Scolding or welcome? -

Scolding or welcome?


Before anybody melts down completely about the stinging “rebuke” our Prime Minister received from the Chinese Premier, can I ask exactly how sure we are that the insult was intended as an insult? I am looking around for an assurance, from somebody actually in a position to know, that this was indeed the unprecedented savaging/borderline casus belli that everyone but the PM himself is making it out to be. This position would, at a minimum, seem to involve having heard and understood the Premier’s words in the original Mandarin.

Taken literally, all Premier Wen said was that Canadian prime ministers should visit China more often. That’s assuming the translation was at all accurate. (Chinese doesn’t map real well onto English; it is full of ambiguity and embedded wordplay.) But even granting that assumption, Wen’s statement was like most semantic gestures in diplomacy; how one ought to react depends on how one chooses to read the words. Wen might have meant “Be more conscientious about your grovelling, insect!” He might have meant, or intended to say, “We value your company and our relationship with Canada; do drop by more often.”

Reporters like John Ibbitson and Bill Schiller are urging the first interpretation upon us, but only, as far as I can tell, on their own authority; I worry that we are missing the key quote from some Mandarin-speaking senior diplomat saying, in effect, “Damn, I’ve never seen a dressing-down like that, yo.” Is there one somewhere?


Scolding or welcome?

  1. Needing to speak Mandarin is too high a bar. A familiarity with the kind of topics that usually come up would be sufficient. And a layperson, sadly, is forced to accept translation as meaning unless there's equally good evidence to the contrary – other wise we simply can't assume anything said is ever said.

  2. Colby, your incessant "thinking" and regrettable unwillingness to bellow whatever thought first comes to mind is most disturbing. You're a journalist, man. Straighten up and bloviate.

  3. Well, he could try investigating but that's not how it works either.

    It's up to *us* to do that work, I guess. Good thing no one's paying this stuff anymore.

  4. "Needing to speak Mandarin is too high a bar."

    …Especially when our journalistic class is still grappling with English:

    "Chinese doesn't map real well onto English…"

    • I bet you're one of those people who thinks we're not allowed to split infinitives, either.

  5. As I posted elsewhere, I think the rebuke is in the line about how the Canadian media have been writing about Harper's lack of attendance in China.. in effect, "You should listen to your own people." And also as posted elsewhere, if this is the case, its' a bit rich coming from China.

  6. I suggest jumping on the Edmonton LRT with your laptop, transfer to the University line, drop by the SUB, or the HUB and ask some foreign students. There's a whole world out there da Jianadaren.

  7. The issue is public vs private comments. Chinese diplomacy is such that they NEVER utter anything publicly unless they have a reason. Public comments are also understated to the extreme.

    Wen making his public comment translates (more or less) into a John Baird rant in QP. Not good.

  8. Whatever was actually said to Harper,wasn't the real import of the message contained in the reaction of their media…it being China and all?

    • Chinese media 'reaction' = Chineses government instructions, or else.

  9. Right on, Colby. The press coverage was astonishingly overblown.

    -"Harper sat stone-faced during the rebuke – the words clearly stung." (Star)

    -"China's unprecedented rebuke of the prime minister has far-reaching implications" (G&M)

    -"Such a public scolding is unheard of in a meeting between heads of government."(G&M)

    -"For Premier Wen Jiabao to embarrass his guest by reminding him of his decision to allow a strong relationship that started in the Trudeau era to deteriorate badly is a highly unusual and pointed breach of diplomatic protocol." (G&M)

    • How do you know it was overblown? Did you ask DaShun?

    • This is the same media that jumped all over the body bags story two months ago, and the vaccine "crisis" a month ago. They're behaving exactly as expected. It's hilarious how they're all suddenly foreign policy experts who can instantly extrapolate from one translated conversation how the next decade of Canada-Chinese relations. This type of sensationalist buffoonery and pop analysis is perfectly consistent with what "respectable" journalism has become. Thus far there's Colby, and……………… who else? actually trying to take a sober second look at things.

  10. I think you have a point, maybe we've been led astray by the press and the opposition (for the millionth time). How do we know if this was an insult?

  11. Scolding or welcome? Can't it be both? Like when I visit my mother and the first thing she says to me when I walk in is that it's wonderful to see me, that it's been so long?

    • ya, but have you been avoiding your mom for half a decade? i think she'd be as pissed as Wen is with steve.

      • Considering that the Harper government is a minority government (which only a year ago was the focus of a conspiracy to steal an election) and we are in the middle of a recession, I think Harper has other things are his plate rather than trotting off to China. We have an embassy there, senior government officials routinely are in China, Harper attends international meetings that include leaders of China – so visiting is a formality.

        But the real reason China may be PO'd is simply because Canada is standing firm on human rights and it is our right to meet with the Dali Lama – China, not yet, is the boss of us!

  12. "Taken literally, all Premier Wen said was that Canadian prime ministers should visit China more often."

    You can't take anything literally when it comes to Oriental culture. Talking in riddles and symbolism is their thing.

    If you really want to figure out whether that was a grave accusation or just a general sense of anger, than we have to know what they think of the concession they made. If granting us Approved Destination Status was big deal for ChiComs, they are not too angry with us. If this is insignificant, than we are getting different message.

    "Most significant, for many Canadians, will be the announcement that Canada has been granted, after years of negotiation, Approved Destination Status by the Chinese government.

    The designation makes it possible for Chinese travel agents to organize group tours to Canada. According to Canadian government data, Chinese tourists stay longer (on average, 28 nights) and spend more (on average, better than $1,600 a visit) than those from any other country. With 1.3 million Chinese-Canadian friends and relatives to visit, the new designation promises to inject $100-million a year into Canada's tourism industry, with considerable growth potential." Globe and Mail, Dec 03 '09

    • My wife — Suzhou born and raised — said that this may not be the nugget of gold we think it is. Apparently lots of people on the chinese talking boards believe that the ADS is just another loophole for asylum seekers and disappear-in-the-night travelers. But at least they've got to book one hotel room first, right?

    • Am I the only one who thinks that you have to be a pretty pathetic country to even have a list of other countries with "Approved Destination Status"…?

  13. I'd love to hear his take on this, since he is undoubtedly more qualified to interpret it than anyone in the press corps.

  14. I'd suggest someone born in China would be better. There is a long history of resentment towards not only the west, going back decades, upon decades. Some guy born/raised in Ottatwa/Toronto in his formative yrs is hardly qualified.

  15. Seeing the over-heated headlines, and then reading what the Chinese Premier had actually said, I was a bit puzzled. Couldn't see much of an insult there, but then I'm not a diplomat, so what do I know? It is a bit reassuring to see that there are others who thought as I did. It sounded like a friendly comment, actually… you want to see more of someone you like or are interested in.

    There are some who will criticize our Prime Minister no matter what happens. I'm always proud of him internationally. He looks good and conducts himself very professionally. He is certainly not a show-off like Trudeau.

  16. Great. The Giant Panda is made and just as likely to suck up the tarsands and ship it across the sea, then buy up all our hockey teams and move them to the US south… In other news, Obama gave a huge sigh of relief.

  17. David Emerson should know, and said it was a pretty mild statement.
    Watch Power Play in 40 minutes, and see.

    • No please, not Emersin! But what we really want to know is what Duffy thinks…

    • I wish Emerson was still in the cabinet. He did a great job for B.C. and the whole country benefitted.

  18. Interesting about what Chinese think of program. Do they know what they are talking about or are they gossiping and everyone who emigrates is a scoundrel?

    I just looked up Approved Destination Status and it is not that important. More than half the world has already been granted the Status. Sounds like Libs started negotiations in '05 and Cons reduced urgency when they took over.

    I was also wondering how Obama's trip went a few weeks so I did quick search. Canada was sent away with a flea in our ear compared to the mugging Obama received – with a warning for worse treatment if Americans don't get their act together.

  19. Colby,
    Being of Chinese origin myself, I would have to say it is his way of saying Welcome with no negative or scolding intended

    • Thanks for setting the record straight, Lee! According to our endlessly credulous Canadian media, it wasn't a welcome at all. It was some sort of Chinese Death Slur.

      • that credulous media; if only they would listen to some guy on an internet board who says he is of chinese origin claiming Wen's words were welcoming. so credulous…that, errr, media ;-)

        • Heh. ;-)

  20. "Chinese activists and dissidents see the United States President's visit to China as an opportunity to highlight their causes—but it comes with a risk. Several of them were already arrested last week before Barack Obama arrived in Shanghai yesterday (Sunday). The United States President will spend the rest of his four-day trip in Beijing."

    Ordinarily when the president shows up, ChiComs releases a few dissidents in show good faith, not arrest dozens. I am glad that Chinese are being influenced for the good by Obama but ChiComs did not treat him well.

  21. Now, if you could just get through to some of our media and opposition bone-heads who are determined to find negatives about our Prime Minister around every corner.

  22. Based on several decades of living in Asia, I see this as wildly overblown by the Canadian media. This was more likely a pro forma opportunity by the Chinese PM to express disappointment at the gap in time between visits. There were many reasons for the delay (Harper is not responsible for all five years) and the Chinese were no doubt happy to get it on the record that they were displeased at events such as Parliament's unanimous gesture to offer citizenship the Dali Lama. Nevertheless, now that the visit gap has been noted, it is very clear that both China and Canada are keen to focus on the future not the past.

    Bottom line. Not a big deal. Certainly not the sign of a bad relationship.

    • I'm rarely embarrassed by the Canadian media in general, but this is one of those times. Frantic navel-gazing wankery.

  23. I think you have an absolutely valid point, Colby. The Chinese are keenly interested in decent relations with Canada, disturbingly moreso than their concerns for domestic human rights protocol. Their international etiquette would not lean to any suggestion so boorish as this one likely lost in translation and / or amplified by a less-than-helpful Canadian MSM. It is mostly our own who do the whining, as in a "me first" attitude toward a new U.S. president on tour.

  24. To be fair, it's not just Harper who suffers these regular media ambushes. Chretien used to take it in the butt regularly whether he deserved it or not. Remember the time he chose not to go to King Hussien's funeral? The OUTRAGE. The EMBARRASSMENT!! Canada was about to take its seat on the UN Security Council, and the PM decides to go on a ski trip with his family instead of attending an elder statesman's funeral!! The SHAME!!!

    Only in a country that obsesses to no end about it's international reputation (what will the international community think??!) would the decision to skip out on a dictator's funeral for some much needed family time, be the subject of intense media fretting.

  25. Not at all. But the rule that states that an adverb modifies a verb, an adjective or another adverb is one of the few that is easy to remember and apply and doesn't admit any exceptions.

    • Is there a "You probably shouldn't fill your diaper at the mere sight of a colloquialism employed by a longtime professional user of English" rule? And does it admit exceptions?

      • If User-Comment wasn't allowed to fill his diaper, he'd have to pry himself away from his keyboard several times a day to go to the bathroom. You don't seem to realize how problematic that is for him. I suspect you'll soon find out.

        You might find it instructive that even the spelling of his former screen name (T-i-G-u-y) gets a comment instantly deleted.

      • Seriously, Colby, you're wasting your time trying to reason with "User-content" (he changes his pseudonym here weekly, due to banishment issues). He's Canada's foremost blog wanker.

        • It's remarkable isn't it? His original screen name cannot even be spelled in a comment. It is deleted instantly. Someone at MacLeans actually took the time to add his name to the profanity filter. His very mention has become profanity. Just how insane does a person have to be for that to happen?

        • Come on, you're saying that about Thai-Guy and I'm right here.

          • Sorry, Lord Bob. I should have said one of Canada's foremost blog wankers. ;-)

            Would you believe that at one point I thought you were a playful pseudonym used by Andrew Coyne?

          • Believe? Well, I would describe my writing style as "Andrew Coyne after three bottles of scotch applied directly to his forehead by a heavyweight boxer with a grudge".

          • Thanks to you, CR, I've been reading every one of Lord Bob's posts, for months now, as a secret route to Coyne's inner psyche. I think it was only when they disagreed with each other at one point that I began to suspect your theory.

            Little Guy and User Content and My pseudonym here and a couple of others — it was Anon for a good while — are all, as you say, our unmistakable friend. His style is truly unique.

          • I'm officially rattled by two people who I know can read making that comment, however joking. Probably not as rattled as Coyne, who may be tying a rope around a sprinkler head as we speak.

            On the other hand, what if I am Coyne, and the moments when I seemingly disagree with myself are simply my conflicted multiple personalities struggling to get out. What if I, Andrew Coyne, am a high-functioning schizophrenic whose only way of secretly dealing with his disease is constructing artificial Internet figures to vent my metaphorical spleen?

            I mean, do we even know there's such a person as Rex Murphy? Maybe after every At Issue Andrew just throws on the bald cap?

          • Well, correct me if I'm wrong, but it's not totally illogical, and even now I'm not 100% convinced you're different people: you both write extremely well (and take a grown-up approach), you're both on the small-c side of the spectrum, wide-ranging, etc. I mean, if I were Andrew Coyne, and I wanted to drop the heavy responsibilities of being Andrew Coyne 24/7, i.e. tell people what I really thought, I'd try and sound like yourself. And, for the sake of authenticity, I'd occasionally quarrel with myself. As to Rex Murphy, well, only his pharmacist knows for sure.

          • Are you sure "pharmacist" is singular, here?

  26. I eagerly await the thoughtful 12-page essay that is sure to appear in the Walrus in just a couple of months about how China is ready to nuke us and it's Harper's fault.

  27. I believe Canada is 135th on the exclusive list.

  28. I have not listened to any video or audio in Mandarin and would love the opportunity to listen to it first hand from the horse's mouth.
    It is often common thing to say that it is far too long between visits by friends and family in Asia or friends in Kentucky used to say, be sure to come back and visit us soon in an admonishing manner.. I am wondering if the media hasn't blown it out of proportion and opted to view that as a rebuke. Being Chinese who speak and have good understanding of Mandarin, I have noticed on many business trips to China where the diplomatic translators often did not translate precisely what had been said, even worse not what had been said and more often than not the subtle nuances of the sentiment is often missing.
    The Chinese have a saying " respect is accorded to you by others but shame is something only you can bestow upon yourself"
    Some of us Canadians take gleeful pleasure and be the first to take a negative view to shame one of our own. We never seem to rise above partisanship or pettiness, no matter what the appropriateness of the situation that called upon one to do the right and appropriate thing beyond political bickering or point scoring.

    All things being equal in life, one have the option to take it as a positive or negative.

  29. I thought P.M. Harper's comment was very diplomatic and reflected quick thinking. Anyway so now we know our enemies read our media – same thing with the Taliban.