The Great Translation Movement in Historical Perspective

CommentaryWhile Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has seen economic repercussions around the world, from supply chain disruption and to shortages in daily goods like cooking oil and tomatoes in Europe, the impact in China is more ideological. Not only does the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) act contrary to the world by supporting Russia’s “military action” and requesting schools teach about the “legitimacy” of the invasion, but many ordinary Chinese people have been found to be unsympathetic to the civilian victims of the invasion. Many Chinese have been blasting the internet with justifications for the invasion, such as “Putin has no choice,” and “the USA and NATO should be held responsible for the invasion,” to profanities like “I am happy to receive homeless, white-skinned Ukraine beauties.” However, anti-war posts are deleted by the regime’s online censors. It is against this one-sided view of Russia’s war that some Chinese netizens have organised the Great Translation Movement (GTM), an online campaign that seeks to identify radically discriminatory comments by the CCP and its supporters, and have them translated into English and other languages so that this side of China may be better known to the outside world. Dealing with foreigners has always been controversial in China since the early 19th century. Modern China was always characterised by strong anti-foreignism sentiment. According to the communists, China before 1949 was oppressed by “three big mountains,” one of which was imperialism. Through formulating anti-imperialist narratives, the Chinese communists gained essential political capital. The founding of the PRC was followed first by anti-America and then anti-Soviet campaigns. People living in Hong Kong, which was then under British rule, were no strangers to such sentiments. The san (three) shi movement—choushi (hatred), bishi (disdain), mieshi (contempt)—which was originally against America in the Korean War, was used against the British in Hong Kong during the 1967 Riots. Meanwhile, all Chinese needed to “make a clean break” (huaqing jiexian) with imperialism, and Soviet revisionism, in the Cultural Revolution, or they would be criticised and made an example of in political campaigns. Anti-foreignism subsided for an extended period after the Cultural Revolution. The Reform Era, particularly in its early years, embraced the West. China’s new ruler, Deng Xiaoping, dared to try on a cowboy hat presented to him by two cowgirls during his official visit to the United States, sending an unambiguous message to the Chinese people that learning from the West was now politically safe. This was a prime time for the Chinese, particularly for book collectors like me, as Chinese publishers just translated and published whatever foreign titles were available to them. The most well-known was the “Series into the Future,” edited by Jin Guantao and Liu Qingfeng, that had produced more than 70 titles up to June 4, 1989. June 4 was a turning point for all. As the CCP saw “peaceful evolution” and “imperialism’s incessant desire to crush China” behind the incident, tightening the ruling party’s ideological control of the Chinese was a logical result. It was not a surprise to see the re-appearance of publications characterised by anti-foreignism, focusing on the United States. The most popular title was “China Can Say No” by Song Qiang and others: a manifesto of Chinese nationalism published in 1996, with chapter titles such as “Growth of my ‘pro-US sentiment’,” “Spread of the plague of pro-US psychology,” “Burn Hollywood,” “Narcissistic ultra-egoism of the USA,” “Chinese iron lady who said ‘no’ to the USA,” referring to Wu Yi, then minister of foreign trade and economic cooperation. The book portrays Chinese growing up under American cultural influence as an original sin, and in turn challenges the United States in every respect. Living a Americanized life was described as something like national shame. “McDonald’s is a Western fast-food restaurant, which is equivalent to China’s breakfast snack or noodle bar. A young Beijing couple was found to have their wedding there, showing laughable ignorance and blindness in idolising foreign things,” the book reads. And after the revival of China, “the West will again experience the Great Depression as seen in the 1920s and 1930s, and a possible outlet for Western capital will be Africa,” it continues. The CCP may be thinking that the party’s ideological writings will not be known to non-Chinese readers or that China already has the necessary strength, which has seen China-centered views become increasingly chauvinistic. For example, in a 2001 publication entitled “Report on China Problem,” Chinese hackers (translated into Chinese as heike, meaning “black guest”)—who targeted Indonesians due to an anti-Chinese riot, Taiwan due to “Taiwanese independence,” the U.S. and Japanese governments due to rightist remarks on the Nanjing Massacre—are praised as

The Great Translation Movement in Historical Perspective

Commentary

While Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has seen economic repercussions around the world, from supply chain disruption and to shortages in daily goods like cooking oil and tomatoes in Europe, the impact in China is more ideological.

Not only does the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) act contrary to the world by supporting Russia’s “military action” and requesting schools teach about the “legitimacy” of the invasion, but many ordinary Chinese people have been found to be unsympathetic to the civilian victims of the invasion.

Many Chinese have been blasting the internet with justifications for the invasion, such as “Putin has no choice,” and “the USA and NATO should be held responsible for the invasion,” to profanities like “I am happy to receive homeless, white-skinned Ukraine beauties.” However, anti-war posts are deleted by the regime’s online censors.

It is against this one-sided view of Russia’s war that some Chinese netizens have organised the Great Translation Movement (GTM), an online campaign that seeks to identify radically discriminatory comments by the CCP and its supporters, and have them translated into English and other languages so that this side of China may be better known to the outside world.

Dealing with foreigners has always been controversial in China since the early 19th century. Modern China was always characterised by strong anti-foreignism sentiment. According to the communists, China before 1949 was oppressed by “three big mountains,” one of which was imperialism. Through formulating anti-imperialist narratives, the Chinese communists gained essential political capital.

The founding of the PRC was followed first by anti-America and then anti-Soviet campaigns.

People living in Hong Kong, which was then under British rule, were no strangers to such sentiments. The san (three) shi movement—choushi (hatred), bishi (disdain), mieshi (contempt)—which was originally against America in the Korean War, was used against the British in Hong Kong during the 1967 Riots.

Meanwhile, all Chinese needed to “make a clean break” (huaqing jiexian) with imperialism, and Soviet revisionism, in the Cultural Revolution, or they would be criticised and made an example of in political campaigns.

Anti-foreignism subsided for an extended period after the Cultural Revolution. The Reform Era, particularly in its early years, embraced the West. China’s new ruler, Deng Xiaoping, dared to try on a cowboy hat presented to him by two cowgirls during his official visit to the United States, sending an unambiguous message to the Chinese people that learning from the West was now politically safe.

This was a prime time for the Chinese, particularly for book collectors like me, as Chinese publishers just translated and published whatever foreign titles were available to them. The most well-known was the “Series into the Future,” edited by Jin Guantao and Liu Qingfeng, that had produced more than 70 titles up to June 4, 1989.

June 4 was a turning point for all.

As the CCP saw “peaceful evolution” and “imperialism’s incessant desire to crush China” behind the incident, tightening the ruling party’s ideological control of the Chinese was a logical result.

It was not a surprise to see the re-appearance of publications characterised by anti-foreignism, focusing on the United States.

The most popular title was “China Can Say No” by Song Qiang and others: a manifesto of Chinese nationalism published in 1996, with chapter titles such as “Growth of my ‘pro-US sentiment’,” “Spread of the plague of pro-US psychology,” “Burn Hollywood,” “Narcissistic ultra-egoism of the USA,” “Chinese iron lady who said ‘no’ to the USA,” referring to Wu Yi, then minister of foreign trade and economic cooperation.

The book portrays Chinese growing up under American cultural influence as an original sin, and in turn challenges the United States in every respect. Living a Americanized life was described as something like national shame.

“McDonald’s is a Western fast-food restaurant, which is equivalent to China’s breakfast snack or noodle bar. A young Beijing couple was found to have their wedding there, showing laughable ignorance and blindness in idolising foreign things,” the book reads.

And after the revival of China, “the West will again experience the Great Depression as seen in the 1920s and 1930s, and a possible outlet for Western capital will be Africa,” it continues.

The CCP may be thinking that the party’s ideological writings will not be known to non-Chinese readers or that China already has the necessary strength, which has seen China-centered views become increasingly chauvinistic.

For example, in a 2001 publication entitled “Report on China Problem,” Chinese hackers (translated into Chinese as heike, meaning “black guest”)—who targeted Indonesians due to an anti-Chinese riot, Taiwan due to “Taiwanese independence,” the U.S. and Japanese governments due to rightist remarks on the Nanjing Massacre—are praised as hongke (meaning “red guests”) for their hacking campaigns in what the CCP called “patriotic wars defending China’s sovereignty.”

According to the report, China had proudly launched four such hacking wars from 1997 to 2000.

In other words, this wave of hatred against the West, which shapes the discriminatory public discourse targeted by the GTM for translation, has its roots in the 1990s.

From these non-official publications, it is not difficult to see that the traditional wisdom of China and the ideology of the CCP can be viewed separately.

Long before the rise of the CCP’s “50 cent army,” many Chinese (and overseas Chinese) had already showed their allegiance to the CCP and its ideology, with the dichotomous concept “friend or foe” already ingrained in their world views.

Political allegiance to the CCP characterized by a lack of empathy and blind struggle against a wide array of foreign countries—this will provide an endless supply of interesting materials for the GTM.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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Hans Yeung is a former manager at the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority, specializing in history assessment. He is also a historian specializing in modern Hong Kong and Chinese history. He is the producer and host of programs on Hong Kong history and a columnist for independent media. He now lives in the UK with his family. Email: [email protected]