褒貶 Evaluations

A ‘moral-evaluative vocabulary’ 褒貶詞 has been a feature of Chinese writing from pre-dynastic times. Over the centuries it developed a rich lexicon that has been adapted by the Communist Party media over some ninety years to guide, as well as limit, public and even private expression.

According to tradition the lexicon of moral-evaluative terms was first formulated by Confucius when he is said to have edited the history of the state of Lu, the Spring and Autumn Annals 呂氏春秋. In so doing he judiciously chose expressions and words to describe political actions in moral terms, apportioning praise 褒 or criticism 貶 accordingly. Even-handed or non-evaluate 中性 terms are also recognised. Such morally inflected prose is also known as the ‘Spring and Autumn writing style’ 春秋筆法. Moral-evaluative terms include adjectives, adverbs, verbs, but ‘four-character fixed expressions’ are replete with this kind of language.

That which leads to stability, progress, harmony, wealth and national strength are described using a positive panoply of expressions 褒義詞/褒詞 (好字眼兒). These terms express approval, commendation, respect, felicitation and uplift. Such terms, which are generally highly formulaic, are used when describing the moral quality 品德 or essence 品質 of a person as well, including party leaders, positive historical figures, heroes, martyrs, model workers and all their actions. In the context of international relations, this language is employed to describe ‘friendly’ countries, their leaders, their actions and their societies.

Apart from neutral terms 中性詞, there is also the expression 褒貶不一, one that means that people cannot agree on whether something is worthy of praise or blame.

The letter of gratitude in Wang Shuo’s 1989 novel No Man’s Land 千萬別把我當人. It is an epistle clogged with the logorrhea of Chinese political and commercial language. It is a mini-comic masterpiece that contains many of the elements of New Sinology classical references, dramatic reworking of bombastic Party-speak, connotative words and expressions from various points on the linguistic spectrum.

The letter, which is divided into shorter paragraphs here, pours forth in a flood read out to the party leader by the hero’s mother as if it were a tearful incantation:

You have righted the wrong and crushed the bad in one fel swoop. Respected wise dear teacher leader helmsman pathfinder vanguard pioneer designer bright light torch devil-deflecting mirror dog-beating stick dad mum grandad grandma old ancestor primal ape Supreme Deity Jade Emperor Guanyin Bodhisattva commander-in-chief: 敬爱的英明的亲爱的先驱者开拓者设计师明灯方炬照妖镜打狗棍爹妈爷爷奶奶老祖宗老猿猴老太上老君王皇大帝观音菩萨总司令:

You who are busy with: ten thousand weighty matters each day, long-suffering one bad habits die hard and overworked to the point of illness done too often can be habit-forming shouldering heavy responsibilities speeding through the skies powerful and unconstrained staving off disaster and helping the poor dispelling the evil and ousting the heterodox, you who eliminate rheumatism cold sweats strengthen the yang and invigorate the spleen the brain who are good for the liver stomach pain relieving and cough repressing, and able to cure constipation. 您日理万机千辛万苦积重难返积劳成疾积习我癖肩挑重担腾云驾雾天马行空扶危济贫匡扶正义去恶除邪次风湿次虚寒壮阳补肾补脑补养肝调胃解痛镇咳通大便,

You personally yourself in propria persona have come deigned lowered yourself honoured us with your presence to investigate look over police search patrol pay a visit to ask about express solicitude and come to our alley. For our alley this is the most magnanimous expression of concern a massive encouragement a great impetus a considerable relief formidable expression of trust and care a great honour and really a nice thing to do. 百忙中却还亲身亲自亲临降光临视察纠察检查探查侦查查访访问询问慰问我们胡同,这是对我们胡同的巨大关怀巨大鼓舞巨大鞭策巨大安慰巨大信任巨大体贴巨大荣光巨大抬举。

We are little people knaves the black haired scum your children grandchildren tufts of grass little dogs and cats a gang of liumang 流氓 the cretinous crowds the great masses the hundred surnames and we feel ohsolucky extremely moved exceedingly uneasy terribly embarrassed so very pleased boundingly enthusiastic very very overwhelmed by our good fortune grateful as all get out tears o’fill our eyes our hearts swell like the seas and we’re utterly and thoroughly lost for words. 我们这些小民昌民黎民贱民儿子孙子小草小狗小猫群氓愚众大众百姓感到十分幸福十分激动十分不安十分惭愧十分快活十分雀跃十分受宠若惊十分物品恩尽十分热泪盈眶十分心潮澎湃十分不知道说什么好,

Ten thousand words a million songs endless mountains and seas ceaseless groans and grumbles mumbles and whispers expressions and phrases all combine into one sentiment which splits the very heavens an hysterical sound cracking through the universe circling the rafters for three days deafening reverberating through heaven and earth moving all who hear it mysterious and beautiful beyond compare making people drunk pissed completely out of it so they don’t know the taste of meat for three days for it is the overriding chord of the age: longlife longlife longlonglife longlife longlife longlonglife! 千言万语千歌万曲千山万海千呻千吟千嘟万哝千词万字都汇成一句响彻云霄声嘶力端声震寰宇绕梁三日震聋发聩惊天动地悦耳动听美妙无比令人醉令人陶醉令人沉醉令人三日不知肉味儿时代最强音:万岁万岁万万岁万岁万岁万万岁!