Tuesday, October 02, 2012

It's only my sense of humour that keeps me going

This week - a 7-day national holiday in China - I find myself having to edit (substantially rewrite!) three very long and turgid articles on China's international diplomacy, and do the groundwork on two hefty new business articles. All of these projects landed in my Inbox last Friday: this is how people with regular full-time jobs treat freelancers!

Ah well, I'm grateful for the money, I suppose. And I've got bugger-all else to do this week.

It is one hell of a slog, though.

It is only the unintentional hilarity of Chinese rhetoric that relieves the tedium for me. This little gem just made me choke on my coffee:

"The seemingly bright and colourful overcoat could not possibly cover up the patched underwear beneath."

Is this a common Chinese idiom for "Appearances can be deceptive"? Weeble, can you assist on this?

Oh, god, I'm cracking up again. This is the most ridiculous image I've come across in years.


Don Tai said...

"The seemingly bright and colourful overcoat could not possibly cover up the patched underwear beneath."

Hilarious! This is a Chinese idiom, but their translation is much more colourful.

金玉其外败絮其中 jīn​yù​qí​wài​, bài​xù​qí​zhōng, or "gilded exterior, shabby and ruined on the inside (idiom)", or my dictionary says "rubbish coated in gold and jade".

Froog said...

Ah, thanks, Don. I think I've heard that - but it's almost unrecognisable from the "patched underwear" I was given.

There's this one particular translator this think tank uses a lot who has got the reputation of being "the best" they have, solely, I think, on the basis that he uses a plethora of colourful and wildly inappropriate idioms. They're impressed that he even knows this kind of English. I am perpetually frustrated that he doesn't know how to use it correctly.

Froog said...

While the basic meaning the guy is striving for here can be inferred easily enough, the images that he's adopted are utterly ludicrous, and the metaphor just doesn't work.

Nobody patches their underpants. (Do they??)

An overcoat - however "bright and colourful" - doesn't necessarily hide or distract from the clothes underneath, because it doesn't cover everything, particularly if it is unbuttoned. But you would normally expect - except with some crazy street-dweller, perhaps - that other clothes would be concealing the underwear. It's just nonsensical.

What the author meant (and the original article had been written, though presumably by a ghost writer, under the name of one of the junior ministers of Foreign Affairs) was: "You shouldn't suppose that the rest of the country looks like Shanghai." He should have just said that!

Chinese rhetoric seems to love overblown imagery. It's very hard to persuade people here that - especially in formal contexts like an academic article on diplomatic policy - it is much better to just use plain and direct language.

Here, of course, my author was again making the tired argument that 'You can't expect China to contribute much to global public goods because she's not really a very developed country yet.' Yes, it's true, up to a point. But China wants to have its cake and eat it: the government (and the people) pride themselves on having once again become a significant world power and the leading regional power in SE Asia, and aspires to rival or displace America as a globally dominant superpower. But they don't want to shoulder the international responsibilities that come with that elevated status. I read this twaddle over and over and over again in these think tank papers.