English political correctness in China
kimiikSeptember 21, 2010, 07:09 AM
Do native english speakers use the expression "civilized hair" (untidy hair are fixed) ?
头发梳得很整齐以后, 头发很整齐 (hair are civilized)
JasonSchSeptember 21, 2010, 12:14 PM
This is an interesting discussion. 文明 or this 'civilized' is a word I hadn't used very often before I started speaking Chinese. I think calling something 'uncivilized' in English certainly carries an air of inferiority. The host seems to be saying the French word 'civilized' carries an air all its own, which is certainly possible.
The only sensitivity I can see being attached to 文明 in Chinese is in the fact that lots of propaganda (and also society in general) use the word when trying to encourage Chinese people to be more conscious of their manners and habits when in public. (whether it be littering, or becoming irrationally angry in an argument, etc) There's even some sort of '文明 certification' cities can acquire upon review. I remember living in Nanjing when they were cleaning up the city, shutting illegitimate shops down and being stricter with traffic, all in an effort to be more 文明.
By that logic, I think calling something 不文明 carries a similar air of inferiority. That being said, if the host had simply said Western weddings are too civilized, I would have understood it the way he explained it in the clip above.
Spare us from civilised weddings. Gogol Bordello's "American Wedding" is good: "Have you ever been to American wedding? / Where is the vodka, where's marinated herring?"
If it was possible to do a word count in public places of my city, I believe that 文明 could be ranked one. It appears on and in most major buildings, many billboards and public notices, on every taxi (several times), and on almost every red banner. In fact, apparently I don't live in 昆明; I live in 文明昆明。 :)
Right, but when calling them very civilized when comparing them to Chinese weddings, it's easy to make the jump to: 'Chinese weddings are not very civilized'. I'm not saying that's what he meant, but I'm not surprised that's how the viewers understood it.
Isn't it fun? Nanjing was the same way for the last year I lived there. (and probably still is?) It was generally great for the city I think, but there were a few little things that no one liked. The biggest was the removal of almost ALL of the street food in and around the city center. It made a comeback in little pockets here and there, but the ubiquitousness of it was never the same.
Really? I do see your point, but it is surprising to me all the same how quickly sometimes (frequently?) Chinese people respond as if they've just been insulted by foreigners. Almost seems like they think they're the only badly misunderstood people in the world.
But that's the whole point of this post of Kimiik's isn't it. As Julien did, he took away from this that "civilized" is a more sensitive word in China than we might ever imagine, and as a foreigner I appreciate him passing that on. Now I'll certainly avoid the word too, as long as I don't mean 文明/不文明.
Zut alors! I have been to an extremely civilized birthday party for a classmate (as an 8 year old). I don't think it's hard for us English-speaking people to picture what Julien meant by "very civilized" in that context. He meant people being all dressed up correctly and stifled and affected by the ceremony and imposed formality of the occasion, not being themselves or having a good time, didn't he? That was what that strange birthday party for a child was like, a full course dinner in a candle-lit clubhouse dining room with proper silverware and cloth napkins, after which there were no games and no throwing our heads back with laughter, or any laughter, that I can recall. Not to judge, but we were just kids! Her parents (dad, really) meant well of course, but he didn't like rowdiness, or well, fun. It was different anyway. One of those things we didn't really talk about later.
In french, the closest equivalent of "civilized" would be the adjective "policé" from the verb "policer" :
But, in english, I don't think the adjective "policed" and the verb "to police" could be used that way.
Thanks Kimiik, I have to say I'm not too confident about the nuances indicated in Wiktionnaire. But right, first of all we virtually never describe anything as "policed". To "police" in my understanding is to sort of be like a watchdog. These don't seem to have anything to do with "civilized".
Are you saying Julien may have been a bit off with his use of "civilized? I thought he was just trying to pacify there; I mean his English is obviously very good.
xiaophilSeptember 21, 2010, 12:29 PM
As far as I have experienced, saying someone is uncivilized is generally a bad idea in English if the person being judged is from a different culture. I think it is because in a multi-cultural world, who can say who belongs to a civilized society when there are many standards? Even if the judger is from the same culture as the judgee, the former risks appearing snooty if he or she throws out the 'uncivilized' word. (I hope this really applies to your post. I only had a moment to glance at it... and yes, I probably should have talked about 'civilized' instead of 'uncivilized'.)
zhenlijiangSeptember 27, 2010, 11:09 AM
To me it's not really about the choice of word. What I find puzzling is why, if you were watching the TV show and Julien made that comment, if you gave it a moment of thought you would still conclude that he was sitting there with his Chinese co-hosts, with the cameras rolling, insinuating that "Chinese weddings are barbaric" or "The Chinese way is uncivilized"--? Why would you think he was saying that? There must be something at work there I'm still not quite grasping. Or are laowai simply presumed to be generally that uncouth?
If it were me (because I'm not a native English speaker, but even more so if my English weren't this good), I would first think, hmm I need to look in a dictionary because I've never heard that word used that way, it might be a usage I don't know. (But then dictionaries often fail us in colloquial usage.) I wouldn't first assume that our national pride and culture has been assaulted.
I might be crazy but I think if someone just explained this once, it might help prevent unnecessary senses of injury and angry viewers writing in to chew out the host for not being a good Chinese and "defending the Chinese way".
But again, the lesson here on using civilized in Chinese company has not been lost on me and I will keep it in mind. Good to know.