新華文體 Newspeak

Geremie R. Barmé

This essay, ‘New China Newspeak’, was originally published in China Heritage Glossary and then expanded for The China Story Lexicon, which I devised as part of The China Story Project of the Australian Centre on China in the World in August 2012. As the subject matter of the essay relates predominantly to the word-world shaped by the Chinese Communist Party, simplified 简体汉字 rather than full-form Chinese characters 正體漢字 are used.

The consists of the following sections which can be reached by clicking on the respective title:


— 龔自珍《秦漢石刻文錄序》

This essay is a preliminary attempt to describe what, since the 1980s, some Chinese writers have identified as ‘New China Newspeak’. This style of language is also known as Maospeak 毛语 or Mao-style prose 毛文体, although I would contend that these latter terms offer too narrow a purview of a complex array of language practices that pre-date High Maoism (c.1964-1978). This essay is an exercise in what I think of as New Sinology 后汉学.

New China Newspeak is an accumulation of written and spoken styles of Chinese, it reflects both an impoverishment as well as an elaboration of Chinese as a communicative tool; it overlaps but is not quite the same as the ‘formalized language of Chinese politics’ so aptly discussed elsewhere.[1] The expression covers a wide range of prose and spoken forms of modern Chinese that have evolved and been consciously developed as the result of profound linguistic changes and experiments that date back to the late-Qing period, all of which are intimately connected with politics, ideas and the projection of power. Some of these styles reflect the militarization of Chinese in modern times (during the Republic, in Manchukuo, and under both the Nationalist and the Communist parties). Added to this is the stilted diction of bureaucratese (developed on the basis of traditional bureaucratic language), as well as scientific and academic jargon, to which have been added various forms of political and commercial exaggeration, euphemisms and neologisms. It mixes argot and the vernacular with the wooden language of Communist Party discourse. In recent decades this body of language practices has been ‘enriched’ by the verbiage of neoliberal economics and revived Cultural Revolution-era vituperation. New China Newspeak provides the linguistic architecture to The China Story and, therefore, to understand better that story, it is important to be mindful of the provenance and proliferation of New China Newspeak.

New China Newspeak also incorporates a language of moral evaluation or judgement based both on traditional Chinese linguistic practices and those developed in the Soviet era of Chinese politics (Nationalist and Communist). It is a form of language that grew to maturity in the 1940s and one that became the mainstream official language of China after 1949. In its essence, New China Newspeak was and is used by the Party, its propaganda organs, the media and educators to shape (and circumscribe) the way people express themselves in the public (and eventually private) sphere. It has enabled the party-state to inculcate its ideology by means of relentless verbal/written imposition and repetition. In this it shares much in common with Soviet-style Russian (also known as la langue de bois), and the form of German famously termed LTI (Lingua Tertii Imperii) by the philologist Victor Klemperer.[2]

New China Newspeak is not merely used for internal communicative purposes, for it is also commonly employed in creating what I call ‘translated China’, that is the English-language Party langue that has evolved over many decades to present China to the outside world. For decades this mode of expression was the near-exclusive preserve of such non-Chinese language propaganda publications as China Reconstructs 中国建设 (founded in 1952 at the behest of Zhou Enlai by Soong Ch’ing-ling and Israel Epstein, renamed China Today 今日中国 in 1990) and Peking Review 北京周报 (which first appeared in 1958, later renamed Beijing Review and now part of the China International Publishing Group, or CIPG). It now also features prominently in the reporting and commentaries published by such internationally high-profile outlets as Xinhua News Agency, China Daily and The Global Times. The role of the Central Compilation & Translation Bureau 中共中央编译局 (founded in 1953) has also been crucial in shaping the linguistic terrain of New China. The various Party mechanisms created for the formal generation and dissemination of New China Newspeak has been well described in other work on China’s ‘propaganda state’.[3]

In attempting to discuss the rather nebulous world of New China Newspeak, I am mindful that politicization and militarization are hardly unique to China; both have been a prominent feature of modern English. George Orwell may have created the formulation Newspeak to describe the dystopian world of Ingsoc in Oceania (see below), but he was also the author in 1946 of an important essay on the subject of politics and the English language. My argument is not that the body of languages covered by the term New China Newspeak is unique, but rather that, given the fact that the Communist Party still dominates formal discourse and mass media communications in the People’s Republic today, its linguistic behaviour demands closer scrutiny. So, the present essay is just that, an essay: an attempt to describe in cultural and historical terms a complex form of linguistic and rhetorical practices that relate to political authority and power in China. I would hope that specialists in the history of Chinese, rhetoric, syntax, and linguistic change will shed more expert light on some of the issues raised herein. A future entry in the Lexicon will offer examples of some of the peculiarities of New China Newspeak, including KMT-era ‘open skylights’ 开天窗, the practices of bowdlerisation 篡改 and censorship 删改 during and after China’s socialist phase, as well as the Hu-Wen era favourite: ‘to harmonise’ 和谐, that is to delete, elide, disappear or otherwise censor content on the Internet, disputes in reality and even people.


New China 新华

The expression ‘New China’ (Xinhua 新华), although most readily associated with the Communists since the 1940s, in fact has its origins in the early twentieth century. What is now the Sea Palaces (Zhongnan Hai 中南海) party-state leadership compound in central Beijing, for example, was renamed New China Palace 新华宫 in the early 1910s by the Republican President and would-be emperor Yuan Shikai 袁世凯. As the self-styled Hongxian 洪宪 Emperor (‘vast mandate’), Yuan prepared to ascend the dragon throne formally at the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the former imperial palace in 1916, two years after having been inaugurated there as the first president of the Republic of China. The former Qing capital of Beijing would now become the capital of the Great Chinese Empire 大中华帝国. Local opposition and rebellion in the provinces, however, cut short Yuan’s reign; the new empire lasted a mere eighty-three days. All that remains of that imperial venture is the formal entryway constructed for the new palace: New China Gate or Xinhua Men 新华门, the main entrance to the Sea Palaces on Chang’an Avenue. New China Gate is flanked by two slogans (‘Long Live Ever-Victorious Mao Zedong Thought!’ 战无不胜的毛泽东思想万岁! and ‘Long Live the Communist Party of China!’ 中国共产党万岁!), as well as the words ‘Serve the People’ 为人民服务 in the hand of Mao Zedong on the spirit wall that blocks a view of the compound from the street. The words ‘Serve the People’ are similarly festooned on signboards and entrances to government and Party offices throughout China. Most people know all too well that, for all intents and purposes, the slogan actually means ‘Keep Out!’

Prior to the series of events surrounding Yuan Shikai’s failed attempt to restore the monarchy, from the late-Qing period the word hua 华/華 had gained renewed currency in the compound expression Zhonghua 中华. It was popularized in particular by the noted thinker Liang Qichao 梁启超 who promoted the concept of the ‘Chinese race’ or Zhonghua minzu 中华民族.[4] Thereafter, hua would frequently be used to represent ‘Chineseness’ in various modern formulations; while today Zhonghuaxing 中华性, ‘the ineffable nature of that which is Sinitic’ has been used to denote a kind of Chinese cultural essentialism, with overtones of ‘racial’ uniqueness. In the name of the new state itself ‘China’ was represented as ‘Zhonghua minguo‘ 中华民国, just as Yuan Shikai’s abortive Great Chinese Empire was the ‘Great Zhonghua Empire’ 大中华帝国. From the Republican era onwards, various products have been sold under the Chung Hwa brand name, most notably books, pencils and cigarettes.

The concept of the ‘new’ 新 as opposed to the ‘old’ 旧 was central to cultural and political discussions and debates in the Republican era. Xinhua or New China Newsagency 新华社 was so named at the Communist base at Yan’an in April 1937, having previously been known as the Red China Newsagency 红色中华通讯社 (红中社 for short), the Party’s propaganda arm founded along with the Chinese Soviet Republic in Ruijin, Jiangxi 江西瑞金 in November 1931. A related propaganda organisation, New China Books 新华书店, was also established at Yan’an, in September 1939. Xinhua now enjoys a global reach, and its Internet presence is dubbed Xinhuanet.

The authoritative dictionary of People’s Republic-style Chinese is the Xinhua Dictionary 新华字典 (an online version is available here). That dictionary was produced as part of the general linguistic reform program launched by the government of New China in the 1950s. It built on Republican-era attempts to standardize written and spoken Chinese (in particular by reducing orthographic and pronunciation variations in subsequent editions). Such efforts were also influenced by 1920s-30s’ debates on language in the Soviet Union.[5] First produced by the Beijing Commercial Press in 1957, the Xinhua Dictionary not only provided guidance on matters of mainland Chinese definitions and usage, but is also the main vehicle for the promotion of the officially approved (and evolving) orthography of the Chinese language. In recent years it has been a tool in Ministry of Education policy to reduce further the variety and complexity of Chinese pronunciation and writing, this includes a long-term policy of simplification and standardization derided by some for amounting to performing ‘cosmetic surgery on Chinese characters’ 汉字整容.[6] It is claimed that the Xinhua Dictionary, which has gone through some ten editions and over two hundred reprints, is the most widely reproduced lexicon in the world.


New Writing 新文体 and Popular Language 大众语

‘New China Newspeak’, Xinhua Wenti 新华文体, is an expression that gained currency in the 1980s among a small group of writers who used it to describe the Communist-inflected Chinese that had evolved from the 1920s, and especially during the ideological struggles of the 1930s and thereafter. It was a form of mainstream media Chinese against which these writers—journalists and fiction writers—constantly struggled in their attempts to find an individual voice after decades of living under the influence of Party discourse. It is a term that recalls the creation in the last decade of the nineteenth century of a form of Chinese prose that straddled the divide between the literary 文言文 and vernacular 白话文, itself a version of what was previously known as kuanhua 官话.[7] The style of exposition that featured in the press from the late-nineteenth century was popularized, in particular, by Liang Qichao. It was known as ‘new writing’ 新文体. Because it most frequently appeared in the pages of new periodicals that introduced concepts and ideas that challenged the status quo it was also variously known as 报章体 、时务体 or 新民体.[8]

The new style of writing was liberating for writers in the late-Qing and it laid the foundation for what would become the May Fourth-period cultural movement (c.1915-1927). Central to that movement was the push for clarity of expression and the modern vernacular championed, among others, by Hu Shi 胡适. Hu was famous for his interdictions against clichéd, tired and obfuscating prose (summarized in his famous list of ‘Eight Nots’ 八不主义). Hu Shi’s ‘Eight Don’ts’ or guidelines for modern Chinese were: 1. Don’t write unless you have something to say; 2. Don’t imitate the ancients; 3. Don’t ignore syntax; 4. Don’t moan and groan without reason; 5. Don’t use old clichés or set expressions; 6. Don’t resort to classical allusions; 7. Don’t use couplets or parallelism; and, 8. Don’t avoid popular expressions or popular forms of characters. In 1918, he simplified these principles in the following way: 1. Speak [that is, speak or write] only when you have something to say; 2. Speak what you want to say and say it in the way you want to say it; 3. Speak what is your own and not that of someone else; and 4. Speak in the language of the time in which you live.[9] Despite these cautions the May Fourth era was a transitional stage in the development of various modern styles of Chinese prose. While this more demotic form of Chinese featured a new diction and imported vocabulary, over time it was most frequently used to preach new ideologies. The formulations of these were often stark and uncompromising, something that reflected an unexamined preference for old-style quasi-axiomatic expressions and linguistic habits against which Hu Shi had spoken. Similarly, the highly judgmental language of vituperation displayed during the Taiping Rebellion attacks on the Qing court in the mid nineteenth century (which in particular featured racist taunts and highly inflammatory expressions), found a new lease of life, as well a new political new causes. Just as the literary language had accumulated various registers and styles, so the evolving ‘new writing’ would be complex, nuanced and layered.

When post-Cultural Revolution writers spoke of New China Newspeak, they identified it as being invidious to clear and honest expression. In some ways, their resistance mirrors somewhat the critiques of the old literary language of the previous century: that it was dated, obfuscating and a kind of dead-letter language. I think, in particular, of the investigative journalist Dai Qing 戴晴, who paid special attention in her own writing to challenging the norms of expression that constitute Party prose.[10] To writers like Dai, New China Newspeak is a kind of writing that remains heavily influenced by May Fourth-era translationese, a style that melded European-style diction 欧化文体 with an evolving modern Chinese written language. Language reform – whether the reform or abolition of the Chinese character in favour of romanisation, or grammatical style and syntax – was a topic debated over many years. It became a focus of contention when in the 1930s, conservatives in the then Nationalist government proposed reintroducing literary Chinese as the main vehicle for written expression in schools. In 1934, the study of Confucian texts was also promoted as part of this return to ‘tradition’. The opposition to these moves, led by linguists and writers such as Chen Wangdao 陈望道 countered with a ‘popular language movement’ 大众语运动. The ensuing debate between the two rival camps was featured in the pages of the Shanghai publication Free Speech 自由谈. The proponents noted that all too often the written language remained an admix of the literary and the vernacular 半文半白. In the realm of public usage the vernacular was favoured in literary and popular works that had evolved during the New Culture Movement. Meanwhile, in the legal, political and social realms, literary Chinese continued to be favoured. The ‘popular language’ advocates triumphed in the debate, facilitating the growing authority and prevalence of the vernacular baihua wen over literary Chinese. These developments also critically informed the subsequent language reforms of the Chinese Communist government in the 1950s.

Well may have Chen Wangdao favoured a language that, in his words ‘can be spoken, understood when heard, written down and understood when read’ 说得出,听得懂,写得来,看得下. Despite the debate, the various styles of vernacular Chinese that were being hailed as ‘popular language’ were largely inaccessible to the masses. This was, in essence, a written language burdened with complex syntax and a plethora of political slogans, to which Soviet-style propaganda, including translations of Marxist as well as Leninist and Stalinist prose (infamously known as ‘la langue de bois‘, or wooden parole [11]), were further added. The prominence of this ‘party-fied Chinese’ grew in tandem with the political rise and growing reach of the Communist Party (although in its use of language it was mirrored by its ideological competitor, the Nationalist Party). The New China Newspeak that gradually developed also continued to draw heavily on the bureaucratese and imagery of literary Chinese. The result was a linguistic concoction that was by turns dry and dull, lively and vociferous. It became the official language of post-1949 China.

Mao Zedong was the master of this kind of flexible (and pedantic) prose (the 1960s selection of Mao quotes was a decoction of his uses of Chinese and see also his barbed essay ‘Farewell, Leighton Stuart’ 别了,司徒雷登, dated 8 August 1948.[12]). Some have called New China Newspeak simply Maospeak 毛语,[13] although I would argue here that such a simplification quite wrongly limits our understanding of this kind of writing to a specific era, and to a specific author. From the 1940s, Mao’s secretaries and ghost-writers also contributed significantly to the evolution of New China Newspeak. Notable among these were Zhou Yang (周扬, 1908-1989), Chen Boda (陈伯达, 1904-1989) and Hu Qiaomu (胡乔木,1912-1992), the latter two were political secretaries for Mao after 1949, while because of his persuasive (and autocratic) influence Zhou Yang would be known as New China’s ‘Cultural Tsar’ 文化沙皇. Chen was famous for the carefully honed vitriol of his 1940s writings (his ‘Enemy of the People: Chiang Kai-shek’ 人民公敌蒋介石 is an anti-KMT Party classic, while his work excoriating the nepotism and corruption of the KMT was often recalled as the Communist Party’s own red nobility emerged in recent decades) and, during the High-Maoist years, he was notorious for the rhetorical violence that characterized his writing, something that was particularly evident in the essays and editorials that he wrote in the early months of the Cultural Revolution. For his part, Hu Qiaomu was a master of carefully honed Party discourse. As propaganda chief, head of People’s Daily and as the ‘Party’s leading wordsmith’, as Deng Xiaoping called him, Hu played a foundational role in the creation of the New China Newsagency style, one that remains the dominant discursive style of China’s party-state today.[14]

It is noteworthy that versions of New China Newspeak/Xinhua Wenti, a language that can mix bureaucratese with the literary and the vernacular, are still frequently employed by political hacks, petitioners and others when making submissions to the authorities, be it the Party or the government. There is a feeling among those who favour this style that such prose ‘avoirdupois‘, that it resonates with readers of all backgrounds as it is freighted with literary effects, orotund terms and poetic flourishes. As they vie to articulate snappy Party slogans and formulations or tifa 提法[15] think tanks and advisers 纵横家 of various shades often favour this expository style. When reading such prose, we are reminded of Zhang Taiyan’s 章太炎 remark that: ‘the vernacular lacks a sufficiency of significance, so at times it is necessary to use the classical’ 白话意义不全, 有时仍不得不用文言文也.[16]


Party & Other Eight-legged Essays 党八股

As we have argued, New China Newspeak evolved long before the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. It developed both in China proper and ‘outside the pass’ 关外, in the realm of Manchukuo militarized Chinese (itself much influenced by imperial militant Japanese). That particular form of Chinese is known as ‘Concordia Chinese’ (xiehe yu 协和语, or きょうわご in Japanese), and elements of its syntax and usage, not to mention vocabulary (for instance, the word for the staple grain eaten at a meal, zhushi 主食, is a Concordia Chinese term), penetrated mainstream Chinese during the 1930s and 40s.[17]

As early as 1942, the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party Mao Zedong would famously deride what he called ‘stereotyped Party writing’ (or ‘Party Eight-legged Essays’ 党八股). Using the very kind of numeration that is a favoured device of such prose, he listed eight indictments against it:

The first indictment against stereotyped Party writing is that it fills endless pages with empty verbiage. Some of our comrades love to write long articles with no substance, very much like the ‘foot-bindings of a slattern, long as well as smelly’. Why must they write such long and empty articles? There can be only one explanation; they are determined the masses shall not read them. Because the articles are long and empty, the masses shake their heads at the very sight of them. How can they be expected to read them? Such writings are good for nothing except to bluff the naive, among whom they spread bad influences and foster bad habits. …The same applies to speechmaking; we must put an end to all empty, long-winded speeches.

The second indictment against stereotyped Party writing is that it strikes a pose in order to intimidate people. Some stereotyped Party writing is not only long and empty, but also pretentious with the deliberate intention of intimidating people; it carries the worst kind of poison. Writing long-winded and empty articles may be set down to immaturity, but striking a pose to overawe people is not merely immature but downright knavish….

The third indictment against stereotyped Party writing is that it shoots at random, without considering the audience….

The fourth indictment against stereotyped Party writing is its drab language that reminds one of a biesan 瘪三. Like our stereotyped Party writing, the creatures known in Shanghai as ‘little biesan’ are wizened and ugly. If an article or a speech merely rings the changes on a few terms in a classroom tone without a shred of vigour or spirit, is it not rather like a biesan, drab of speech and repulsive in appearance? If someone enters primary school at seven, goes to middle school in his teens, graduates from college in his twenties and never has contact with the masses of the people, he is not to blame if his language is poor and monotonous. But we are revolutionaries working for the masses, and if we do not learn the language of the masses, we cannot work well. At present many of our comrades doing propaganda work make no study of language. Their propaganda is very dull, and few people care to read their articles or listen to their talk.

The fifth indictment against stereotyped Party writing is that it arranges items under a complicated set of headings, as if starting a Chinese pharmacy. Go and take a look at any Chinese pharmacy, and you will see cabinets with numerous drawers, each bearing the name of a drug—toncal, foxglove, rhubarb, saltpetre…indeed, everything that should be there. This method has been picked up by our comrades. In their articles and speeches, their books and reports, they use first the big Chinese numerals, second the small Chinese numerals, third the characters for the ten celestial stems, fourth the characters for the twelve earthly branches, and then capital A, B, C, D, then small a, b, c, d, followed by the Arabic numerals, and what not! How fortunate that the ancients and the foreigners created all these symbols for us so that we can start a Chinese pharmacy without the slightest effort. For all its verbiage, an article that bristles with such symbols, that does not pose, analyse or solve problems and that does not take a stand for or against anything is devoid of real content and nothing but a Chinese pharmacy. …

The sixth indictment against stereotyped Party writing is that it is irresponsible and harms people wherever it appears. …Many people write articles and make speeches without prior study or preparation, and after writing an article, they do not bother to go over it several times in the same way as they would examine their faces in the mirror after washing, but instead offhandedly send it to be published. Often the result is ‘A thousand words from the pen in a stream, but ten thousand li away from the theme’ 下笔千言,离题万里. Talented though these writers may appear, they actually harm people. This bad habit, this weak sense of responsibility, must be corrected.

The seventh indictment against stereotyped Party writing is that it poisons the whole Party and jeopardizes the revolution.

The eighth indictment is that its spread would wreck the country and ruin the people.

These two indictments are self-evident and require no elaboration. In other words, if stereotyped Party writing is not transformed but is allowed to develop unchecked, the consequences will be very serious indeed. The poison of subjectivism and sectarianism is hidden in stereotyped Party writing, and if this poison spreads it will endanger both the Party and the country.

The aforesaid eight counts are our call to arms against stereotyped Party writing.[18]

Mao certainly ‘talked the talk’, but when it came to defeating a strain of odious, long-winded and obscurantist prose that he among others (including Lu Xun 鲁迅) identified as having evolved during the May Fourth movement, Mao proved ineffectual. Indeed, in the Sinofied Soviet system that he and his colleagues championed from the 1950s the blight of ‘Party eight-legged essays’ became the norm. Despite this, Mao himself was adept at combining Party palaver with scientific socialist jargon, demotic vulgarisms and classical allusions. The early Red Guards imitated and built on his complex linguistic style,[19] but generally speaking all that remains of la langue de Mao today is the hyperventilated bombast of post-Maoists and online ‘patriotic thugs’ 爱国贼, although fans of The Global Times’ line in mock outrage can also detect shades of Mao therein. Of course, that is not to say that parodies of Party language and demeanour are uncommon.


Theoretically Speaking

The following quotations describe China’s party-directed market socialism.







Parody & its Enemies 反讽,恶搞,原味

The Taiwan-born writer Chen Jo-hsi 陈若曦 was the first notable novelist to depict Cultural Revolution-era China and its language (Chen had moved to Nanjing from the US with her husband in 1966 following an acclaimed literary debut in Taiwan; she relocated to Hong Kong in 1973). Her stories, the most famous of which is ‘The Execution of Mayor Yin’ 尹县长, were published in Taiwan in 1976, and in English in 1978. In 1980, Li Jian’s 李剑 story ‘Drunk in the Rapeseed Patch’ 醉入花丛 was one of the first mainland-published works of fiction to deride Mao-era slogans via a comic description of Red Guard sex. Later in the decade the Beijing novelist Wang Shuo 王朔 proved himself to be the master of droll spoofs of Party language and behaviour, a style popularised in the mass media by the 1992 TV series The Editors 编辑部的故事. Han Shaogong’s 韩少功 1996 comic novel A Dictionary of Maqiao 马桥词典 concentrates on the Cultural Revolution era, and Yan Lianke’s 阎连科 2005 psycho-sexual political comedy Serve the People 为人民服务 continues in a vein first mined by Li Jian. Of course, Chinese art (and in particular the 1991 ‘cultural T-shirts’ of Kong Yongqian 孔永谦) has long been voicelessly riffing on Party speak, but in recent years it has been Internet spoofers, novelists and essayists who have pursued New China Newspeak with celebrated energy. There was Hu Ge’s 胡戈 online parody ‘Murder by Mantou‘ 一个馒头引发的血案 in 2006 and the 2008 novel by the Beijing-based Hong Kong writer Chan Koon-chung 陳冠中 In an Age of Prosperity: China 2013 盛世:中國、2013年 (published in English as The Fat Years). Perhaps the best-known writers who take Party language to task are the Shanghai essayist Han Han 韩寒 and the Beijing art-dissenter Ai Weiwei 艾未未; both are masters at producing parodies of the Party. Yu Hua’s 余华 2010 series of essays, China in Ten Words 十个词汇里的中国 offers another approach to how writers reflect on and tussle with New China Newspeak. The US-based Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon launched in December 2010 by China Digital Times meanwhile provides a ledger of the ongoing uses and abuses of Chinese on the Internet.[20]

Well may Mao have claimed: ‘Those who are badly infected by stereotyped Party writing do not take pains to study what is useful in the language of the people, in foreign languages, or in classical Chinese, so the masses do not welcome their dry and dull propaganda, and we too have no need for such poor and incompetent propagandists.’ Such poor and incompetent propagandists now reign in the cyber-realm as well. Paradoxically, despite its often mind-numbing effect, the logorrhoea of Chinese Party language enjoys a longevity that feeds off the very neo-liberalised economic successes of the Reform era. Indeed, as Victor Klemperer noted in his study of the evolution of the language of the Third Reich, the hyperbole of American advertising culture proved linguistically very attractive; and the euphemisms and technical jargon beloved of global managerial culture have given practitioners of New China Newspeak a rich new vocabulary. (In Australia, the local version of neoliberal balderdash is called the language of ‘weasel words’. This verbal thicket chokes all aspects of public discourse. Universities, for instance, celebrate ‘research excellence’ while evacuating it both of substance and of meaning; and risible euphemisms such as ‘fiscal realignment’ are employed to signal the shutting down of non-income generating teaching programs and purges of staff. For more on weasel words, see the work of Don Watson and the related site.)

Today, New China Newspeak remains not only a powerful rhetorical weapon in the linguistic arsenal of China’s party-state. It is also employed by writers and self-promoters located at various points along the Chinese political spectrum. Neo-Maoists, including individuals and groups dubbed from the early 1990s ‘red fundamentalists’ (原红旨主义者 or 原红教旨主义者) – the latest being the writers posting on such sites as Utopia 乌有之乡 who were particularly outspoken from 2003-2012 – preferred as their default version of New China Newspeak the ‘big-character-poster’ 大字报 style of radical vituperation and denunciation of the High-Maoist era. Even right-leaning anti-Party activists, be they adherents of Falun Gong or post-1989 ‘democrats’ often consciously or unconsciously employ New China Newspeak. A personal favourite dates from the mid 1990s.

The US-exiled democracy activist Chai Ling gave voice to her outrage over the film ‘The Gate of Heavenly Peace’ (for which I was the principal writer) and denounced its makers at length (and later, unsuccessfully, through US courts). Party-style language came easily to the Harvard Business School graduate when she attacked the film in Chinese:

…certain individuals have for the sake of the gaining approval of the authorities racked their brains for ways and means to come up with policies for them. And there is another person with a pro-Communist history who has been hawking [her] documentary film for crude commercial gain by taking things out of context and trying to reveal something new, unreasonably turning history on its head and calling black white…
个别的人为了利欲讨好当政者,挖空心思地为当政者出谋划策;另一个有亲共历史的人为了谋取商业暴利推销自己的纪录片,断章取义企图要标新立异,硬要把历史的黑白颠倒过来… [21]

Equally, if not more noteworthy, was the fact that the left-leaning thinker Wang Hui 汪晖 would also resort to a certain Maoist diction when defending himself against accusations of a conflict of interest in 2000:

Some individuals [有些人] have [deliberately] distorted the facts [歪曲事实], and have concocted things out of thin air [无中生有]; furthermore, not only have they attacked and libeled without due cause [无端的], they have directed their attacks [矛头指向] at Tsinghua University and the other recipients of awards. [We are] startled [让人震撼] at the extremely calculating fashion [用心之深] in which certain individuals [有些人] have exploited [利用] divisions in the intellectual sphere to confound the issues [混淆视听]… Some websites and particular [个别] newspapers have acted as the source for such rumour-mongering [… ].

However, among the oppositionist individuals and groups who employ New China Newspeak with some of its original panache, those featured on the Utopia site remained the most colourful. Their retro-version of Maospeak reached something of a contemporary apogee around the time of the crash-and-burn fall of Bo Xilai in March-April 2012.[23]

Although it can often generate risible formulations, when in full flight and soaring on the wings of high dudgeon, even official New China Newspeak remains an unparalleled form of global statist Chinese. Its power derives partly from its evolution over nearly a century and the fact that its authors can draw on a vast legacy of written Chinese and a formidable repertory of memorable, and memorized, formulations that allows users to cut and paste as readily from pre-Qin philosophy and ancient historical texts as well as from poetry and prose from any point in the country’s long recorded history. To this is added a corpus formed from the Maoist canon, Deng-era gray bureaucratese, Jiang Zemin-Hu Jintao engineer-inspired pseudo-science discourse and, since the 1990s, statements bearing a neoliberal diction. In the Internet era, New China Newspeak also features the hyperbole of modern advertising copy and the glib shorthand of text messaging.


[boxout full=”true”]Quoting Chairman Mao

In the latter years of the Cultural Revolution, Fudan University in Shanghai 上海复旦大学, like other educational institutions throughout the country, prominently featured a statue of Mao Zedong on campus. Most of these stodgy representations of the Great Leader were located immediately inside the main campus gate. The preferred image would generally show the chairman in a winter jacket, a corner of which would be raised slightly by an imaginary wind. The leader himself would be show gesturing in salute, greeting and call to action. At Fudan facing the chairman on a large screen wall on the other side of the road outside the campus entrance was a Mao quote. As was the fashion at the time, the quotation was written in white on a red background.



Class struggle is a net
Cast wide all is ensnared

Mao’s Selected Works 毛泽东选集 also known as 毛泽东著作/毛著, as well as the decocted version, Quotations from Chairman Mao 毛主席语录, remain crucial texts those who would understand the style and mentality that informs contemporary New China Newspeak. A few lapidary examples must suffice here:

(一九三八年十一月六日),《毛泽东选集》 第二卷第五三五页











世界是你们的,也是我们的,但是归根结底是你们的。你们青年人朝气蓬勃,正在兴旺时期,好象早晨八、九点钟的太阳。希望寄托在你们身上。…… 世界是屬於你们的。中国的前途是屬於你们的。




The Spring & Autumn Style 春秋笔法

One of the main features of New China Newspeak is its ‘moral-evaluative’ dimension. In this it builds on patters of moral judgment used by writers in pre-modern times, be they historical, cultural or artistic judgments. For those who would use the past as a mirror to guide present actions, evaluations and moral judgments were crucial.

It is the concern of many students of things Chinese (be they in or outside China) that the yawning gap between reality and rhetoric should, in the long run, make things untenable, or lead to some massive revision or collapse of the vestigial ideological power of the party-state. Taking a sideways glance at the parallels between Soviet and Chinese socialism, however, and if we remain mindful of the lessons that have been learnt from the Soviet collapse, one could say that party-state rule in China has created a range of appealing and abiding ideological simulacra. To date these have incorporated cultural alternatives and opponents in a ‘postmodern pastiche’ of the kind originally described in the Russian philosopher Mikhail Epstein’s work on the former Soviet ideological landscape.[24] This kind of pastiche has also been commented on (and denounced) by China’s own New Left and retro-Maoists.

In his work on relativistic patterns in totalitarian thinking, Epstein analysed totalitarianism as ‘a specific postmodern model that came to replace the modernist ideological stance elaborated in earlier Marxism.’ He argued that the use of what he called ‘descriptive-evaluative’ words, that is terms that combine both descriptive and evaluative meanings or connotations – ‘ideologemes’ employed universally in Soviet speech – communicate not only information but also a specific ideological message, or concealed judgments that take the form of words. Epstein’s view of how ideologemes functioned in Soviet public discourse finds striking parallels in reformist-era China (1978-). In short, Epstein noted that a key to the function of ideologemes is that they can encompass both leftist and rightist concepts, embracing the spectrum of utilitarian shifts made within a totalitarian or rather a totalising system, that is a system that can incorporate and reconcile logical inconsistencies and opposing ideas.

A simple example of this can be found in the expression ‘socialist market economy’. It is a term created to convey the extreme contradictions within contemporary economic realities; it is an expression that allows for an ideological underpinning to what, superficially at least, appears to have been an example of the party’s retreat from its avowed state-centred Marxist-Leninist-Maoist revolutionary ideals. According to Epstein, this kind of linguistic formulation is not the result of a desperate pragmatism; rather it is the reflection of the core philosophy of a politics which ‘uses leftist slogans to defeat the right, rightist slogans to defeat the left’, a politics that strives throughout to maintain its own primacy. This is a primacy that is not merely about temporal power, but one that is also about dominion in the realms of ideas and emotions.

Totalitarian speech is marked by its ability to employ ideologically laden words to weaken opposing sides while taking advantage of the resulting confusion. I would note that the Chinese language – and what is under discussion here, New China Newspeak – has a rich and venerable lexicon of words that have been converted under party-state rule to act as ‘ideologemes’. It is a lexicon that, according to tradition, was first formulated by Confucius when he purportedly edited the history of the State of Lu 鲁国, the Spring and Autumn Annals 春秋, judiciously selecting expressions to depict political actions in moral terms. Classical scholars claimed that the Sage thereby created a ‘Spring-and-Autumn writing style’ 春秋笔法 which relied on a vocabulary of baobian ci 褒贬词, or judgmental words, to praise bao 褒 or censure bian 贬 every political act and event recorded in the annals of Lu.

In modern usage, all activities beneficial to the party-state are represented by words with positive connotations 褒义词, while those that are deleterious in nature are condemned with negative verbs, nouns and adjectives 贬义词. The growth or maturation of socialist society has led to a linguistic accretion, one that incorporates Maoist doublethink of the first three decades of the People’s Republic with the patriotic parole of Reform. The general party line exists in a state of constant tension with both right and left deviations, maintaining a rhetorical and practical balance between the two. This was notably evident in the populist, and popular, ‘Sing Red Crush Black’ 唱红打黑 campaign launched in Chongqing as part of an effort to clamp down on local mafias (as well as business and bureaucratic enemies) while extolling a nationalistic-Maoism through mass choral performances. One could postulate, as Epstein does for Soviet Marxism, that ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ – the theoretical formula that underwrites contemporary China – is an enigmatic and hybrid phenomenon that, ‘like postmodern pastiche… combines within itself very different ideological doctrines’.[25]


New China Newspeak 一言以兴邦,一言以丧邦

My argument then is that in China the ruling ideology has gone through a transmogrification rather than a collapse, absorbing both leftist and neo-liberal ideas. In this context ‘ideology’, as Epstein puts it, ‘becomes simply a habit of thinking, a manner of expression, the prism through which all views and expressions are refracted without depending on specific views and ideas – a sort of universal network that may be compared to the advertising networks of Western nations.’ As goods are exchanged for money in a capitalist environment, so facts can be exchanged for ideas in the totalising realm. As a form of currency, ideas accrue their own ‘ideological capital’. Their value lies in their ability to shore up the ‘correctness’ of the ideology of their proponents, and it is this correctness that compensates people for their sacrifices to the cause, and recoups the cost of policy errors.

Such ideological capital has outgrown the limitations of individual personalities and systems of ideas to ‘become an omnipresent mentality, appropriating any fact to serve any idea’. In China this linguistic practice is New China Newspeak. It produces a skein of idea-laden language that is underpinned by a kind of doublethink that George Orwell described well in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four:

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself—that was the ultimate subtlety; consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.[26]

Some may object to the use of Orwellian when describing either the reality or the linguistic world of China today. Writers like Ai Weiwei would probably disagree. Linguistic convolutions offer insights into real-time power play, and they have been fodder for creative writers and artists since the early post-Cultural Revolution days. The ideological dialect behind the logorrhea of the party-state – a barrage of verbiage that is easily derided and often overlooked – is not coincidental to a system that articulates itself on the basis of a complex marriage between the territory of dynastic habit, authoritarian politics (related to the Republican period) and high-socialist doublethink.

One example must suffice here as an illustration. On 11 February 2010, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu 马朝旭 declared that: ‘There are no dissidents in China.’ This was, as Agence France-Presse reported it, ‘just hours after a Beijing court upheld an 11-year jail term for one of the country’s top pro-democracy voices.’ The report went on to say that: ‘Ma made the comment in answer to a question about leading mainland dissident Liu Xiaobo, whose appeal of his conviction on subversion charges was denied early on Thursday. When asked to elaborate, Ma said: “In China, you can judge yourself whether such a group exists. But I believe this term is questionable in China.”‘[27]

Shortly thereafter, the artist and cultural blogger Ai Weiwei observed of this risible statement via his Twitter feed that:

Foreign Affairs Ma’s statement contains a number of layers of meaning:
1. Dissidents are criminals
2. Only criminals have dissenting views
3. The distinction between criminals and non-criminals is whether they have dissenting views
4. If you think China has dissidents, you are a criminal
5. The reason [China] has no dissidents is because they are [in fact already] criminals
6. Does anyone have a dissenting view regarding my statement?



[boxout full=”true”]New China Newspeak as a Foreign Affair
Diplomatic Parlance 外交辞令

Analysis of Foreign Ministry Spokesperson-Speak:

Cordial and friendly discourse: Talks not bad.
Frank discourse: There are big differences, and we’re unable to communicate.
Exchange of opinions: Basically each states their position, with no agreement reached.
The two sides have a full exchange of opinions: The two sides argued fiercely.
The two sides’ understanding was enhanced: There are big differences.
[We are] seriously following [the matter]: Perhaps we will interfere, but it’s more likely there is nothing we can do.
[We] express great indignation: We’re at the end of our rope!


1、亲切友好交谈 – 谈的不错;
2、坦率交谈 – 分歧很大,无法沟通;
3、交换了意见 – 基本各说各的,没有达成协议;
4、双方充分交换了意见 – 双方吵得厉害;
5、增进了双方的了解 – 分歧很大;
6、严重关切 – 可能要干预,但很可能歇菜;
7、表示极大愤慨 – 拿人家真没辙!

Source: from the Shanghai-based microblogger Lu Guoping (@鲁国平先生), quoted by David Wertime, ‘Voices—Decoding China’s Diplomatic Speak’, Tea Leaf Nation, 1 May 2012, at: http://www.haohaoreport.com/l/34346. My thanks to Gloria Davies for bringing this to my attention.[/boxout]


Faithfulness, Expressiveness & Elegance 信达雅

Since 1976 there has been a relative demilitarization (or ‘de-Maoification’) of language in China, but there has been only every been limited disarmament, and nonproliferation is still not on the books. Overall, Chinese rhetoric has maintained a war footing, and the ‘military-poetic complex’ which binds revolutionary firepower to poetic fancy is well-funded and widely supported in China today. While international incidents leading to Chinese ‘hurt feelings’, grievance or outrage, generally result in a colourful display of this style of rhetoric, the militarized version of New China Newspeak is most often evident following domestic natural disasters or when the party-state deals with homegrown social or political issues. Modes of criticism, debate and public declamation, as well as Internet-based contention, still reflect to a large extent the habits of mind and language inculcated by decades of one-party rule, education and mass media propaganda. The Party structure also makes it possible, indeed necessary, to enforce ‘unified thinking’ 统一思想 regarding key ideas and current affairs issues. The structure, power and punitive nature of this system, as described by Anne-Marie Brady, allows for a form of verbal ‘unified calibre’ 统一口径 and the wherewithal for the party-state to require appartchiks to stay ‘on message’ regardless of what they might think, or say in private.

One of the more recent examples of New China Newspeak doublethink (some might simply call it sophistry by another name) can be found in the verbal contortions of the official spokesman Zhao Qizheng 赵启正 during the media conference held at the opening of the 2012 Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress in Beijing on 2 March 2012.[29] One could argue that with the economic boom since the 1990s and the swagger of the party-state on the global stage in the second decade of the new millennium, the totalizing habits of language and thought in China have enjoyed a new lease on life. Even in an environment of guided media openness that is tolerant of certain forms of public contention, morally laden and totalizing rhetoric, along with its internally structured resistance to critical self-reflection, remains dominant. Of course, legitimating what can be said, or allowed to be said (if not being able to control or guide what can be thought) is part of a process that delegitimizes unacceptable formulations, words and expressions. As Mao Zedong himself remarked ‘one single [correct] formulation, and the whole nation will flourish; one single [incorrect] formulation, and the whole nation will decline’.[30] Over half a century earlier, the translator Yan Fu 严复 had observed that ‘there are three difficulties in translation: faithfulness, expressiveness and elegance’ 译事三难:信达雅; none of these challenges are merely limited to translation.

It is perhaps ironic that the complex body of linguistic and rhetorical practices that continue to enliven and obfuscate in turns both written and spoken Chinese have allowed that language to maintain a stylistic and expressive richness that would have been impossible if the zealous advocates of romanisation and radical vernacular usage had held sway during the Maoist heyday.[31] It is also vitally important to appreciate that the registers of New China Newspeak also provide languages of resistance and opposition to those who consciously oppose the Party’s sway over the mind.

Today, to ignore or make no attempt to understand the underpinnings and contours of New China Newspeak is, I believe, to misconstrue The China Story.[32] To do so limits our ability to take seriously a linguistic realm that generates its own empire of signs.


* My thanks to Gloria Davies for her comments on the first draft of this essay, and to Linda Jaivin, Richard Rigby and Sang Ye for their suggestions, as well as to Jeremy Goldkorn and Joel Martinsen for further examples of New China Newspeak. An earlier version of this essay appeared as a China Heritage Glossary entry in the March 2012 issue of China Heritage Quarterly. My own initial encounter with the English-language version of New China Newspeak came as a high-school student, when I was introduced to the stentorian prose of Peking Review in 1967. It was not until early 1974 that my teachers at The Australian National University introduced me to the full-blown version, in the form of the People’s Daily attack on Michelangelo Antonioni’s documentary film ‘Chung Kuo, Cina’. See People’s Daily Commentator, ‘A Vicious Motive, Despicable Tricks — A Criticism of M. Antonioni’s Anti-China Film China, 恶毒的用心,卑劣的手法——批判安东尼奥尼拍摄的题为《中国》的反华影片, Renmin Ribao 30 January 1974, online at: http://blog.ifeng.com/article/1506408.html.

[1] See Michael Schoenhals’ 1992 series of essays published as Doing Things with Words in Chinese Politics: Five Studies, China Research Monograph, Berkeley, CA: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, 1992.

[2] See Victor Klemperer, The Language of the Third Reich: A Philologist’s Notebook, trans. Martin Brady, London: Continuum, 2002. In his meticulous (and extraordinary) diaries of Germany’s Nazi era, Klemperer kept a running account of features of what he called LTI. The notes in these diaries (published in English translation in three volumes) which were marked simply LTI are scattered throughout the pages of the diaries. See, for example, Klemperer, I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1942-1945, trans. Martin Chalmers, New York: Random House, 1999, pp.33, 35, 45, etc.

[3] See Anne-Marie Brady, Marketing Dictatorship: Propaganda and Thought Work in Contemporary China, Boulder, Co.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008.

[4] In this context, see James Leibold, Reconfiguring Chinese Nationalism: How the Qing Frontier and its Indigenes Became Chinese, Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007; and, Thomas Mullaney, James Leibold, Stéphane Gros and Eric Vanden Bussche, eds, Critical Han Studies: The History, Representation and Identity of China’s Majority, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011. In his chapter in Critical Han Studies, Leibold notes Liang’s coining of the term Zhonghua minzu in 1902. Leibold also refers to Liang Qichao’s ‘An Introductory Essay on Chinese History’ 中国史绪论, collected in Liang’s Yinbingshi wenji 饮冰室文集, Taipei: Taiwan Zhonghua Shuju, vol.6, p.3.

[5] See the chapter ‘Promethean Linguistics’ in Katerina Clark’s Petersburg, Crucible of Cultural Revolution, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995, pp.201-223.

[6] See ‘国家语委官员称44汉字微调不会影响生活’ online at: http://news.cctv.com/china/20090820/100544.shtml. For the official account, see ‘2009年中国语言生活状况报告’, online at: http://www.china-language.gov.cn/33/2010_11_25/1_33_4750_0_1290675551886.html. For a list of spoof terms and expressions inspired by the reform, see ‘为四十四个中文词汇整容’, 22 August 2009, at: http://bbs1.people.com.cn/postDetail.do?boardId=2&treeView=1&view=2&id=93887377. An example of the simplification of the pronunciation of words as given in the Xinhua Dictionary is that the 禧 in the Empress Dowager’s honorific title Cixi 慈禧, formerly pronounced as xi1 is now only allowed as xi3; thus, Ci2xi1 has become Ci2xi3. My thanks to Richard Rigby for reminding me of this Communist act of lèse majesté. For an essay on the fate of the dictionary during the early 1970s at the time of the Maoist ‘literary inquisition’ 文字狱, see Fan Chenggang, 范承剛, ‘The Xinhua Dictionary Tamed’ 被馴化的 《新華字典》, in iSunAffairs 陽光時務, 6 December 2011, online at: http://www.isunaffairs.com/?p=1952. See also Michael Churchman, ‘Confucius Institutes and Controlling Chinese Languages‘.

[7] For an important study of this, see Theodore Huters in his ‘Legibility vs. the Fullness of Expression: Rethinking the Transformation of Modern Chinese Prose’, Modern Chinese Literature in Chinese, 10.2 (December 2011): 80-104.

[8] Liang said of this new style of writing that when he wrote for the new press he felt freed of the constraints of the old-style (which he called 古文):

自解放,务为平易畅达,时杂以俚语、韵语及外国语法,纵笔所至不检束,学者竞效之,号’新文体’。老辈则痛恨,诋为野狐。然其文条理明晰,笔锋常带情感,对于读者,别有一种魔力焉。(参见《清代学术概论》二十五)For details and this quotation, see the section on Liang and Xin wenti in Yuan Xinpei 袁行霈, ed., A History of Chinese Literature 中国文学史, Beijing: Gaodeng Jiaoyu Chubanshe, 1999, vol.4, pp.481-482.

[9] See Hu Shi, ‘Preliminary Suggestions for the Reform of Literature’ 文学改良刍议, La Jeunesse 新青年, no.5 vol.2 (1 January 1917), online at: http://baike.baidu.com/view/79542.htm. Writing nearly three decades later, George Orwell would suggest six rules for the writing of clear prose: 1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print; 2. Never use a long word where a short one will do; 3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out; 4. Never use the passive where you can use the active; 5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent; 6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous. From ‘Politics and the English Language’ (1946), online at: http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit.

[10] Dai Qing says that her own prose style developed beyond the immediate thrall of New China Newspeak because as a child she had access to the party-army leader Ye Jianying’s 叶剑英 extensive private library. See my ‘Using the Past to save the Present: Dai Qing’s Historiographical Dissent’, East Asian History, no.1 (June 1991).

[11] See Françoise Thom, La Langue de bois, Paris, Julliard, 1987; and, Christian Delporte, Une histoire de la langue de bois: de Lénine à Sarkozy, Paris: Flammarion, 2009. See also Alain Besançon and George Urban, ‘Language and Power in Soviet Society (I)’, Encounter, May 1987: 3-13. For a late-1980s’ parody of Chinese Party language by the novelist Wang Shuo, see ‘Voices from the Bamboo Grove: The Humanity of Chinese Humour’ in the China Heritage Quarterly Issue 29 (March 2012), online at: http://www.chinaheritagequarterly.org/scholarship.php?searchterm=029_canberra.inc&issue=029

[12] Online at: http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-4/mswv4_67.htm. When leaders suddenly depart from scripted wooden language and break into colloquial language to make a point, we witness not only the operation of the Chinese vernacular, but a certain aspect of New China Newspeak, one that enables the user to cut through the verbosity of Party parole by employing direct address. It is not accidental, but part of the very rhetorical style that has built up within the corpus of New China Newspeak over the years. Mao was expert at this. Deng Xiaoping had a few shining moments, such as the time in 1984 when there was media speculation about possible plans by Beijing to station PLA units in a post-handover Hong Kong. The senior leader Geng Biao, who had denied that the Chinese army would be stationed in the former British colony, was famously and publicly rebuked by Deng for ‘talking absolute rubbish’ 胡说八道. (For a recent recounting of this incident, see Li Yigen 李意根, ‘Deng Xiaoping Fury Over “PLA Stationing in Hong Kong”: a female reporter was so startled that she couldn’t lift her microphone’ 邓小平为”香港驻军事件”大发雷霆:女记者吓得举不起话筒, Jinwan Bao 今晚报, 14 April 2012, online at: http://history.people.com.cn/GB/205396/17664526.html). The emergent Party leader Xi Jinping himself demonstrated a mild talent for directness in February 2009 when, during an official visit to Mexico, he blurted out that: ‘There are some well fed foreigners who have nothing better to do than point fingers at our affairs.’ After all, he said: ‘China does not, first, export revolution; second, export poverty and hunger; third, cause troubles for you. What else can you say?’ 有些吃饱了没事干的外国人,对我们的事情指手划脚。中国一不输出革命,二不输出饥饿和贫困,三不去折腾你们,还有什么好说的. Party General Secretary Hu Jintao whose personality was as wooden as his language was less convincing when, in December 2008, he used the expression zheteng 折腾 as he called for his comrades to pursue the ‘Three Don’ts’ – ‘don’t waver, don’t slacken, don’t get sidetracked’ 不动摇, 不懈怠, 不折腾. See the entry on zheteng in the China Heritage Glossary.

[13] See the chapter MaoSpeak in my Shades of Mao: The Posthumous Cult of the Great Leader, Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1996, pp.224-227, where I also use the expression New China Newspeak. See also pp.33 & 113. In a series of unpublished talks and interviews with Chinese intellectuals in 1985-86, undertaken with the film scholar Karima Fumitoshi 刈間文俊 in Beijing, I discussed what I carelessly dubbed ‘Maospeak’ 毛语 (it can also be called ‘Mao-style prose’ 毛文体) and the conundrums it presented to those engaged with China. At the time, we found little serious interest in the subject. Subsequently, writers like Li Jie commented eloquently on the abiding influence of what in 1989 he dubbed the ‘Mao phenomenon’. See my Shades of Mao, pp.140-46. More recently, Li Tuo 李陀 published a fascinating piece on the subject. See Li Tuo, ‘Wang Zengqi and Modern Chinese Writing – and a discussion of “Mao-style prose”‘ 汪曾祺与现代汉语写作 –– 兼谈毛文体, 18 September 2009, online at: http://www.douban.com/group/topic/8051808/.

[14] See Hu’s collected writings, 《胡乔木文集》, Beijing: Renmin Chubanshe, 1994, 3 vols. See also Michael Schoenhals, ‘Direction of the Press: Hu Qiaomu’s 1955 Breakfast Chats’, in his Doing Things with Words in Chinese Politics: Five Studies 1992, pp.79-102. Anne-Marie Brady suggests that tifa is the Chinese equivalent of George Orwell’s Newspeak. See her Marketing Dictatorship, pp.100-101.

[15] On the significance of ‘formulations’ , see Schoenhals, pp.3, 6ff.

[16] Zhang Taiyan 章太炎, ‘The relationship between the Vernacular and the Classical’ 白话与文言之关系, in Ma Yong 马勇, ed., 《章太炎讲演集》, Shijiazhuang: Hebei Renmin Chubanshe, 2004, p.220. Translated by Theodore Huters in his ‘Legibility vs. the Fullness of Expression: Rethinking the Transformation of Modern Chinese Prose’.

[17] My thanks to Sang Ye for pointing out the influence of Concordia Chinese on New China Newspeak. As Sven Saaler and Christopher W. A. Szpilman note in their Pan-Asianism: A Documentary History: 1920-Present, Boulder, Co.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2011, vol.2, p.164:

The Manchurian Youth League developed the idea of kyowa (xiehe in Chinese) or cooperation between races or nationalities and the rejection of colonialist attitudes. This idea was incarnated in a fascistic mass organization in Manchukuo known as Kyowakai or Xiehehui and translated into English as the Concordia Society. The association was built on a rhetoric or eternal peace embedded in East Asian ideas and a framework of mutual cooperation among different peoples. It advocated anti-imperialism and even conceived of a new type of anticolonial state that would replace all imperialist powers—including the Japanese. Increasingly after 1937, however, the Kyowakai became a propaganda machine for the Japanese army’s expansion into mainland China and Asia.
Although there has been some work on the influence of Japanese on Chinese in the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the area of national language policy in Japan and how that influenced political Chinese is a topic worthy of further exploration.

[18] Mao Zedong, ‘Oppose Stereotyped Party Writing’, 8 February 1942, online at: http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-3/mswv3_07.htm. Although ‘eight-legged essays’ were much derided by careless critics of the literary tradition, more moderate opinion found in this exacting prose form both intellectual rigour and stylistic elegance. The former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd identified a familiar iteration of New China Newspeak – waijiao bagu 外交八股 – in his 2010 Morrison Lecture when he said:

In the past, the great Chinese writer Lu Xun satirised those writers who tried to sound elevated and self-important by using fashionable foreign expressions, which simply resulted in pretentious and tortured prose. He called it ‘foreign eight-legged essays’ (yang bagu) – referring to the formulaic essays demanded of the imperial examiners in the past, the bagu wen.

In 1942, Mao Zedong, chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, warned his colleagues against creating a new dang bagu, or ‘Party eight-legged essay’ – a form of writing that struck a pose merely to intimidate and obfuscate. Perhaps we too often are caught up in what I would call ‘the eight-legged essays of international relations’, waijiao bagu: that is, stereotypical responses to complex realities, simplistic knee-jerk reactions to situations that require a more layered response. In the great Australian tradition, it’s time that we all got over it.

See ‘Australia and China in the World’, The Seventieth George E. Morrison Lecture on Ethnology, 23 April 2010, available at: http://chinainstitute.anu.edu.au/morrison/titles.php

[19] For a preliminary study of this style of rhetoric, see Lowell Dittmer and Chen Ruoxi (Chen Jo-hsi), Ethics and Rhetoric of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1981.

[20] An English-language version of Chen Jo-hsi’s stories was published in 1978 under the title The Execution of Mayor Yin and Other Stories from the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, translated by Nancy Ing and Howard Goldblatt, Bloomington: Indiana University Press. See also her The Old Man and Other Stories, trans. Diane Cornell and others, Hong Kong: Research Center for Translation, Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1986. For an excerpt from Li Jian’s ‘Drunk in the Rapeseed Patch’, see my Shades of Mao, pp.221-223. On Wang Shuo, see my In the Red, on contemporary Chinese culture, New York: Columbia University Press, 1999, pp.71-79; on The Editors, see In the Red, pp.142-143; on Kong Yongqian’s T-shirts, see In the Red, pp.145ff; on post-1976 art and the Chinese language, see my ‘History Writ Large: The dazibao, The art of words, Red logorrhea’ (forthcoming); for Hu Ge’s ‘Murder by Mantou‘, see my ‘Eating Chinese – the History Banquet’, presented on 21 April 2007 at ‘The Future of U.S.-China Relations’ at the University of Southern California, available in downloadable PDF format at: http://china.usc.edu/ShowArticle.aspx?articleID=61); and, Chris G. Rea, ‘Spoofing (e’gao) Culture on the Chinese Internet’ (forthcoming Hong Kong University Press, 2012). For Chan Koon-chung’s 2008 novel, see Linda Jaivin, ‘Yawning Heights: Chan Koon-chung’s Harmonious China’, in China Heritage Quarterly, Issue 22 (June 2010), at: http://www.chinaheritagequarterly.org/articles.php?searchterm=022_golden.inc&issue=022. For Ai Weiwei, see Lee Ambrozy, ed., Ai Weiwei’s Blog: Writings, Interviews, and Digital Rants, 2006-2009 Cambridge, Ma.: MIT Press, 2011, and for a relevant essay by Han Han see ‘A Derailed Country’, translated by Matt Schrader and reprinted at: http://www.chinaheritagequarterly.org/editorial.php?issue=027, and included in China Story Yearbook 2012: Red Rising, Red Eclipse, Chapter 9. For the ‘Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon’, see: http://chinadigitaltimes.net/space/Grass-Mud_Horse_Lexicon.

[21] Quoted in ‘Totalitarian Nostalgia’, in In the Red, p.331, online at: http://www.chinaheritagequarterly.org/features.php?searchterm=018_1989nostalgia.inc&issue=018.

[22] Quoted in Geremie R. Barmé and Gloria Davies, ‘Have We Been Noticed Yet? – Intellectual Contestation and the Chinese Web’, in Edward Gu and Merle Goldman, eds, Chinese Intellectuals Between State and Market, London/NY: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004, pp.75-108.

[23] See, for example, Zhang Hongliang’s 张宏良 speech ‘Unite to Struggle for the Revival of Socialism – a speech at a meeting to commemorate the 118th anniversary of the birth of Chairman Mao’ 团结起来,为复兴社会主义而努力奋斗! – 在纪念毛主席诞辰118周年大会上的讲话, 1 January 2012, online at: http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_9b12a6df01013isn.html. My thanks to Chris Buckley for alerting me to the full text of this speech, previously published on the now-defunct Utopia website. For some early critiques of ‘red fundamentalists’ in the early 1990s, see my In the Red, pp.289, 347 & 353.

[24] This material draws on ‘Totalitarian Nostalgia’, in In the Red, online at: http://www.chinaheritagequarterly.org/features.php?searchterm=018_1989nostalgia.inc&issue=018.

[25] Zhang Hongliang (see n.23 above) was particularly scathing in his description of the ‘socialist market economy’. In regard to the Chongqing ‘red-and-black’ campaign, see Wang Lixiong 王力雄, ‘Bo Xilai and the “Mechanization” of the Chinese Communist Party’ 薄熙來與中共「機器化」, in iSunAffairs 陽光時務, No.18 (3 May 2012), reprinted online at: http://www.canyu.org/n48186c10.aspx.

[26] George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1st World Library Literary Society reprint, 2004, p.47.

[27] ‘There are no dissidents in China’, Agence France-Presse, 11 February 2010.

[28] See: http://twitter.com/aiww/statuses/8962515702.

[29] See, for instance, Zhao on the issue of illness-causing air-borne particulate matter (PM2.5) at: http://news.sina.com.cn/w/2012-03-02/151924048594.shtml. Here he cynically conflates the issue of industrial and motor-vehicle particulate matter, a serious topic in Beijing during 2011, with passive smoking and the smoke plumes produced by New Year’s fireworks.

[30] 一言以兴邦,一言以丧邦. See Mao, ‘Zai Hangzhou huishishangde disanci jianghua zhailu, 11 May 1963’, in Zhongguo Renmin Daxue San Hong, ed., Mao Zedong Sixiang Wansui 毛泽东思想万岁!, 13 vols., Beijing, 1967, final supplement, p.120, translated in Schoenhals, Doing Things with Words in Chinese Politics, p.3. The online publication China Digital Times follows the undulations in Chinese political lexicon via its frequently updated ‘Directives from the Ministry of Truth’. See: http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/ministry-of-truth/.

[31] Writing about an earlier era in the development of modern Chinese, Ted Huters remarks:

In terms of the issues facing modern China, perhaps the most important implications residing in the questions about linguistic register in discursive expression ultimately must return to the realm of the writer rather than to the reader, and do not so much center on the issue of the broadness of the audience, but ultimately on the question of intellectual complexity and authorial initiative—who is to be able to exercise the authority to experiment with language in order to engage in the experiments that will ultimate result in original ideas? Would the ‘right’ to take intellectual initiative be restricted to intellectuals writing in complicated registers in Europe and Japan, or could Chinese writers have equal creative access to experiment with ideas, both old and new via a rich and multi-faceted language? Well aware though they were of the desperate situation of the Chinese nation, Zhang Taiyan and Yan Fu should be seen as going against the grain to maintain this initiative over discourse rather than as inflexible reactionaries hamstrung by the legacy of the past. That the ‘hard-boned’ Lu Xun in the next generation shared a number of their discontents with reducing the complexity of language offers impressive support to this view. [See his ‘Legibility vs. the Fullness of Expression: Rethinking the Transformation of Modern Chinese Prose’, ibid.]

[32] In this context, see Ran Yunfei’s remarks in Ian Johnson’s blog entry ‘Learning How to Argue’ for The New York Review of Books, 2 March 2012, online at: http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2012/mar/02/learning-how-argue-interview-ran-yunfei/. Among other things Ran says:

The good news is that blogging and the Internet have damaged the CCP’s monopoly on information. So change is happening slowly, from the grassroots. But the damage of years of living under this system is profound. You, as a foreigner, can live here and learn to use chopsticks and learn Chinese perfectly but you might not know how Chinese people think, especially in sensitive areas. If you ask ordinary people about a sensitive thing, how they react is different than how you’ll react. It’s hard for you to imagine their sense of fear. You might be expelled but it’s not like being here. The system of language has to be analyzed. The CCP created a parallel language system (of untruth) that is on an equal basis with the language of truth. You have to analyze what it’s like to grow up in this kind of an unfree country. This is the only way to really know this country.