing but contempt. Selected quotations from these lambasting responses are interspersed in the text, clearly marked.
Just what these essays might signify in the broader context of Communist Party politics and infighting in mid 2018 is something for expert analysts — Chinese observers, both in and outside the People’s Republic, academic political scientists and media specialists cum-China Watchers — to divine. Such analysts have well-honed instincts and are quick to discern in the political miasma of Beijing the slightest hint of trouble. To recall our theme of ‘wind’, they can, as the Chinese expression puts it detect ‘how the grass moves when the wind blows 風吹草動. Indeed, some of their number may wonder whether the Three Critiques reveal some hint of discord within the ideological sphere of Xi Jinping’s New Epoch, or are they a result of complaints from the science and tech communities about the damaging reputational effects of populist media hype? Or, perhaps they like a seismograph of some subterranean power struggle? The strict paternalism of the Xi era is built on the silencing of factional voices and the strict maintenance of a surface pretense that the nation and the party support Xi Jinping and all of his doings unwaveringly. As in the past, the monolithic facade of Party unity hides ceaseless and vicious infighting.
The articles are aimed at a number of things: the usual round of cleaning up of media liberalism; a response to bombast and hyper-nationalist fervor during a delicate period in Sino-US trade relations when China is trying to attempt a partial return to hide-and-bide coyness after the recent years of triumphalism under Xi Jinping’s policy of ‘we’re here; we’re mean; get used to it’. They reflect efforts by propagandists who are trying to tame, ride and warn cultural creators, and not just nationalist extremists: the Party knows what the bottom line is and you must not exceed popular (i.e., Party determined) norms or values. And, above all, as demonstrated in the last essay: in this period of the festering Xi Jinping Personality Cult, the essays are a shameless pandering to Xi Jinping the Thinker and the Man of Letters. While it is uncertain how many people (other than a few outside observers and readers with attitude) actually read People’s Daily apart from as a way to take cues or to acquire the à la mode new language required in Party meetings, one thing is for certain: the Party’s leaders and their propaganda hacks take it very seriously. The only thing they want to see reflected in the darkling mirror of their media outlets is their own image.
- 鏟除「鸚鵡學舌式」的文風, People’s Forum, 30 May 2018
- 黨媒批〝跪求體〞文風浮誇 網民：賊喊捉賊, New Tang Dynasty TV, 3 July 2018
- 人民日報批浮誇文風 網友：始作俑者是貴報, Epoch Times, 5 July 2018
In the course of his exhaustive surveys of Chinese official documentation, the analyst must absorb industrial quantities of the most indigestible stuff; reading Communist literature is akin to munching rhinoceros sausage, or to swallowing sawdust by the bucketful.
People’s Daily Editorial Preface
Three Critiques of Inflatuation
There’s nothing trivial about Writing Style or Forms of Expression. 文风无小事。
Of late, a particular style of writing has appeared with increasing regularity, one that relates stories on such themes as ‘Pleading on Bended Knee’, ‘Tearful Befuddlement’ and ‘Being Shit-scared’. The overall effect of such writing has been to undermine public confidence in the media; the pollution of our media environment in this fashion in turn corrupts our national mental wellbeing. This kind of writing in no way contributes to the appropriate edification of the people nor does it lend to our ongoing efforts to undertake their transformative improvement. Furthermore, it is unhelpful in the project of enhancing public unity and fostering a wholesome Internet space. 近期“跪求体”“哭晕体”“吓尿体”等浮夸自大文风频现，消解媒体公信力，污染舆论生态，扭曲国民心态，不利于成风化人、凝聚人心、构建清朗网络空间。
In order to set right a trend in media writing that favours exaggeration and braggadocio, one that values style over substance, while at the same time taking advantage of this moment to continue our support for writing that is ‘concise, grounded and salutary’ — as articulated by General Secretary Xi Jinping — we champion a vibrant writing style that celebrates shimmering clarity of expression. It is to that end, that starting today the People’s Network is publishing a series of opinion pieces under the title ‘Three Critiques of Writing in a Hyperbolic and Boastful Style’. 为了匡正各媒体浮夸自大、华而不实的文风，落实习近平总书记对文风“短、实、新”的要求，倡导清新文风，崇尚风清气正，今天起，人民网观点频道推出“三评浮夸自大文风”系列评论。
— People’s Daily, 2 July 2018
Translated by Geremie R. Barmé
Don’t You Know How to Write?
On Writing in a Hyperbolic and Boastful Style (I)
Lin Feng 林峰
The quality of an essay is to be judged by whether it reflects reality and has social relevance. Works written in a hyperbolic style with headlines contrived to be sensationalistic, work that presents arrant fabrication as reality, not only are a disservice to the reader, they fail the basic requirements of effective communication while at the same time polluting our media eco-system. 一篇文章的优劣，取决于能否映射现实、有无社会观照。倘若文风浮夸自大、标题一惊一乍、事实似是而非，不仅唐突了读者，也丧失了传播价值，污染了舆论生态。
Recently, any number of articles have appeared on the Internet that make such boastful claims as ‘America is Scared of Us’, ‘Japan is Dumfounded by Us’ and ‘Europe Regrets [How It Has Treated Us]’. These things have been published with a view to harvest reader hits regardless of the consequences. In fact, articles written in this hyperbolic style reveal nothing particularly new and are actually a cause for concern. For instance, some offer blatant exaggerations and make broad claims on the basis of scant evidence. They trumpet that: ‘It is universally acknowledged that in such-and-such a field China has created a series of “World Firsts” ’; others willfully overstate reality and create thereby an opening for [the inimical international media] to take things out of context. They declaim: ‘Don’t Worry, China’s real scientific and technical knowhow has already surpassed that of the USA to become Number One in the World’. Then there are various one-sided fantasies that demand you accept their claims lock-stock-and-barrel; even though they are merely based on a few scant pieces of information from overseas they magnify reality and make such claims as: ‘China is already centre stage in world affairs’; or, ‘China is now the Leading Global Economy’. 最近在网上，“美国害怕了”“日本吓傻了”“欧洲后悔了”之类的文章，总能赚取不少莫名点击。然而，纵观这些所谓“爆款”文章，其内部水平却了无新意，令人堪忧。比如，有的一味夸大、以偏概全，高喊《在这些领域，中国创下多个“世界第一”！无人表示不服》；有的任意拔高、贻人口实，鼓吹《别怕，中国科技实力超越美国，居世界第一》；有的一厢情愿、照单全收，将国外的只言片语，放大成“中国在世界舞台上占据中心位置”“中国现在是全球第一经济体”等声音。
On a normal day: People’s Daily hyperbole
The common factor in works of such braggadocio is that there is: 1. no substantive structure; 2. no flesh on the bones; and, 3. no substantial intellectual content. It is all flimsy surface glitter none of which can withstand the harsh light of reality. People must realise that such overblown writing and media reports do not add value; just because a nation trumpets its achievements does not necessarily make it strong. By flaming extreme emotions and erroneously spreading biased ideas you are doing nothing more than encouraging a false sense of reality, reinforcing among your readers purblind smugness and unsubstantiated self-aggrandisment. The overall effect is to further the threat to our society of information atomisation while fostering an echo chamber of self-justifying opinion. 这些“雄文”的共性，一无事实骨架，二无内容血肉，三无思想含量，徒有浮躁外壳，经不起一点风吹日晒。要知道，文章不会因为浮夸而增色，国家也不会因为自大而变强。挑动极端情绪、肆意传播偏见的后果，容易造成公众走进夜郎自大、自吹自擂狂妄误区，导致社会陷入信息碎片化、思维程序化的认知闭环。
There is a view among journalists that ‘the best editor is a really a salesperson’. Some media outlets foist overblown and exaggerated writing on the public as a kind of clickbait and to increase the number of their followers [吸睛涨粉, literally, ‘to make themselves sticky to eyes and to inflate their number of fans’]. This stuff is much like a balloon filled with hot air: it deflates with the merest pinprick of reality. For fabricators of such writing, concocted headlines and leads are akin to a baited hook, something which they want to make ever more appetising by adding even more bait. In reality, serious news is not like stories fabricated for binge-reading [爽文]. If the focus is on selling a pitch rather than providing content, on popularity at the expense of sustenance, attracting eye-balls instead of acting responsibly, you may well enjoy a temporary explosion in readership but, more seriously, you are still guilty of leading the public astray. 新闻学有一种观点认为，“最好的编辑一定是个营销专家。”对一些媒体而言，浮夸自大的文风，无异于吸睛涨粉的气球，一触即破。在此类文章的始作俑者眼里，标题就是一枚带着诱饵的鱼钩，不加点“刺激”的猛料，就无法吊起胃口。然而，新闻不是爽文。如果只讲营销不讲营养，只要眼球不讲责任，即使一时流量爆棚，也是在误导大众。
Some net readers may lament that in this new media age news content is proliferating exponentially as reality is receding. Without doubt, the clichéd use of hyperbolic and exaggerated reporting looks like it is plagiarised from ‘overtaking over 10 billion’, in reality it is all leading to a fork in the road. The statistics tell us that last year the media industry employed over three million people and that media companies invested over 5 billion yuan in content creation. There’s no doubt that new media is generating both a future and a fortune. At the same time that ‘Me-Media’ hopes to enjoy creative license, its purveyors also have to be mindful of the need for self-restraint. If there’s no limit to generating best-selling stories, if there are no restraints against coming up with new gimmicks and trends, while aiming for the bottom line producers will dip beneath an acceptable level of moral responsibility and may find themselves that they are off the rails in terms of our legal environment. Not only will you poison the public, the credibility of the media itself will be seriously compromised. 有网友感慨，进入了自媒体时代，新闻越来越多，离真相却越来越远。的确，浮夸自大的文风套路，看似抄了“10万+”的近路，实则误入新闻生产的歧路。据统计，去年新媒体运营行业人数超过300万，各类机构对内容创业者的投资金额超过50亿元，可谓既有前途，又有“钱途”。然而，自媒体要想创作自如，还需恪守自律。倘若毫无底线蹭热点，肆无忌惮造噱头，结果只能是漫出道德水位，偏离法治轨道，荼毒公众认知不说，更消解媒体公信力。
Comment: As NetFriend ‘South of the Border’ comments: The Wind of Exaggeration originates with your Party media. Remember the 10,000 catties of rice supposedly produced by every mou of land [that the Party media erroneously reported during the Great Leap Forward?]; or [more recently] how the bullish market was just starting at 4000 points; then there’s that masterpiece Amazing China. And, now, here you are, coming across all-knowing and moralistic as you condescendingly lecture people. Don’t you know just how ridiculous you are? 网友〝国境之南〞也评论道：〝浮夸文风就是从你党媒开始的，‘亩产万斤’，‘4000点牛市才起步’，’厉害了，我的国’ 都是你的杰出代表作，现在又摆出一副道德先知的架势，居高临下的教育别人，不觉得可笑吗？〞[党媒批〝跪求体〞文风浮夸 网民：贼喊捉贼, New Tang Dynasty TV, 3 July 2018]
‘Words lacking grace will not travel.' Some people question whether we have forgotten how to write decent prose? But that’s not the case at all. Just cast your mind back to voluble mass outrage of our people in the farce of the [July 2016] South China Sea Arbitration ruling when our media issued the clarion call ‘China Will Not Give Up an Inch’ [of territory that it claims in the South China Sea]. At the time, our pointed opposition was both ‘righteous and restrained’; our spirit was ascendant and glorious; our arguments grounded in fact. The work published in our media at the time reflected a kind of literary style and élan that could elicit widespread support and resonance in the court of public opinion. In this era of 24/7 media, the guiding standards of accurate, objective and rational news reporting have in no way changed; the need for lively, engaging and high-quality values are great as before; the unadulterated, truth-seeking and fact-based style of news reporting also has not been changed. Only when content creators are mindful of the need to exercise appropriate restraint, only when they work to meld creative style with the appropriate ethos of the age, to give true rein both to content and emotion with they be able truly to produce reliable and confident work. 言之无文，行而不远。有人疑惑，是文章不会写了吗？并不是。还记得，南海仲裁闹剧群情激愤，“中国一点都不能少”的声音却产生共鸣。针锋相对却有礼有节，气贯长虹而又言之有物，这样的文风文气，怎能不引发舆论场同声同气？全媒体时代，真实客观理性的新闻准绳没有变，新鲜有趣优质的价值取向没有变，平实求实务实的文风导向也没有变。只有创作者自律自觉，将文风与世风勾连，给流量和情绪松绑，方能写出真正从容自信的作品。
Responsible media can act like a ‘propeller’ that hastens our cause, a ‘barometer’ of public opinion, a ‘glue’ bringing society together, as well as a ‘wind vain’ that takes the measure of the moral atmosphere itself. Irresponsible media behavior is like a ‘befuddling potion’ that confounds the masses, a ‘centrifuge’ that can rend the social fabric, a ‘concealed weapon’ capable of silent murder, as well as becoming a possible ‘catalyst’ that sows the seeds of political foment. News must reflect True Facts, Real Phenomena and the Path of Righteousness; it cannot abide even the slightest iota of falsehood or exaggeration. Gimmickry devised to delude, befuddle and titillate the masses must end. 好的舆论可以成为发展的“推进器”、民意的“晴雨表”、社会的“黏合剂”、道德的“风向标”，不好的舆论可以成为民众的“迷魂汤”、社会的“分离器”、杀人的“软刀子”、动乱的“催化剂”。新闻讲事实，讲真相，讲正道，来不得半点虚假和浮夸，那些热衷于耍噱头、故弄玄虚、哗众取宠的路数可以休矣。
- 人民网三评浮夸自大文风之一：文章不会写了吗？, 2 July 2018, translated and annotated by Geremie R. Barmé
New Sinology Notes:
- Hong Kong Observations: ‘Some time ago Hu Angang, head of the State of the Nation Research Centre at Tsinghua University, elite state think tank, propounded that ‘China has already surpassed the United States economically, in scientific and technical achievement as well as in terms of its comprehensive national strength to become Number One in the World’. It’s no surprise then that the Mainland has been flooded with such duplicitous and self-aggrandizing propagandistic products as Amazing China, Wolf Warrior 2 and Operation Red Sea.’ 早前中國頂尖智庫、清華大學國情研究院院長胡鞍鋼更提出「中國經濟、科技實力、綜合國力已經超越美國，居世界第一」。於是「厲害了，我的國」，電影《戰狼2》《紅海行動》等等自欺欺人的輿論在大陸鋪天蓋地。— Lee Yee 李怡, China’s HiTech Kagemusha 科技「影武者」, 蘋果日報, 9 July 2018.
- Historical References: 言之无文，行而不远。An expression originating in an account of the Fifteenth Year of Duke Xiang’s rule, recorded in the Confucian classic Zuozhuan 左传 · 襄公二十五年.
- Maoist Classics: When discussing the South China Sea and the oft-repeated official line that ‘China Will Not Give Up an Inch’ [of territory] the articles mention that the response is righteous and restrained 有理、有节 . In December 1939, Mao first used the formulation ‘reasoned, advantageous and restrained’ 有理、有利、有节 when discussing the basic military strategy of the Communist Party. Later permutations of the expression are inspired by Mao’s Yan’an-era text book for Party members, On the Chinese Revolution and the Chinese Communist Party,毛泽东,《中国革命和中国共产党》1939年12月.
Do the Chinese Lack Self-confidence?
On Writing in a Hyperbolic and Boastful Style (II)
You Guan 又观
The style employed in public writing reflects the psychology of the society as a whole; it is a depiction of our values. Vainglorious boastfulness in our discourse can, to a large extent, ‘distort and twist’ the attitude of some of our citizens and undermine mainstream values. There’s no end of articles trumpeting China as the ‘World’s First’ and ‘China As Number One’; these are confabulations devised by purveyors of sensationalistic headlines and they reflect badly on China as a whole. Such sweeping claims, the willful overstating of reality and the encouragement of blind optimism call for sombre reflection. 文风折射社会心态、描摹价值取向。浮夸自大的文风，在很大程度上会让部分国民心态“扭曲”、把主流价值“带偏”。类似“全球首款”“世界第一”的标题党文章被强加于中国身上的表达不在少数，其中以偏概全、任意拔高、盲目乐观的情绪和倾向值得反思。
China’s achievements are, without doubt, evident for the whole world to see. In many areas we are among world leaders; many of our achievements are demonstrable and tangible. However, not everything should be an excuse for self-congratulation; not everything should give us a license to blow our own horn. Due to the proliferation of new media, self-aggrandising hyperbole can all too readily seduce hundreds of millions of users into accepting false information and fake news; this can lead to incorrect judgment calls. There is nothing beneficial in a situation in which rational understanding bows down in the face of mindless mass sentiment or, on the basis of partial information, when people have the mistaken impression that ‘We Are Number One’. Such things add fuel to the rise of populist nationalism . 毋庸置疑，中国取得了举世瞩目的发展成就，很多领域也位于世界前列，诸多成绩既数得上来又拿得出手。可是，并非什么都能用来自夸、什么都可洋洋得意。借助新媒体传播让亿万用户接收不实信息、虚假事实，这种浮夸自大很容易让一些人产生误解乃至形成误判。理性认知一旦让位于感性盲从，或者片面地出现“天下第一”的错觉，或者无形地助长了民粹主义情绪，都是百害而无一利。
To recount absurd stories with bombastic hyperbole only rebounds on yourself. In the globalised era, information is also globalised. Here we write that ‘China makes some harsh remark, over in America if they don’t understand what it’s about it could become a real problem’, and by so saying they are on their guard, even if it all started out as nothing more than risible nonsense. Here we send out the message: ‘Don’t Worry, China’s actual scientific and technical knowhow has surpassed that of the USA making us Number One in the world’, over there people start speculating, even though in reality it’s all come about because of a garbled understanding of the facts leading people to jump to conclusions [see New Sinology Note 1 above]. This isn’t a ‘China Threat’, it’s ‘Threating China’! In the process of the global dissemination of information things can inadvertently ‘besmirch’ [our image] or ‘alienate’ [us from our own reality]. 用浮夸文风讲荒诞故事，反过来会自食其果。全球一体化时代，信息传播也早已全球化了。这边写下《中国放的这句狠话，美国再听不懂就要出大事了》，那边就引来人们警惕，实际上是可笑的无稽之谈；这边推送《别怕，中国科技实力超越美国，居世界第一！》，那边就有了无数猜想，事实却是断章取义、妄下结论。显然，这不是“中国威胁”，而是“威胁中国”了，国际传播、形象传播在不经意间被“抹黑”了、“异化”了。
What’s to be so boastful about, and whence all the arrogance? For some, a developing China and China’s development are a source of boundless conceit, but such pride must be undergirded by truthful claims and by the fact that we have consistently been making steady progress. This is quite differing from the ‘Boastful Writing Style’ concocted to attract people’s attention. One can say that to build up one’s self-belief and confidence by means of delusional self-promotion won’t garner you respect; on the contrary, blinding people to just how one should correctly perceive [our] development gets in the way of clear perception, making it hard to ‘range far your eye over long vistas’ [as Mao Zedong wrote in his 1949 poem ‘Reply to Mr. Liu Yazi — a lü shi’]. 何以浮夸？因何自大？在一些人看来，发展的中国与中国的发展可以让人无比骄傲，而这种自豪感是在实事求是、稳中求进的基础上产生，而不是夺人眼球的“浮夸体”。可以说，以自欺或自吹的方式换来的自信与自豪，并不会真正赢得尊重，反而蒙住了人们正确看待发展的眼睛、遮挡了“风物长宜放眼量”的视线。
Comment: NetFriend ‘Colourful Queue’ offered the following analysis: A few years back the Communists were confident that they could use their corrupt totalitarian wiles to control the democratic world and disrupt the international order. The time had come to realise their ‘original intention’ to control everyone; Party Fifth Columnists became outlandishly active. They never thought all of this would wake the West up to what they were doing. Now, countries everywhere are taking steps to limit Communist infiltration and the Communists in Beijing have got the message. So, here they are, trying to pull their heads in, that is until they feel they can launch the next assault on the West. 网友〝花花辫子〞则分析称 ：〝中共几年前觉得羽毛丰满可以公开用专制腐败控制民主世界搞乱世界社会， 是时候实现中共统治全世界的‘初心’了，中共海外纵队这几年更是疯狂至极，没想到让民主世界清醒过来了。 世界各国对中共的渗透加大了对抗力度， 中共感觉不妙， 赶快隐藏峰头， 待机打击民主世界。〞[党媒批〝跪求体〞文风浮夸 网民：贼喊捉贼, New Tang Dynasty TV, 3 July 2018]
Are we so lacking in confidence that we must use these means to give ourselves a boost? Are we so lacking in gumption that we must artificially inflate ourselves in this manner? Absolutely not! Looking over the four decades of Openness and Reform in context and with an eye in particular on the years since the Eighteenth Party Congress [that confirmed Xi Jinping’s leadership], our outstanding achievements are not a matter of self-promotion, they are the result of the rock-solid leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, the scientific guidance provided by Xi Jinping’s Thought for the New Epoch on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, and the result of the labours of the Chinese people themselves. An understand of these facts allows us to appreciate why we enjoy a sense of self-confidence, and one can explain just why we have an inexhaustible energy going forward. To put it another way: the Party and the People have underwritten our confidence in our development and our unwavering belief in China’s place on the global stage; they have done so in the past, they do so now, and they will continue to do so into the future. 我们不自信了吗，需要用这种方式来助推？我们没底气了吗，需要给前进动力如此“注水”？显然不是。纵观改革开放四十年，特别是党的十八大以来，所取得的不平凡成就不是吹出来的，是靠着中国共产党的坚强领导，靠着习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想科学指引，靠中国人民干出来的。把握住了这一点，就不难理解我们自信的来源，不难解释我们动力不竭的原因。可以说，党和人民赋予发展的自信、赋予中国在国际舞台上的坚定，过去是、现在是、将来还是最重要的理由。
In his address to the meeting held to commemorate the ninety-fifth anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party [on 1 July 2016], General Secretary Xi Jinping declared: 习近平总书记在建党95周年庆祝大会上指出，
Today, of all the political parties, countries and nations in the world there is no doubt that our Communist Party, our People’s Republic and our Chinese Nation can claim that we are truly confident. 当今世界，要说哪个政党、哪个国家、哪个民族能够自信的话，那中国共产党、中华人民共和国、中华民族是最有理由自信的。
What kind of positive self-belief do we need to abandon the airs of boastful arrogance? [These are the Four Self-Beliefs as announced by Xi Jinping — three of these were contained in Xi’s address to the Eighteenth Party Congress in November 2012, and ‘Cultural Self-Belief’ was added subsequently:] 摒弃浮夸自大的文风，我们需要怎样的自信？
- A kind of confidence in the path we have chosen [neither a return to Maoism or wholesale Westernisation; neither radical socialist or cravenly capitalist] which will deliver a superior lifestyle for the People; 一种制度自信，具有鲜明中国特色、明显制度优势、强大自我完善能力；
- A form of theoretical validation that is at the cutting edge while also evolving with the changing times; 一种理论自信，立于时代前沿、与时俱进；
- A belief in our [Socialism with Chinese Characteristics as defined by Xi Jinping and his advisers] that is unavowedly Chinese and that demonstrates systemic superiority and a mechanism favoring self-perfection; 一种道路自信，创造人民美好生活；
- A cultural confidence that constantly uplifts and strengthens the Spiritual Power of the Whole Party and All the People’s of Our Nation. 一种文化自信，不断增强全党全国各族人民的精神力量。
In this sense, confidence can’t just be tapped in on a keyboard — that kind of bloviating is divorced from the Four Self-Beliefs mentioned here; it is the product of a form of exaggeration, a boastfulness that is heedless of the need to Seek Truth from Facts; it’s a boasting that ignores the hard work born of struggle. This kind of self-aggrandisement can be liked to paintings sketched in the sand: they are effortlessly scattered by the wind or defaced by the rain. 从这个意义上说，自信不能“键盘化”，那种脱离“四个自信”的浮夸、背离实事求是的自大、背弃实干奋斗的吹嘘，只能像沙滩上的绘画经不起风吹雨打。
It is the spirit of being grounded, a mindset that is truthful and realistic that are the values and qualities that rightfully belong to the Chinese people. At the press conference held by the Standing Committee of the Politburo for reporters during the Nineteenth Party Congress [on 25 October 2017], General Secretary Xi Jinping quoted a poetic line [by the Yuan-dynasty plum-blossom] painter Wang Mian: ‘I seek not that people should praise my striking colours, I hope only the subtle fragrance of the flowers will linger in the world’. Communist Party members never seek empty fame; they don’t indulge in vacuous speculation. As the Relay Race of History hands us the baton, as our new Long March stretches out before us, we must resist all forms of arrogance and self-promotion, including those found in the mass media. As we advance we must do so one solid step at a time, leaving a deep impression in the path along which we tread with every footfall. This is how we must progress regardless of the obstacles we encounter and overcome on our journey to building a Moderately Prosperous Society and realising the Renaissance of the Chinese Nation. 只有脚踏实地、求真务实的精神才是中国人民应有的气质和禀赋。习近平总书记在十九大常委记者见面会上引用明代画家王冕的诗句，“不要人夸颜色好，只留清气满乾坤”。共产党人从来不求清誉、不尚清谈，当历史的接力棒传到我们这一代人手上、当新的征程徐徐展开，必须杜绝包括文风在内的一切浮夸自大，一步一个脚印，踏石留印，爬坡过坎，实现全面小康和中华民族的伟大复兴。
- 人民网三评浮夸自大文风之二：中国人不自信了吗？, 3 July 2018, translated and annotated by Geremie R. Barmé
New Sinology Notes:
- Mao’s Poems and Political History: ‘Range far your eye over long vistas’ 风物长宜放眼量 is an unacknowledged quotation from ‘Reply to Mr. Liu Yazi’ 七律 · 和柳亚子先生, a poem Mao Zedong wrote in March 1949. Mao’s poetry is often quoted, either straight or for satirical effect, in China, and it remains essential reading. Liu Yazi (柳亞子, 1887-1958) was a major literary figure and head of the anti-Manchu Southern Society 南社, which attracted cultural patriots in the early twentieth century. Liu and Mao became friendly as a result of a shared interest in traditional poetic forms and, eventually, Mao presented Liu with a copy of his his most famous poem Snow — to the tune of Chin Yuan Chun 沁园春 · 雪 for publication (quoted above in relation to the expression ‘Heroic Figure’ 風流人物). Liu was a member of China’s short-lived ‘Third Way’ political force 第三條道路; this group consisted of mostly left-leaning activists who, although sympathetic to the Communists, remained unaligned during the civil war in the late 1940s. They attempted to mediate between the warring Communists and the Nationalists. Through their United Front strategy, the Communists successfully courted this loose coalition of literary men and scholars; after 1949, those who were not subsumed into the Party system were denounced or eliminated. Their plangent story would be a warning to liberal intellectuals in the 1980s and 1990s.
- See Feng Pengzhi, ‘From Three to Four Self-Beliefs’, 从“三个自信”到“四个自信”——论习近平总书记对中国特色社会主义的文化建构, Xuexi shibao 学习时报, 7 July 2016
- Historical Literary Figures: This quotation from Xi Jinping in turn contains a quote from the late-Yuan-dynasty painter Wang Mian 王冕: ‘I seek not people praise my striking colours, I hope only the subtle fragrance of the flowers will linger in the world’ 不要人夸颜色好，只留清气满乾坤. Wang Mian is thought to be one of the first artists to inscribe poems directly on his paintings; he is also famed for his depiction of plum blossoms, an important leit-motif in Chinese (and Japanese) culture. Wang is known as ‘a man of comprehensive scholarship’ 通儒 (see Jao Tsung-I on 通 tōng — 饒宗頤與通人, China Heritage, 23 June 2017).
Style is Anything but Trivial
On Writing in a Hyperbolic and Boastful Style (III)
Ai Wu 艾梧
The way people express themselves in writing reflects their psychological makeup; a deficiency in rectitude when expressing oneself reveals your moral turpitude. Overblown rhetoric gives license to excesses in the wider society. Building oneself up by showing off while denigrating others is a common practice among Me-Media producers who crave online notoriety. Regardless of stated intentions, this kind of hyperbolic style is harmful in all cases; it can have a negative impact more broadly, both on the nation and our people. 文风不端照见心态不正，语言浮夸助长风气浮夸。靠贬低别人、吹嘘自己来耍威风、逞能耐，已成一些自媒体账号招徕关注的惯用手法。无论出于什么动机，浮夸文风都可谓有百害而无一利，其结果只会是误国害民。
There’s no denying the fact that every individual as well as every Internet account holder has their own particular creative style. Variety and plurality contribute to the richness of the Sinophone world. This is why ‘One Hundred Flowers’ blossom in our media environment. But writing demands an appropriate demeanor; similarly, all forms of expression have their bottom line. Hyperbolic and boastful writing may superficially reflect well on the author at the expense of others as they pander to the craven arrogance of the audience, but such outpourings not only go against the basic requirement of decent prose that it should be grounded and free-flowing, but it also transgresses against what is a generally accepted standard of publicly acceptable expression. Certainly, hype and hauteur may well reap mindless approbation and cheap laughs — and they are eminently easy to imitate — but to achieve some kind of ‘Spiritual Victory’ via such spur-of-the-moment displays of verbal dexterity only tends to encourage a general malaise of exaggeration, a confusion of right and wrong and a subversion of public opinion that lends itself to fueling extremist attitudes. They have no merit to speak of. 不可否认，每个人、每个网络账号都有各自的写作、创作风格，正因为这种差异性和多元性，才形成了汉语世界的洋洋大观，才有了舆论场里的百花齐放。但也要看到，为文有为文的格调，言论有言论的底线。“哭晕体”“跪求体”这些浮夸骄横的文体笔法，通过抬高自己、贬低别人来迎合一些读者傲娇自大的心态，不仅超出了平实自然的为文格调，也僭越了言论客观公允的价值底线。浮夸自大文风的确可以激起许多麻木赞许和廉价笑声，也极容易被更多人模仿，但这样以逞口舌之快的形式谋求“精神胜利”，只会制造浮夸风气、混淆是非黑白、颠覆公众认知、极化国民心态，毫无裨益可言。
No, writing style — the very Air of Expression — is no trivial matter. The way we express ourselves is integral to the tenor and style of our Communist Party and the mood of the society as a whole. Writers have always been wary of vacuous language and hyperbolic expression. History is not lacking in examples of people who indulged in braggadocio but ended in disaster: there’s Zhao Kuo of the State of Zhao, for example, a man famous for strategising about war in the abstract but hopeless when confronted with fighting in the field; or the blindly confident Ma Su [of the Three Kingdoms period]. People have recorded the different impression they had of the Nationalist and the Communists in the days leading up to the establishment of New China [in 1949]: the Nationalists were fatuous bureaucrats whose speechifying meant nothing; the Communists, however, spoke on behalf of the people’s needs and their words were suffused with a hope for the future that enthused listeners. As one person movingly expressed it: ‘You just had to read what they said and you could tell which side would be victorious.’ [A quotation from an article published on 30 May 2018] The proliferation of articles about ‘Dizzy-heads and Beggars’ via Me-Media only encourages an unhealthy arrogance; it stimulates dangerous popular sentiment and causes confusion among the Masses as to what is and isn’t true. It makes it impossible for people to distinguish far reality from the hype, it fans the Wind of Willful Self-approval. The vacuous and the over-inflated are like a plague, not only in our written media, but for people generally, for the state and the nation. We must exercise caution and be on guard. 文风不是小事，因为文风还连着党风民风。语言漂浮、文风浮夸，素来是为文者的大忌。从纸上谈兵的赵括到刚愎自用的马谡，历史里从不乏夸夸其谈而引致败局的案例。有人回忆新中国成立前听国民党官员和共产党人讲话的差别：前者官声官气、空洞苍白，后者为民立言、充满希望，让人感慨“一看语言文字，就知道谁战胜谁了”。一些自媒体散布“哭晕体”“跪求体”文章，必然会助长骄娇之气，激增民粹情绪，导致民众看不清事实真相，看不到真实差距，平添浮躁傲慢风气。浮躁和浮夸，于文于人、于国于民都可说是“瘟疫”，不可不慎，不可不防。
Japanese media report: ‘China’s amazing; Japan is done for.’
Japanese Net comment: ‘China’s left Japan speechless.’
What is good style? Our General Secretary has provided the most thoroughgoing response to this question. He has previously quoted the [Qing dynasty scholar-official also noted for his calligraphy] Zheng Banqiao who said [in a poetic couplet that was said to hang in his study, a clichéd expression long used to describe creativity]: ‘Simplify your painting style so that things appear with autumnal clarity; be fresh and creative as the budding flowers of the second month’. He has emphasized that when writing one should ‘get straight to the point, say only as much as is necessary, end when you’ve said your piece, do it in as succinct a fashion as possible, explicate your topic clearly, delve straight into the depths and reveal your meaning while expressing your ideas in a fulsome and profound way.’ The writing style that we promote is one that is [as Xi Jinping has put it] ‘Concise, Precise, Salutary’; it is opposed to all that is ‘Mendacious, Hyperbolic, Fatuous’. This is what the General Secretary requires of us, and his own work offers the best illustration of it. Take the columns he wrote [from February 2003 to March 2007, when he was Party Secretary of Zhejiang province] under the heading ‘New Sayings of Zhijiang River‘. In these columns within the space of three- to five-hundred written characters he would quote from the classics or forcefully substantiate his argument, expressing his ideas in a clear and easy-to-understand manner, discussing therein problems by getting right to the heart of matter. Many of the ideas and formulations expressed in those articles are worth reconsidering today; we should continue to savor their abiding aftertaste. 什么样的文风才是好文风，习近平总书记给出了足够多的答案。他曾援引郑板桥的对联“删繁就简三秋树，领异标新二月花”，强调写文章应当“开门见山，直截了当，讲完即止，用尽可能少的篇幅，把问题说清、说深、说透，表达出丰富而深刻的思想内容”。文风提倡短实新，反对假大空，习近平总书记是这样要求的，也是躬身垂范的。比如“之江新语”专栏文章，每篇不过寥寥三五百字，引经据典论述有力，讲道理浅显易懂，谈问题直击痛点，文章中的许多思想和提法，现在看来依然值得咀嚼回味。
[Comment: NetFriend Alwayszxing posted the following: Under the rule of the Communists China doesn’t have anything you could call an ‘independent media’. None of the ‘Grand Articles’ that indulge in Hyperbole [that are criticised by People’s Daily] could possibly be published without the approval of the Party Publicity Ministry. The tone of the wave of ‘Grand Articles’ that has swept over the media landscape was itself set by the Publicity Ministry. Suddenly, the Communists have realised that although their propaganda might fool their own audience, internationally it’s had the opposite of the intended effect. As this stuff no longer serves a useful purpose, the authorities have changed tack and denouncing the very people they had previously encouraged. 网友Alwayszxing则发帖指出：中共统治下的中国并没有真正意义上的〝独立媒体〝，所有这些浮夸的〝雄文〞如果没有中宣部的批准怎么可能发表？而这么多〝雄文〞井喷般出现，可见它是一个大范围的统一部署，其实就是中宣部定的调子。现在中共发现这些忽悠百姓的文章在国际上引起了反效果，对自己不利了，于是决定改换调子，〝就拿那些具体写文章的人开刀〞。[党媒批〝跪求体〞文风浮夸 网民：贼喊捉贼, New Tang Dynasty TV, 3 July 2018]
Today China has already crossed the threshold of its Economic Rise, we are now in a key phase in which we see the unfolding of a dual process of Cultural Rise and Civilisational Re-engineering. 今天的中国，已经逐渐跨越经济崛起的门槛，行进在文化崛起、文明再造的关键阶段。
- How will we best construct positive Social Values? 社会价值如何建构？
- How will we modulate a wholesome National Psychology? 国民心态如何涵养？
- How will we establish appropriate Cultural Self-confidence? 文化自信如何建立？
The value-shaping significance of an appropriate writing style — the Air of Expression — as well as the avant-garde role it can play in answering these questions is abundantly self-evident. Be it in regard to the Four Self-confidences or in Telling The China Story Well; regardless of whether it is in playing a leading role in the fashioning of public opinion, or in forging social consensus — all call out for a self-belief in a temperate, courteous and unpretentious literary style. It is in this manner that, in the [grand tradition of] Expressing the Way via Writing, we aim to transform the ambience of society and improve the morals of the people themselves so as to better bring our hearts and our efforts into concord. [As Cao Pi (曹丕, 187-226CE) wrote in ‘On Literature’ 論文, as translated by Siu-kit Wong:] ‘Literature is no less noble an activity than the governing of the state; it is also a way to immortality.’ Be it the mainstream media, or various forms of Me-Media, the inculcation of an appropriate Literary Style is, we must declare, a need to which we must tirelessly pay heed. 文风的价值形塑、导向引领作用，可以说愈发凸显。无论是增强“四个自信”还是讲好中国故事，无论是引领社会舆论还是凝聚社会共识，都呼唤自信平和、谦逊朴实的好文风，都需要通过“文以载道”来成风化人、凝心聚力。“文章经国之大业，不朽之盛事”，不论是主流媒体还是各类自媒体，锤炼好文风都可以说是不可懈怠的责任。
[As the late-Ming, early-Qing writer Li Liweng (李笠翁, 1610-1680) observed:] ‘For your writing to speak to the ages, you must first have a heart that can address future generations.’ Literary Style reflects individual attitude; Literary Style expresses how you comport yourself in the World. We must encourage a Literary Style that is wholesome and uplifting, one that enthuses people in a positive way and thereby suffuse the Internet Space. “凡作传世之文者，必先有可以传世之心”。文风是态度，文风是作风。要让健康向上、激励人心的文风充满网络空间。
- 人民网三评浮夸自大文风之三：文风是小事吗?, 4 July 2018, translated and annotated by Geremie R. Barmé
New Sinology Notes:
- Political History: The essays extol the variety of the Chinese Internet by using the expression ‘One Hundred Flowers’ 百花齐放. The 1956 Communist Party ideological campaign that encouraged ‘A Hundred Flowers to Blossom in the Arts and A Hundred Schools of Thought to Contend in Academia’ 对艺术工作主张百花齐放，对学术工作主张百家争鸣 (or ‘Double Hundred’ 双白 for short) remains of immense importance for contemporary media, academia, politics and the arts. Although many of those denounced for speaking out against the Party at the time were eventually rehabilitated, the mass purge of ‘Rightists’ 右派 that followed in the wake of what was in essence and intellectual uprising against one-party rule, has never been entirely negated. In late 1978, as the economic transformation of China was being mooted, the refusal of Deng Xiaoping, an architect of the attack on ‘Rightists’, and his colleagues to reevaluate truthfully the events of 1956-1957 entirely in 1978 would be fateful. It has profoundly affected political reform and freedom in China ever since. Today, the official media may well extol its cultivation of a ‘Hundred Flowers’, the reality is while the Party’s fragrant flowers 香花 may blossom, independent expression is outlawed as being nothing more than ‘poisonous weeds’ 毒草.
- Literary References: Spiritual Victory 精神胜利: This is a reference to Lu Xun’s famous work of fiction, ‘The True Story of Ah Q’ 阿Q正传. Ah Q, a self-deluded everyman who was constantly frustrated by class oppression and fate even in the face of egregious defeat salves his wounds by reassuring himself that he has, in fact, scored a ‘Spiritual Victory’. Ah Q figures prominently in debates about the backwardness and mendacity of the Chinese National Character, as well as in various attempts by political parties and do-gooders to remodel the Chinese people accounting to their political or religious beliefs. The process continues to the present day.
- The Party Line: As the propaganda chief Liu Qibao 刘奇葆 said in March 2017 (echoing Mao Zedong in 1942) in a speech titled We Are Constantly Reforming Our Writing Style: 文风不是小事。文风背后是思想，文风体现党风，人们从文风状况中可以判断党的作风.
- Four-word Expressions: these formulations summarise literary and historical references 四字句/成语. They may appear to be tired, formulaic and clichéd, but as a short-hand they still possess an undeniable rhetorical power and should not be dismissed lightly. These compact expressions are a short way of saying a lot; they also allow the writer to emphasise a point while comfortably appealing to tradition. Undeniably a symptom of lazy pseudo-learning, they are in constant use and a dexterous writer can exploit them for considerable humorous effect. In the third essay below two well known four-word expressions are used: one about Zhao Kuo 赵括 of the State of Zhao who is eternally derided for knowing more about planning war-games in the abstract than actual warfare in the field. The other is about Ma Su 马谡, a failson commander appointed by the otherwise sagacious strategist Zhuge Liang 諸葛亮 (孔明). A number of well-known expressions relate to Ma Su’s failure on the battlefield and his execution on the orders of Zhuge (these include the two-part sayings 歇后语: 马谡用兵——言过其实; 诸葛亮挥泪斩马谡——顾全大局; 孔明斩马谡——咬牙忍痛). Both the Warring States era and the Three Kingdoms period remain important in Chinese popular culture, a basic understanding of them is essential for anyone interested in Chinese politics and the way military thinkers and economic strategists articulate the most modern ideas.
- Historical Literary Figures: Zheng Banqiao 郑板桥 is famous for his idiosyncratic calligraphy and flamboyant painting style. He is known as one of the ‘Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou’ 揚州八怪, artists who flourished during one of dynastic China’s last period’s of prosperity and cultural renewal.
- Ex Cathedra Xi Jinping: Although Xi is celebrated ad nauseum for the short essays he had published when he was the Party boss of Zhejiang province, he is a stunted and wordy writer. As one friend said about him years ago: ‘Not very smart’. Below, People’s Daily extols him for encouraging a prose style that is ‘concise, grounded and salutary’ 短、实、新. Despite the fact that the Chairman has unfettered access to talented writing groups, advisers, ghost writers, sycophants and boosters, he still writes in a prolix, vacuous and bland style. Xi Jinping is a man in whom vaunting ambition is married to commonplace ability. The observant reader will appreciate that the expression ‘new tales’ 新语 that Xi Jinping used for the title of his collection of 273 essays — New Sayings of Zhijiang之江新语 — has a long history. For example, the bon-mots of the unruly Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove 竹林七贤, which feature frequently in China Heritage, are recorded in a collection called New Sayings of the World 世说新语 compiled by Liu Yiqing 刘义庆 (403-444CE). The expression xīnyǔ 新语 also happens to be the term Dong Leshan 董乐山 used to translate ‘Newspeak’ in the Chinese version of George Orwell’s novel 1984.
- The China Story: for background to Official China, Other Chinas and Translated China, see Telling Chinese Stories and the Yearbooks produced by the China Story Yearbook project, 2012-. See also Reading the China Dream.
- Historical Literary Figures: Cao Pi (曹丕, 187-226CE), the author of ‘On Literature’ 典论 · 论文, is a major figure in Chinese literary history, and his early views on writing are frequently quoted. As the translator Siu-kit Wong put it: ‘This essay [by Cao Pi, Emperor Wen of Wei] is perhaps he earliest attempt in China to put literature on a pedestal.’ (See Minford and Lau, Anthology, p.628.)
- Historical Literary Figures: Li Liweng 李笠翁 (Li Yu 李渔, 1610-1680) of the late-Ming and early Qing dynasties is one of the extraordinary writers, epicure-poets and aesthetes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Among other works he is famous for his work The Art of Living 閒情偶寄. As Lin Yutang 林语堂, the twentieth-century essayist, editor and translator wrote: ‘Li Liweng has pointed out [quoting the Tao Te Ching], those who are wise seldom know how to talk, and those who talk are seldom wise.’ Li’s reputation was revived first in the 1920s and 1930s, and again in the 1980s, as Chinese cultural figures searched for native precursors to their budding modern sensibility. They identified various sources of non-orthodox cultural inspiration in the late tradition, including in figures like Li Liweng.