While in Tianjin a friend said to me that she wanted to forward one of my posts about the Hong Kong protests to her WeChat circles, but was afraid of being “harmonized” (被和谐掉) — a euphemism meaning “to be arrested for political activism”, or as Orwell might have said, the crime of speaking one’s position. The expression ironically activates Xi Jinping’s relentless calls for social harmony through a return to Chinese values, that might be otherwise expressed as “shut up and do what you’re told” much as Lee Kwan Yew deployed Neo-Confucianism in his pursuit of a well
ordered managed Singapore.
In fact, on the bus commute this morning, I watched the latest in a series of “what do Chinese values mean to me” campaign in which a representive cross section of society spoke to the camera, defining “harmony”. There were white and pink collars, students and retires, and a foreigner. All agreed that harmony was a good thing, involving cooperation, kindness, and general well-being. None mentioned the doublespeak definition, nor did any point out that in everyday conversation chez Shenzhen “harmony” has been politicized. After watching the harmony advert, I rarely hear friends use the word 和谐 except in critical or ironic contexts.
So, just a bit of Orwellian linguistics for Halloween because — yes oh yes — many ghosts and goblins and scary monsters have donned business suits for their foray into national politics, here and there and everywhere states suppress political expression for the “democratic public good”. BOO!