Monday, October 5, 2009

Chinese Motivational Slogans

Just in case military parades and other festive events are not enough to celebrate the Revolution and build socialism in the future, the Chinese government has come up with new motivational slogans. Unfortunately, the sound as if they came from the mid-twentieth century rather than look to the mid-twenty-first.

There are, for instance, the classical Marxist-Leninist-sounding

• "Long live the great unity of all nationalities of China!" and

• "Warmly celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China!" or

• "Hail the great success of our country's reform and opening-up and socialist modernization!"

Now, "Adhere to the one China policy and promote the country's great cause of peaceful reunification!" is a both a bit awkward and more politically pointed, but it still sounds like the kind of thing one might have seen in the old communist world.

By contrast,

"Adhering to and improving the system of regional autonomy by ethnic minorities, so as to consolidate and develop socialist relations among different ethnic groups based on equality, solidarity, mutual assistance and harmony"

is just a clunker. I've come across this sort of scintillating prose not only in student papers (not surprising, coming from beginning writers) but also in the course of work on both academic and civic committees. It's revealing: a sign that the authors not only are muddled thinkers, but also have no idea of how they are perceived or how to communicate with someone who does not already agree with them.

One further point should be noted, though: What strikes many Americans as so strange about this sort of writing is not so much the ideas as the stock phrases, the elevated or stilted language, and above all, the dire earnestness.

In his classic Orality and Literacy (1982), Walter Ong observed that
"The elements of orally based thought and expression tend to be not so much simple integers as clusters of integers, such as parallel terms or phrases or clauses, antithetical terms or phrases or clauses, epithets . . . .not the soldier, but the brave soldier, not the princess, but the beautiful princess, not the oak, but the sturdy oak."
He believed he could detect the tendency even in modern situations, and speculated:
"The clichés in political denunciations in many low-technology. developing cultures—enemy of the people, capitalist warmongers—that strike high literates as mindless are residual formulary essentials of oral thought processes. One of the many indications of a high, if subsiding, oral residue in the culture of the Soviet Union is (or was a few years ago, when I encountered it) the insistence on speaking there always of 'the Glorious Revolution of October 26'—the epithetic formula here is obligatory stabilization, as were Homeric epithetic formulas 'wise Nestor' or 'clever Odysseus,' or as 'the glorious Fourth of July' used to be in the pockets of oral residue common even in the early twentieth-century United States. The Soviet Union still announces each year the official epithets for various loci classici in Soviet history."
Ong, as we see, attributed the tendency to residues of the past. China certainly enjoys a high-technology culture now, and its economy is growing more rapidly than ours. It will be interesting to see just which weight of tradition is the heavier here—that of orality and pre-modern life—or that of traditional revolutionary rhetoric. The answer may provide another clue as to which way China is going.


Sherley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sherley said...

I deleted my last comment by accident.
Thank you for the post about the slogans. I looked up the 50 slogans in Chinese. They are not new at all. They are just 50 underlined points in my high school politics textbook with exclamation marks!
However, a lot of Chinese (including those in my family) do repeat them over and over again with passion.