Xinhua’s Official P.C. Guidelines

Though it hasn’t been authenticated, there seems to be good reason to believe this set of guidelines for Xinhua reporters is the real thing. Sample:

1. Physically handicapped persons should not be described by denigrating terms such as “cripple 残废人”, “one-eyed dragon 独眼龙”, “blindie 瞎子”, “deafie 聋子”, “fool 傻子”, “idiot 呆子”. Instead, the appropriate terms are “handicapped person 残疾人”, “blind person 盲人 “, “deaf person 聋人”, “mentally impaired person 智力障碍者”.

Many other examples can be found in the post, whose author notes:

Aside from the rather predictable rules about Taiwan, it’s interesting that most of the list resembles a guide to Western style political correctness rather than the usual Communist Party list of taboo words and subject matter.

I ‘m not sure about the comparison to Western-style political correctness. Having worked at two big American media companies, I know there are plenty of rules to keep stories politically correct. But to refer to a deaf person as “deafie” or a retarded person as “idiot” is not politically incorrect, it’s vulgar and cruel and crude – at least in American English. Political correctness, to me, is much more inane and difficult to defend, like insisting you refer to black as “people of color” and to garbage men as “sanitation technicians.” These Xinhua guidelines are not inane or absurd or extraordinary. What is extraordinary is that Xinhua needed to create a formal document articulating what you’d hope would be obvious already to their professional journalists.

Something may have been lost in translation, however. Maybe in Chinese, the term translated into “deafie” isn’t as offensive as it sounds in English. When I was in Hong Kong, I’d see a small bus every morning carrying retarded people, who were referred to on the side of the bus, in English, as “spastics” – in HK, apparently, the word “spastic” doesn’t have the negative connotations it does in the US. If the words in the Xinhua guidelines are indeed as offensive as their English co-equivalents, then again I’d have to wonder why Xinhua would ever need to create such a document. Can their reporters really be so poorly trained that they’d use the equivalent of “deafie” in a Xinhua story? Or is 聋子 less harsh in Chinese?

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 6 Comments

as someone who has done a lot of work with the disabled in China and regularly pays attention to reports, I can’t remember the last time I’ve ever seen those more “offensive” terms being used in an article. Those terms have long since gone out of style and have been replaced. At least when it comes to the terms regarding the disabled, its only making explicit what has already been common practice for awhile.

December 29, 2006 @ 2:55 pm | Comment

Credit where credit’s due — this is an ESWN translation. It’s interesting, and I find it believable since many of the proscribed terms are pretty common in colloquial, spoken Chinese. I’d translate some of the terms differently from the way Roland does – 傻子 is certainly “idiot,” but a closer translation based on context might be “moron” — which, lest we forget, was a legitimate diagnosis in the West not all that long ago. 呆子 is something like “tard” or “spacer” — both words, incidentally, that I’ve heard Special Ed teachers use in their unguarded moments. And 独眼龙 would probably better be translated as “cyclops,” though there must be some more colloquial English term for someone who’s blind in one eye.

The thing is that a lot of the proscribed terms aren’t necessarily thought of as offensive – analogous to, say, “black guy” instead of “African-American male,” or something along those lines.

December 29, 2006 @ 2:56 pm | Comment

Interesting perspectives. I guess my question is, have these terms been used so frequently in the Chinese media that guidelines are required instructing reporters/editors not to use them? Chengbo sounds skeptical…

Sorry for not naming ESWN as the translator – I got this via Danwei, and should have mentioned the translator’s name.

December 29, 2006 @ 11:31 pm | Comment

Xinhua may follow these directives, but in the more freewheeling evening papers, journalists tend to be more cavelier with their language – particularly in the entertainment pages. I’d say that most papers use pretty much exclusively those entertainment-related terms that Xinhua forbids.

I know that as recently as a few years ago, signs on the Beijing subway system asking people to give their seats to the infirm or disabled had pieces of tape covering over an older term for “mentally handicapped”. Those terms concerning disabilities are all still frequently used in speech, so a newspaper may use a PC term in a headline and another other word in a quotation.

December 30, 2006 @ 1:24 am | Comment

Thanks zhwj. And your reply leads to yet another question, i.e., whether these guidelines will mean anything, whether they’ll be followed.

December 30, 2006 @ 2:07 am | Comment

In fact these terms are more colloquial than they are denigrating. In less formal writings they can be used without any intent of offense. 聋子 should be simply translated as “deaf”. It’s only spoken language and definitely doesn’t carry a humiliating sound like ‘fie’. Just see how many Google hits there are:

聋子 510,000
聋人 371,000
deaf 35,000,000
deafie 14,200

I don’t know any reporters, but I think these guidelines may be of a little use to the careless.

December 30, 2006 @ 7:05 pm | Comment

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