dishing on sino-american relations

There is a current blurb flitting through virtual space about a fictional meeting between Xi Jinping and Obama, who has just finished watching an episode of CCTV’s popular 舌尖上的中国后 (A Bite of China). A friend described this parody of bi-lateral mis/understanding as hilarious, another called it an example of literary talent, and yet another as nugget of cultural truth so Chinese it could not be translated!

High praise for a political side dish. So, I decided to create a taste challenge for bi-lingual readers, adapting the piece from Chinese to English. Four political facts might enhance appreciation of the spoof: (1) Obama is just Obama, but Xi Jinping is always, “General Secretary”; (2) there is an important role for overseas Chinese figured by US Ambassador to China Gary Faye Locke (骆家辉); (3) subtitled episodes of A Bite of China can be viewed on Youtube, which remains off menu for those of us dining chez Cafe le Firewall, and; (4) General Party Secretary Xi never mentions the iron rice bowl (铁饭碗), an expression used to described the difficulty of removing officials from their posts. Also of note, the expressions emphasize the acting of eating, not food. Consequently, more colloquial English would use variously use “take” or “swallow” or “suck up” or “eat” to translate 吃 — and therein, perhaps, is an experiential entry into cultural differences structuring Sino-American misunderstanding.

After viewing “A Bite of China [literally China on the Tongue]”, Obama said to General Secretary Xi Jinping, “I’ve realized that although Chinese culture consists of extensive knowlege and profound scholarship, it is really an eating culture. Consider: a job is called a rice bowl, working is called living from hand to mouth (糊口); to be employed is called getting enough to eat (混饭), getting by in style is called eating with gusto (吃得开), and things that are liked are said to whet one’s appetite(吃香); to be taken care of is called eating from the little stove (吃小灶), to spend your savings is called eating your principle (吃老本) to take advantage of a woman is called eating tofu (吃豆腐); to depend on your parents is called gnawing on the old (啃老); a man who spends a woman’s money is said to eat soft rice (吃软饭); to overwork is to eat without digesting (吃不消), to take advantage of someone is to eat an advantage (吃亏), jealousy is called eating vinegar (吃醋); to dither is called to eat indesively (吃不准), to do substandard work is to eat dry rice (吃干饭), to take advantage of anyone is also to eat tofu (吃豆腐), to be taken advantage of is to have swallowed the disadvantage (吃了亏), to be afraid to speak up is called a mute eats coptis root (哑巴吃黄连). To have nothing better to do than make trouble for others is called overeating (吃饱撑), to make a decision is called Eight Wang eats the scales (王八吃秤砣), to ignore an order is not to eat soft or hard (软硬不吃), and to have reached one’s limits is called can’t swallow and slink off (吃不了兜着走).

General Secretary Xi interupted him and said, “We should speak about Sino-American relations. Are you talking about this because you’ve overeaten?”

Obama fainted at these words!

When Obama had recovered, General Secretary Xi earnestly said, “With respect to the importance of Sino-American relations, we will eat deeply and throughly, because we haven’t any principle to eat. The way of the world is that big fish eat little fish, but Cold War thinking is no longer appetizing, and cooperating for mutual benefit is the only way to eat with gusto. Only if China and the United States join hands will the benefits be eaten together. There are those who eat at our table and secretly help others; they eat from the rice bowl of harming Sino-American relations. We eat too much bitterness because they eat vinegar, making us eat with effort to establish a partnership. We have to learn from eating the moat (吃一堑长一智), and prevent them from eating from their bowls with their eyes on the pot. This will also let the world eat heart balls of reassurance. Mister President, are you still eating indesively about these matters? If not, I’d like to dine with you in this compound.”

Obama was speachless, and said after a pause, “It really is too deep to be predicted! Only the last idea could be expressed without the character for eating!”

Gary Faye Locke was standing nearby and couldn’t resist reminding Obama, “That’s because he was actually inviting you to eat!”

奥巴马看了《舌尖上的中国》,后对习近平总书记说:我发现中华文化博大精深,其实就是吃的文化。你看:岗位叫饭碗,谋生叫糊口;受雇叫混饭,混得好叫吃得开,受人欢迎叫吃香;受到照顾叫吃小灶,花积蓄叫吃老本;占女人便宜叫吃豆腐;靠长辈生活叫啃老;男人老是用女人的钱叫吃软饭;干活多了叫吃不消,受人伤害叫吃亏,男女嫉妒叫吃醋;犹豫不决叫吃不准,办事不力叫吃干饭, 占人便宜叫吃豆腐,被占便宜叫吃了亏,还不敢声张叫哑巴吃黄连。没事找事叫吃饱撑的,下定决心叫王八吃秤砣,不听劝告叫软硬不吃,收不了场叫吃不了兜着走。
习主席打断他说:我们应该讨论中美关系,你怎么尽说这些,是不是吃饱了撑的了?奥巴马一听,当即晕倒!
奥巴马醒来后,习主席语重心长地说:对中美关系的重要性,我们一定要吃深吃透,这方面我们没有老本可吃。世界的规则就是大鱼吃小鱼,但冷战思维已不吃香,合作共赢才吃得开。只要中美两强联手,一定赢者通吃。有些人吃里扒外,专吃破坏中美关系这碗饭,跟我们争风吃醋,让我们吃了不少苦头,建设战略伙伴关系更加吃力。我们一定要吃一堑长一智,不能再让他们吃着碗里看着锅里,也让全世界吃颗定心丸。总统先生,对这些你还有什么吃不准吗,如果没有,我很愿跟你在这个庄园里共进晚餐。
奥巴马目瞪口呆,半晌才说:果然深不可测!一席话只有最后一句没有吃字!骆家辉在旁忍不住提醒:总统先生,习主席最后这句话您听懂了吗,他是要您请他撮一顿!。。。

the chief eats a fish

So a translation of a story making the rounds, again. The Chief Eats a Fish first appeared at the end of 2011 and keeps circulating. Fish, of course, is a common pun for “extra, or too much”. Of note are the different ways that each of his subordinates addresses Chief Yu and the way that puns function, making the social body out of different parts of the fish. Nevertheless the satire speaks for itself.

 The Chief (局长) Eats a Fish

The weekend had come and as was their custom, the work unit staff gathered to dine. According to Chief Yu this activity was “going deeply into the lowest levels of society (深入基层)” and the best shortcut for connecting with the masses.

Chief Yu loved to eat fish, which was of course on the menu. They had drunk three rounds of wine and five different dishes when the fish was served. The waitress knew Chief Yu and so she made sure that the fish head was directly facing him. Without waiting for anyone’s input, he immediately drank three cups of wine (fish head wine is a colloquialism which means “delicious wine”). When he had put down his wine cup, Chief Yu began to allocate the fish.

Chief Yu used his chopsticks to pluck out the fish’s eyeballs with practiced ease. He gave an eyeball each to the people on his left and right. He said, “this is known as the far-seeing eye. I hope the two of you will act in concert with me.”

The two vice-chiefs smiled and gave the Chief their heartfelt thanks, saying, “Chief Yu we will not let you down and will completely support the work you have begun.”

Chief Yu removed the fish skull and presented it to the Head of Accounting, saying, “this is known as the axial column. You are the key worker in our department so of course I’m giving it to you.”

The Head of account was surprised to be treated so well, but said, “Thanks, boss.”

Chief Yu gave the pretty mouth to his “young cousin”, saying, “The lips and the mouth rely on each other (唇齒相依)”, which is a traditional proverb to express the idea that two people cannot get along with each other.

The Chief’s “young cousin” shot him a flirty glance and said, “Thank you older brother Yu.”

Chief Yu gave the fishtail (wei 尾) to the office manager, making a pun on the expression, the committee takes responsibility (wei 委以重任). The office manager was completely grateful and said, “Thank you, elder.”

Chief Yu gave the fish stomach to the assistant (fu 副) head of the planning department, again making a pun, “this is called treating others with sincerity (推心置腹 – fu is also the character for stomach).” The assistant head dipped his head and replied formally, “Thank you Chief.”

Chief Yu gave the fins to the administrative director, saying “open your wings an fly. You are the nearest to our Chief and so will definitely go higher everyday.”

The administrative director a huge smile saying, “I hope that the Chief will give me the necessary support.

Chief Yu gave the fish buttocks (ding 腚) to the union chair and said, “If you hold the course, there will be happiness in the end (ding 定有後福).”

At the end of the allocation, all that was left was a picked over slab of meat. Chief Yu smiled bitterly and shook his head, saying, “I should probably take care of the leftovers, after all that’s what a Chief does.”

the tale of hotpot waters…

For a brief moment, the following bit of satire circulated on the Chinese web:

Rumor has it that after Hotpot was swept away by the Direct Line to Heaven, Noodle Master Kang of the Mother Company was openly fighting with Tire and Heaven Direct. The morning fireworks on the 20th were also part of this fight, with the result that the Noodle Master Kang took a serious hit. Even though these past nine years Heaven Direct has charged his way into the silver screen, nevertheless he’s well intentioned. After all, twenty years ago just outside the preserved ham shop, he was the man who stood behind Yangzhou Fried Rice. If y’all sing and eat hotpot again, his nine years of blood and sweat will be as nothing. Thus, it’s a good thing that Tire has the camouflage firmly in hand and soundly thrashed those instant noodles. [original: 听说火锅被天线端掉之后,母公司康师傅正面死掐轮胎和天线,20日凌晨炮竹声也是此事,结果是康师傅惨败。天线这九年虽进军影视,但人心向善,毕竟20年前腊肉馆外他是站在扬州炒饭背后的男人,你们再唱歌吃火锅,人家九年心血全没了,所以幸亏轮胎紧握迷彩涂装不放,才狠摔方便面。]

Traces of the passage remain in google cache but can no longer be accessed on Baidu (image below).

Why was the spoof so quickly removed from Baidu? Continue reading

Rumors, Rumors: What’s Bugging Guagua?

Two days ago, an open letter allegedly from a member of Bo Xilai’s family popped up on the internet, expressing the desire for a public hearing (“此信来自薄家亲戚, 希望公开发表”). Epoch Times – the media arm of Fa Lun Gong – broke the “story” saying that Bo’s son, Guagua may have written the letter. Maybe. Maybe not. Whatever else it may be, I believe that the letter is interesting for four reasons. First, in the absence of political opposition, satire formulates an alternative position. Second, the level of moral outrage that compelled the implied author to write seems genuine. Third, the fact that this letter is circulating as “news” reveals the extent to which the sentiments reflect popular dissatisfaction with the Center and its melodramatic backbiting political infighting Two Meetings. Fourth and relevant to Shenzhen, is the call that Chongqing might have been a Special Zone, like Yan’an and implicitly not like Shenzhen.

Translation of the Guagua letter below.

A FATHER’S TRAGEDY, A PEOPLE’S LAMENT – BO GUAGUA’S PUBLIC LETTER TO THE NETIZENS

In my last open letter to my father, I urged him to return the Chongqing Sing Red, Attack the Black back to the Yan’an years, making Chongqing the flag bearer for a democratic Party and the living spirit of Yan’an; to truly become a Special Zone for political reform. Unfortunately, my father has been too-long educated by the Party, ultimately prioritizing the Party and national power. I had hoped that through reflection and regret, the negative effects of the Chongqing model could be ameliorated. I had hoped that by sacrificing your political future, my Father could have restored the Party and the Country’s stability and harmony. Continue reading