Why is the leader of China called president in English?
The title for Hu Jintao is 主席. If one looks in dictionaries, the translation is 'chairman'. Furthermore, the word for 'president' is 总统. So why is it that Hu Jintao is always called 'president' by the media? Is it China or another country that started this habit?
I have my own theories, but I wonder if there is an established reason.
tingyunJanuary 28, 2011, 01:38 AM
Wikipedia is great for these sort of questions (see below). But even had they not changed the official translation, I would still think it more accurate to refer to him by a sort of generic leader term like president. Refering to him as chairman is confusing on a few levels - most important, its only a direct translation of the 2 least important of his positions. The most important and powerful would certainly be General Secretary of the Party 总书记. Remember, when Mao was called chairman it was chairman of the Party (a position they replaced with the modern general secretary). He left the State Chairmanship, largely ceremonial position to other people most of the time, and probably didnt want to serve in it anyway (this is the sort of thing wikipedia gets wrong, their history section is completly confused on this point, among other things in following the prevalent myth that Mao significantly lost power and influence after the Great Leap - he did not - and this led to his 'loss' of the position). Though, the term 'paramount leader' is better, recognizing that sometimes the positions aren't so very important - Deng Xiaoping in at the end of the 1980s in a certain event vs the guy technically heading the party... ;)
"The term Zhuxi refers to the chairman in a committee, and was translated as such prior to the 1982 constitution (as in Chairman Mao, although Mao's title refers primarily to the position of Chairman of Party which he held from 1945 until death). The official translation switched to President after 1982 in conformity with Western terminology. However, Zhuxi stayed in Chinese, and in other contexts still corresponds to chairman in English. Meanwhile, the translation of English term President as the head of other states remained Zongtong (simplified Chinese: 总统; traditional Chinese: 總統; pinyin: zǒngtǒng), causing a bit of confusion with regard to usage."
Also, 独裁者 generally refers to an individual's control. Control in the Chinese state, at least in recent times, is rather distributed, and I don't believe you can accurately use that term to describe it. Otherwise, Hu Jintao would have gotten his first choice for successor, Li Keqiang, rather than having Xi Jinping pushed on him (by Jiang Zemin and the Shanghai clique in particular, and possibly others).
Even in the Maoist era, power was far more distributed among the leadership than, say, the soviet union. For an example, see the Gao/Rao affair (particularly, theories regarding it as an early test of getting rid of Liu Shaoqi).