【08.4.11 英国 BBC】西方必須小心有關華人的耳語

From The Times

April 11, 2008



Simon Barnes

Simon Barnes is the multi-award-winning chief sportswriter at The Times. He also writes a Saturday column on wildlife. His 15 books include three novels and the best-selling How To Be A Bad Birdwatcher. His latest, The Meaning of Sport, was published last autumn. He lives in Suffolk with his family and five horses


West must be careful with Chinese whispers

Simon Barnes

If you stay here much longer you’ll all be slitty-eyed

Prince Philip, to Edinburgh University students in Beijing, 1986

It seems that much of the Western world is united on the subject. The people of Tibet are living in a state of oppression, the Chinese do not respect human rights, and the build-up to the Olympic Games, to be held in Beijing in August, provides a right and proper platform for the expression of reservations about the Chinese.

Which is all very well so far as it goes. But is it the Chinese Government we dislike so much? Or is it the Chinese people? Is the problem one of ethics? Or is it one of race? I have a feeling that the two have got ever-so-slightly mixed. Perhaps we should try to unmuddle ourselves.

I must say, the torch relay was clearly put together by someone who wished to maximise Western fear and suspicion of the Chinese. Every step, the torch was surrounded by Chinese men in tracksuits. No one knew who they were, what they were doing, what their status was. They were just there, looking menacing and — let’s be frank here — indistinguishable one from the other.

This was a machine, a sinister band of inhuman robots inscrutably keeping the symbol of freedom for themselves, to be used for their own dark ends. Well, that’s what it looked like to many people who saw it. It was a wonderfully inept piece of PR: an image of stony-faced China against the world.

There are deep fears about China lurking in the breast of the West. There are so many of them: 1.3 billion of them and only 60 million of us Brits. It’s impossible to imagine being one of so many: we can only see it as the instant death of the individual.

Then there is the silent military threat: as Tom Lehrer sang as far back as 1965: “China got the bomb, but have no fears / They can’t wipe us out for at least five years.” China has never been an ally, but never been quite an enemy either, unlike the simple dualities of the Cold War. We have never known where to file China in our minds.

There is also the problem of the perceived homogeneity of the Chinese people: they all look the same. Well, they don’t actually. There is a smaller range of features to work with, that’s all. I lived in Hong Kong for four years and was perfectly competent at telling one person from another. (Though I remember a friend of mine describing his new Chinese girlfriend: “She’s beautiful. Small, dark hair, brown eyes. . .”)

The cultural differences can seem vast. A friend of mine, a Mandarin speaker, was attending a meeting between serious high-ups from Hong Kong (then still a British colony) and the People’s Republic. The top Hongkonger broke the ice by saying: “I have always believed that the Chinese are 90 per cent comprehensible and 10 per cent incomprehensible. I propose to concentrate on the 90 per cent I understand.” Smiles and handshakes were exchanged. But what the interpreter had said was: “He says the Chinese are 90 per cent good and 10 per cent bad. He will concentrate on the good part.” But then I remember negotiating a fee with a Chinese editor. This was hard because she was (a) beautiful and (b) disinclined to give any ground whatsoever.

“Look,” I said. “You have to move a little. After all, we in the West have this concept of saving face.”

A very Hong Kong conversation: the radically different natures and cultures of the British and the Chinese (and many others who just happened to be passing by) created, briefly, a maverick genius of a place.

Even here, there was suspicion and fear amounting to paranoia about what the Chinese over the border were up to. But this was nothing to do with concerns about the Chinese people: because many, if not most, Hong Kong Chinese shared the same fears. It was the Government we didn’t trust, not the people.

And they are separate. This is the point to bear in mind. Don’t you hate it when a foreign person picks a fight with you because you invaded Iraq? In the United States in years past, Americans in different bars demanded to know why I insisted on oppressing the Irish: bad conversations.

A lot of our fear and mistrust of China comes from the fact that it is a one-party state and that political unorthodoxy is discouraged. But it is a reckless misunderstanding to assume that the population are sublimely happy with this, and want nothing more than to serve the state. If that were so, the Chinese would indeed be a sinister lot: but the idea is absurd. I can exclusively reveal that most Chinese people wish to live happy, peaceful and fulfilling lives, to look after their families, to get enough to eat and to get a kick out of life.

Not entirely unlike us, then. So perhaps we should instigate a Cultural Revolution in the head: and look upon China not as a nation, but as place where 1.3 billion individuals happen to live.

I am not sure that this will be easy. At the Olympic Games, there will be many Chinese medal-winners. They will all have the same face and the same name, or seem to. Neither Chinese faces nor names are easily memorable at first encounter to our Western-trained minds.

These medal-winners will do the right things and say the right stuff, and we will blench. We will see them as machines, programmed by the State, doing its bidding, with no feelings or opinions of their own. But if we fail to see beyond that, we betray the libertarian principles of our society. Any time that we see any group of humans as a homogenous mass, rather than a bunch of individuals, we betray our own individuality.

Human rights! It is an emotive phrase, and an important one, but we must use it with care. It has become an instant association: China = bad record on human rights. And so the phrase has tangled itself up with the demons of our unconscious minds: so that it seems to us that the Chinese have a bad record on human rights because they really are not like the humans of the West. They behave inhumanly because they know no better: because they are not, in fact, fully human.

I think it is important, as these troubled and troubling Games approach, that we sort out what we think. If we think that the Chinese Government’s record in Tibet is a bad thing, then fine, and we are, thank God, free to say so.

But if we think — even at some level beyond rational thought — that the problem is that there is something profoundly amiss with the Chinese people themselves, then we have lost the plot. If we deny humanity to other people, we are only truly denying it in ourselves.


翻譯引自時代雜誌 (2008年四月十一日) 西方必須小心有關華人的耳語 西蒙班士





我必須說,干擾聖火傳遞明顯是某些希望讓西方極度恐懼疑慮中國的人所泡製的。每一步,聖火都被穿上運動服的華人包圍。沒人曉得他們是誰,他們在幹嘛,他們身份如何。 他們就是在那裡,看來兇兇的-老實說-讓人沒法分辨出誰是誰來。





文化差異可以很鉅大。我有一位說普通話的朋友參加一個會,會上雲集香港(當時還是英國殖民地)及大陸的高層顯要。香港顯要開聊說:「我一直覺得能理解90%中國人,有10%我無法理解,所以我建議集中我能理解的90%。」大家微笑中握手。但翻譯卻翻成:「他說中國人有90%好, 10%壞。他會集中在好的那部份。」可我記得跟一位中國編輯為稿費討價還價。這很難因為(a)她很漂亮,而且(b)就是不留餘地。「哎」我說「妳總得讓一點嘛。怎麼說,我們西方有留情面這概念。」 很香港式的對話:英式與港式截然不同的性質與文化(以及其它偶然遇上的)簡單來說,締造了當地的一個不羈的怪傑。


我們必須謹記:這兩者是兩回事。要是一個外國人因你入侵伊拉克而故意找你麻煩,你能不火大? 過去數年在美國不少酒吧裡的美國人都追問為什麼我堅持要抑制愛爾蘭人:很倒胃口的話題。