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Interesting phrases in Chinese-small road news

November 20, 2010

This is the first post in a series describing interesting Chinese phrases that I come across in my daily life.

I often watch Chinese movies to improve my listening ability.  Recently I have been watching Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (ͶС÷), a true story about a couple of bourgeois youths, who are sent to the Sichuan countryside to do labor during the Cultural Revolution. The story is great, but the Sichuan accent is very hard to understand. I was mentioning this to a Chinese friend that I ran into and subsequently had lunch with today. After I was describing the movie, and he said he had not heard of it, I said perhaps it was banned in China (it is not).

Because we were on the subject of banned information, he brought up Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese human rights activist who was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He asked me what I thought about this whole situation. I stuttered for about 15 seconds trying to think of how to diplomatically express myself with my poor Chinese, before resigning to ask him his opinion first. He said that it made the Chinese government look bad. Of course, I said, but the Nobel Committee does not care about what the Chinese government think, because they think the Chinese government is in the wrong.

These conversations are interesting. After we were doing speaking, I asked him where he had learned of the prize, because news of the situation is completely censored here in China. I just realized that even searching for Liu Xiaobo’s name in English caused me to lose my internet connection for a few minutes. He replied,

xiaodao xinwen, С, literally, small road news

I didn’t understand until he pulled out his phone to demonstrate the characters for me and still I was a little cloudy. Later, when I looked it up, my dictionary translated it into news from the grapevine. I guess this is the way most Chinese people arrive at news on censored topics like this. You hear it from the grapevine, and like telephone, the game played in elementary school, you pass it on to next person, hoping that your understanding somewhat resembles the truth. Navigating the various levels of truth must be the hardest part about living in a society with an elaborate censorship system as in China.

The entire movie is available here with Chinese subtitles (who cares about that IPR business?).  I’m sorry to say that I can’t find any clips of the movies with English subtitles, but you can watch the first few minutes of the movie above with to get the feeling of it, with the knowledge that the song they are singing is propaganda.  One clip on youtube is relevant as the characters are discussing how there is no information available from capitalist countries in China, only from other socialist countries North Korea, Soviet Union, Albania.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. allyson permalink
    November 22, 2010 04:10

    This conversation demonstrates why living abroad is such a valuable experience. It forces you to reconsider everything from a different perspective–even how you get your news.

    • Mom permalink
      December 15, 2010 12:56

      Allyson, Your friend, Meg, gave me this book in french the last day we were in Paris before leaving for Geneva. It was a good read.

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