Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pleasure and Pain at Shanghai World Expo

by Maple, guest blogger

[in translation; 阅读中文原文]

SHANGHAI, China Before the Shanghai Expo began, a friend and I made different predications on which month would be the most crowded. She said May, because it'd start with the three-day labor-day holiday period. I said June, because everyone would think the same way my friend did and thus try to avoid May. I was unfortunately right, but because of a chance circumstance, I myself ended up going there in the peak month.

My husband and I planned on a three-day visit: one day each to the Asia Square, Europe and America Squares, and the Urban Best Practices Area, respectively.

Friends who had been there before told us, if you don't want to wait for hours in line outside the Expo gate, noon is a better time to go. Indeed, we arrived at the security point around 11:30 am, and there was almost no line. When asked, a staff said that since 9:00, over 400 thousand people had gone in. My heart tightened: what a rumpus would 400 thousand people kick up inside! But when we reached the square, it was surprisingly empty. Where had all the people gone? Standing in lines all over the world.

Lines at Expo gate (photo by Maple Xu)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

On Translation of "Mob Mentality"

Yesterday I received an email from Beijing, which mentions in passing that a Chinese translation of my two articles (here and here) is circulating on the internet.  I took a look and saw that the translation was originated from China Digital Times (here and here). 

There is an error in the translation I'd like to correct. Before going there, however, I must say I have tremendous respect for China Digital Times, which has done a great job relaying China-themed news and commentaries between the English and Chinese worlds.  It appears to me that the translator of my articles is a young member of a Beijing voluntary translator group called 译者. I recommend you check out the 译者 website because it has rich, up-to-date information on China's current affairs.

The translation in question could use some polishing but is acceptable for the most part. One can't demand too much from volunteer work, which I appreciate very much.  As such I'm only going to address one error that, left uncorrected, makes parts of the article incoherent.  I've tried to contact the translator, but because the translation has been circulating extensively on the Chinese internet and can't be all corrected, I feel the need to post it on my blog.

Here is the part of the Chinese translation on China Digital Times I'm talking about:
毕竟,文革的一代中,没有几个人是完全清白的。 文化大革命是一场全民运动。 在那个时期,极少有人能逃脱思想煽动 即便是今天,一想到那时如果我岁数够大,可能也会铸成什么令我悔恨终生的大错,就会出冷汗。
作为一个作者,比起对当时的人们指指点点的评论,我总是对了解当时的思想煽动更感兴趣。 为了了解当时的情况,我们必须不断的挖掘历史真相。 我认为我们挖掘的还不够深,了解的还不够多。 今年早些时候,我听说当很多人指责张艺谋新排的贺岁片很蠢时,这位著名的导演声称中国人民有着太多像文革那样的沉重话题,他们所需要的是一些轻松的电影。 张艺谋只从自己这一代人的角度看问题的狭窄眼界让我非常震惊。 难道他没发现当代的年轻人对文革和1989年一类的事件完全无知么? 思想煽动这件事上,他们并未从父辈那儿接受任何教训,现在,因特网上已经开始出现新式思想煽动的苗头。
And here is my original text:
After all, few of the CR generation were completely innocent. The Cultural Revolution was an all-people movement. It was a time that few escaped the mob mentality. Even today it gives me cold sweats with the thought that, if I were old enough then, I could have done terrible things that I would regret for a lifetime.
As a writer, I’ve always been more interested in understanding the mob mentality than pointing fingers. To understand we have to keep digging through the past. I don’t think we have dug deep enough, have understand enough. I heard that, early this year, when Zhang Yimou made a New Year movie that many deemed too stupid, the famous director claimed that Chinese people had enough heavy topics like the CR, what they needed now were light-hearted, relaxing movies. It surprises me that Zhang’s sight is this narrow, from only the viewpoint of his generation. Has he noticed that today’s young people are very ignorant of the recent past such as the CR and 1989? Without learning the lessons from their parents, new signs of mob mentality have already began to show on the internet.
As you can see, the phrase "mob mentality," which means "暴民心态", is wrongly translated as 思想煽动 (meaning "thought demagogy"). A totally different concept.

Again, I really appreciate the volunteer work of those young people and their interest in the CR history.  Perhaps the error occurred because "mob mentality" is an unfamiliar concept to the young generation of Chinese, which in turn might partially explain why mob mentality has been commonplace on the Chinese internet. If so, I hope this post may serve as stimulation for young people's interest in studying, and recognizing, mob mentality.

And I hope the promising translator will not be discouraged by this. To become good at translation requires lots of practice, so this should be just one small experience.

By the way, I rather like this translator's translation of my book title, "酝酿中的道歉",which literally means "apologies in fermentation." I hope one day my book will have the opportunity to be published in Chinese, and this would be a good title for it.  

Update (6/27):  I received a kind email from the translator who says they'll fix the error on their website. I appreciate it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Matchmaking Censorship

For a moment, I thought my previous post  was the curse:  this past Sunday, PPStream ceased broadcasting the reality TV show "If You Are Not Sincere, Don't Bother Me" (非诚勿扰),  just three days after my post.  Not only that, much to my chagrin, all the previous episodes have also been removed.  Then I found an announcement on the PPS website saying they did this to comply with new instructions from The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), issued twice on June 2 and 8. (My ominous post went up on June 9.)

Here is the gist of the SARFT instructions:
婚恋交友类电视节目不能由演员、模特、节目主持人、富二代成功人士等身份的嘉宾占据荧屏;不得选择社会形象不佳或有争议的人物担当主持人;不得 以婚恋的名义对参与者进行羞辱或人身攻击,甚至讨论低俗涉性内容,不得展示和炒作拜金主义等不健康、不正确的婚恋观
[In translation]
Matchmaking TV shows may not let actors, models, program hosts, 'the second generation of the rich,' and 'the successful figures'  appear as guests to occupy the screen; may not choose those with disreputable social image or contentious characters as hosts; may not use the name of love or marriage to insult or make personal attacks against participants, or discuss vulgar sexual content ;  may not demonstrate or  promote unhealthy and incorrect marriage-love views such as mammonism.
Did the bureaucrats at SARFT eat too much and have nothing better to do?  What made them issue such superfluous and laughable restrictions on non-political, entertaining, and revealing TV shows?  Rumor has it that Ma Nuo, one of the earlier female guests in "If You Are Not Sincere," triggered the shot.  Ma Nuo's most infamous quote circling on the internet is "I'd rather cry in a BMW" – her reply to a male guest, a cyclist, who asked if she'd like to ride a bike with him.  (But Baidu has a post that says what she actually said was "a BMW is rather cool." In Chinese, "cry" ()  and "cool" () sound pretty much the same.) Because of this, Ma Nuo's name has become a synonym of "mammonism," and been attacked by numerous netizens.  And this, apparently, became the motive to restrict "the second generation of the rich" to participate in matchmaking shows.

Deng Xioaping, the "father of reform and opening," promulgated the notion that "being rich is glorious." No more, I guess, but wouldn't it be  more effective to simply order "the rich" to stay single, or have a "zero-child policy" for them and their children?
So what is next? Perhaps cooking shows that mention any meats other than pork, or any vegetable other than cabbage, will come under the lens. Or maybe weather programs that suggest anything but fine weather or needed rain are on the way will be nixed. Maybe business programs that discuss financial problems in the Euro-zone will be told to stop that and go along with the official position of expected stability.

Not surprisingly, the hypocritical call is met with hypocritical responses.  So far all the TV stations running a matchmaking show have made sonorous echoes that they "firmly advocate SARFT's instructions," while each and every one of them says they have nothing to do with the criticism. The shows continue; only we overseas audiences are deprived the pleasure of watching them at PPStream's mercy.

Times have certainly changed. It seems like those outside of China can be more strongly influenced by the edicts of Beijing than those inside. The government can continue to issue superfluous instructions that are not sincere, just don't expect everyone to be bothered as much as PPStream.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

If You Are Not Sincere, Don’t Bother Me

Sunday evening, June 6.  On the stage ablaze with lights stand 24 women, most in their early 20s, and not yet betrothed, waiting for their chance at “fast matchmaking.”  Before each of the women is a green-lighted podium with her number, her name and a switch.  A young man descends from a glass elevator:  first shoes, then pants, then the black jacket, black glasses, and a black hat hiding a lowered head.  Pop music and applause break out.

Meng Fei, the bald host aged 39, asks the 28-year-old handsome Shanghai man: “Why do you dress like a magician?”

We hear a nervous reply, ”Eh…they say I look a bit like Harry Potter…”

After some good-natured teasing, Meng Fei hands the young man a digital pad and asks him to choose one girl who “arouses your heart. “

We see the number he enters–  “1” – but it is concealed from the women on the stage.  Suspense immediately builds.  This woman, Xie Jia, is a college student 22 years young, who says she did not discover herself as a woman until age 21. Good looking, intelligent, she has nonetheless rarely been chosen by men, and has been standing there for many installments.  Judging by appearances, the two look like a match. I find myself hoping Xie Jia will be taken away in this man’s arms.

The women appraise him for a first impression.  Meng Fei turns to all, “Please choose.”

Ding, ding.   Two girls’ lights go off – “Not interested.” Most leave theirs on (I am relieved to see Xie Jia among them), watching the "magician" with open curiosity.  

Meng Fei asks the two girls why they turned off their lights.

”I have no interest in Harry Potter,” one woman replies.  Laughter ensues from the audience.

“He does not make me feel secure,” says the other, "not at all."

Three more thresholds await the man. If, after that, there are still lights on, he’ll be able to enter the final stage “rights reverse to the male.”   Otherwise he receives a “failure exit." The suspense is that of a well-plotted drama.

Only this is a reality show that is more engaging than most movies I’ve seen.  Titled after Feng Xiaogang's popular movie, “If You Are Not Sincere, Don’t Bother Me” (非诚勿扰), the weekend matchmaking show broadcast on Jiangsu Satellite TV is currently China's highest rated program.  I first heard about it shortly after its launch in January, but did not pay much attention because reality shows don't usually interest me.  Over time, however, more and more Chinese friends were telling me how fun it is to watch.  When I started to watch the re-made Three Kingdoms on PPStream, Jiangsu TV had bundled it with “If You Are Not Sincere, Don’t Bother Me” for weekend prime time.  Once I clicked it, I was hooked.

To my dismay, the young man who looked like Harry Potter did not pass the women's scrutiny.  Before he had a chance for "rights reverse to the male," all the lights had gone off, including Xie Jia's, who apparently was not aware of his admiration.  I'm not sure which of his statements, "I can peel lobster very fast," or "I love to hand-wash clothes on a washboard," had turned her off, except that those words did not demonstrate whatever quality Xie Jia was looking for in a man.

The program is one-hour long, and each male guest is given 20 minutes or so on stage. For the installments I've seen so far, the majority of male guests got a "failure exit."  Even for those lucky ones who enter the final stage, the remaining lights often do not include the woman "arousing his heart." Thus successful matchmaking remains rare.  At times, however, a happy ending can move the audience to tears.

Last Saturday, after two men exited with failure, an ordinary-looking, round-face young photographer with a collected, quiet humor took away his choice woman, Liu Huan, unexpectedly.  The outcome was unusual because of the beautiful young woman's odd situation: Liu Huan had been on stage together with her mother.  She had turned her light off early on, however the mother kept her light on. When Meng Fei asked why, the mother said the man would be an ideal son-in-law for her. Toward the end, six lights were still on. Meng Fei told the young photographer if he wanted one of those, he could take her hand right away. But if he insisted on Liu Huan, he might end up leaving alone. 

The young man insisted, and was given 30 seconds for a last-ditch pursuit.  "Do you know my situation?" Liu Huan asked. "Yes I do," the young man answered. Liu Huan (who apparently had turned down many pursuers) said she had joined the program to help her mother, and would not leave before her mother found a good match.  Her voice began to tremble; her mother covered her face as tears running down.  Applause and sobs could be heard from the audience.  "Today I'm surprised to see my mother kept her light on for me to the last minute. I’ve decided to be a good daughter," Liu Huan said. The young couple held hands; cheers and applause followed for a long time. The mother and daughter left together for good.

The show is a kaleidoscope of contemporary Chinese views of love, marriage, and life style.  I was especially amazed by the candid, openness of the young women, and their bravery to bear public scrutiny. The relentless internet spreads numerous comments on the looks, personality, and value system of the women, sometimes positive and more often negative. A righteous-sounding man even took his opportunity on the stage to scold a girl to tears, because she once said that to sit in a BMW would be more cool than riding a bike.   It is not easy to be oneself under such pressure. I recall my twenties in the 1980s, even to place an anonymous personal ad in newspaper was a disgrace.  Times have changed.

"If You Are Not Sincere" is not the only matchmaking show in China, however the others are not nearly as popular. Its success largely depends on host Meng Fei’s wit, sensibility, and broad-knowledge.  In researching his background, I was surprised to learn he was from my hometown Chongqing.  Between high school graduation and success as a TV program host, he had been a low-paid temp doing odd jobs for many years.  His story is that rare one of success for a self-learned man. 

As of last week, 160-170 thousand applications to participate in the show had queued up from all over China.  Meng Fei announced recently that, in response to keen overseas demand, this "fast matchmaking" program is going to be launched in London and other foreign cities as well.

I have seen several overseas Chinese men appear in the program (none with success), but not a single non-Chinese.   To those Americans who live in China and are single, would you like to give it a try?