Sunday, July 18, 2010

Leung Man-Tao: We are All Sloganeers... [Translated Article]

[This is a translated article by me. Original article in Chinese by Leung Man-Tao published in the Apple Daily on 18th July, 2010. Version available from the Commentshk blog here] [Emphasis added in bold-type by me.]

A while ago, I helped a website make a podcast of a series of chat shows about the World Cup finals, with Mr. Yik Chung-Tin (易中天) invited as a guest for one of the sessions. Mr. Yik is an interesting guy in that he doesn't pay any attention to the latest hot gossip among the popular masses, and on the show he raised the question of why so many are interested in the World Cup. I wasn't sure if he was joking or otherwise, but he actually asked me during the show, "Oh so China didn't make it to South Africa? Why didn't China play in the World Cup?" Aside from this slightly cringeworthy ill-informed quip, the discussion we had was extremely civil and civilised, concentrating mainly on history, and touching on sportsmanship and the idea that there are noble rules of engagement even when it comes to competition. Later, when I browsed online, I discovered that the show had been dubbed, "Yik Chung-Tin Talked With Leung Man-Tao To Protest The Nation's World-Cup Fever." "Protest"? Had our conversation really come to that? On second thought, never mind, it was only a way for websites to garner eyeballs online. I understand.

The next day, I was browsing an online forum that I occasionally visit, and found an even more sensationalist headline: "Why Yik Chung-Tin Trashed Leung-Man-Tao As A Fake Football Fan." When I clicked on the article, I learnt that, incredibly, Mr. Yik Chung-Tin, who didn't even know if China had made it through to the World Cup finals or not, was apparently having a heated debate with me about the style of Brazilian football. Even as a person who readily admits to having a poor memory, I could easily recognise that this non-existent dialogue was pure fabrication.

Although China didn't qualify for the South African tournament, this didn't stop members of the Chinese press from filling the World Cup with their own saliva, turning Nelson Mandela stadium into their personal playground. Click on any respectable-looking website, and one would find lots and lots of attention-grabbing headlines, such as "Evil Star Lurks in the Uruguay Team, Even 梅西 [footballer name] Has To Look Up to Him". Apparently "Evil Star" denotes anyone who had ever scored a goal, and "Look Up" is a verb that appears in the top-ten list of most used phrases, so that one would be left with the impression that there is a bunch of footballers with nothing better to do than to sit around all day looking up to each other. Crazy.

Within this ocean of words sloshing around the Chinese online media, every single news item and every single piece of commentary are busily screaming "Look at Me! Look at Me Quick!" Sometimes this craving for attention even gets a bit schizophrenic, as when a loud declaration that "The German War Machine Can't Be Vanquished" the day before could swiftly be replaced with "The Strength of the German Team Is Clearly Faked" the next. It is already exhausting to watch more than thirty days of football non-stop, but these sloganeers are afraid that that would not be taxing enough, and so they added kilos of artificial flavours to their headlines to ensure that our minds stay constantly at their most excitable and most on edge.

Chinese people are smart. Only a couple of years ago I was complaining about how everyone wants to be an author, that no-one is willing to be a reader these days. Almost everybody is shouting loudly, but nobody would, nor indeed could, listen to what others are saying. Very quickly though, we found a genius solution to this problem: Forget about trying to say something, just concentrate on shouting. You don 't need to know the content of what I'm saying (probably because I don't know myself what I'm saying), you only need to hear that I've shouted (because all I ever wanted is for someone to hear me shout).

For instance, Twitter and other microblogs started off as a way for a group of friends to exchange daily gossips and share their fleeting thoughts and feelings with each other. In the hands of the Iranians, microblogging began to show its promise for instantaneous news dissemination and became a vehicle for grassroot revolution. But it's left to us Chinese to finally exploit the medium's full potential -- turning it into an online version of Pop Idol. What used to be just a tool for communication and exchange amongst ordinary folks, became a new platform for "microblog stars" when the service providers dreamt up their "celebrity verification" function, nominating a list of microbloggers whom they deemed to be worth our rapt attention. The original purpose of the microblog was for people to record what they want to say succinctly in less than 140 characters; now the goal is for people to compete against each other for any degree of online attention they can grab.

I only got one microblog account, which I left unused for ages (even though Sina and other service providers just went ahead with opening accounts in my name without my permission, and some even automatically created a few entries on my behalf). Personally I don't like speaking so fast, nor reacting so quickly. However I discovered that there are plenty of people who can readily adapt to such speed and frequency in communication, and they always have something to say, from dawn to dust. Gradually, some people become used to the rules of the game, and begin writing their microblog-posts (or "tweets") as if they are writing news headlines -- the more shocking, the more sensationalist, the more controversial, the better. This way they could attract more fans and increase their degree of online celebrity, and thus having their taste of fifteen minutes of fame.

But is fame really that great? Is it really worthwhile to have that much online attention? Call me old-fashioned, but I believe that it is one thing to be given attention by others, it is another thing entirely to use the attention others have given you. I really admire some of my friends who have the ability to use their microblogs to really disseminate important news far and wide, or who could write pithy observations that really get people thinking using the shortest of lines. But I have also met some celebrities, with whom I had taken part in televised debates, and they would often announce beforehand what their positions would be. Let's say it was: "Chinese would not allow the arrogant Yanks to conduct military exercise in the Yellow Sea." When the programme started, the person would indeed proclaim that, "China would never allow American troops to mess around in the Yellow Sea." Fair enough. But then what? We would all be waiting for the person to further expound on his thesis, keen for him to share with us his unique analysis. But actually, nothing more would come. That was it. He's finished what he had to say. And so I finally understood -- he was not here to engage in debates on international affairs, he was here to tweet. What he had was not a viewpoint, but a headline slogan. If this debate session were to be conducted online, I'd imagine it could well be tweeted as, "XXX Tells the Yanks: Come and I Shall Destroy You."

Snowdrops Translation 2010. All rights reserved.

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At Tue Jul 20, 01:33:00 a.m. IST, Anonymous blue said...

The comment I wanted to make yesterday but didn't...

Bsaed on anectotic encounters of fellow Chinese and objective analysis of myself, I unfortunately agree with Leung's observation below.

"Almost everybody is shouting loudly, but nobody would, nor indeed could, listen to what others are saying."

But the question I really want to ask you is, why translate all these blog posts? Do you have a background in translation? (just kidding - you asked for this in your latest post ;)

At Wed Jul 21, 01:45:00 p.m. IST, Blogger Snowdrops said...

Hi Blue,

Sorry I missed replying to this comment the first time round! (I did see this comment in my e-mail notification but I thought it was deleted as I thought it was included on my other post).

About the quote, yes, sadly it's quite true. Unfortunately I don't think this phenomenon is restricted to Chinese either...

Anyway, why translate all these blogposts? Hmm, I guess translation helps me read more slowly and more carefully, but tranlation is basically something I do as a hobby since I was a youngster. I was actually surprised that i haven't done more of it since i began blogging!

"Do you have a background in translation? (just kidding - you asked for this in your latest post ;)"

Hahaha, I guess I did ask for it given my recent rant XD

Anyway, no, I wish I had. Sadly my Chinese is too poor for me to be able to do this properly :(

Do you do translations sometimes? I need to read more of your blog actually! Am adding it to my reader now :)


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