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"The World Is Ill-prepared for the Rise of China"

– An Interview with Zhao Qizheng, spokesman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference

By staff reporter WANG YANG

ZHAO Qizheng, former deputy mayor of Shanghai and minister of the State Council Information Office, is a member of the Standing Committee of China's top political consultative body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). He serves as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and spokesman of the CPPCC. Mr. Zhao's publications include Introducing China to the World – Zhao Qizheng and the Art of Communication, Dialogue with the World – Zhao Qizheng's Speeches, Public Diplomacy and Trans-cultural Communication, all bestsellers in the field of international communication. He has dedicated himself to the study and analysis of China's image in the world.

Zhao Qizheng speaks at a news conference at the 2011 CPPCC session.

Recently Zhao gave an exclusive interview to China Today about China's international profile and relations.

China Today: How would you sum up the influence on the world of China's rise – the buildup of her economic strength and national power in general?

Zhao: China's economy developed rapidly in last three decades, which we know was well beyond everyone's expectations, even the Chinese ourselves. Many countries were not ready to face a China with a GDP second from top place in the world; it was shocking.

Their first response is to take stock of the possible impact the rise of China has for them, for conflicts of interest often ensue in the shift of the world's economic and political contours. Economically, some developed countries will use China issues as a diversion from their own emerging internal problems, for example, blaming too many "made in China" products for domestic unemployment. In this case the charge is definitely politically-laced, and China is the scapegoat. On the political front, a stronger China leads to "anxiety" in the rest of the world.

It is no rarity in history that a country seeks to exercise hegemony and starts wars following its economic ascendance. So the question hovers in the minds of many foreigners: will China embark on the same path? Mental inertia stokes fear. In fact foreign leaders are clear that China's political clout and military might are very limited. For example, China has a similar GDP to Japan, but China's is driven by the sweat of people's brows not the brain waves that produce high technology. The Japanese make high-priced electronics on computerized assembly lines while we save our pennies by pedaling sewing machines.

China Today: You mentioned the anxiety around the world that accompanies our economic development and growing national power. Conjectures, suspicions and criticisms are made about China's decisions and various courses of action. How is China coping?

Zhao Qizheng: The negative emotions in the international community are a reality. We don't need to panic or get angry; neither turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to them. Instead, we should explain ourselves, allay doubts and confusion, and calmly respond to these emotions.

When communicating with the rest of the world, we should make the case that the rise of China should not be troubling. In doing so it is necessary to help the world understand Chinese people, culture and foreign policy. Chinese culture worships harmony and has no respect for aggression or hegemony. China is a peaceful nation; its people have chosen a course of peaceful development and will stick to that unwaveringly.

At the same time we should be mindful of what we can do to improve the various conflicted economic issues we face.

In our foreign relationships, we have been holding to the principle of "taoguang yanghui,"or "hiding our light." But some have translated this idiom as "hide one's capacities and bide one's time," which is definitely not the real meaning of the phrase, and not in accord with Chinese culture of "harmony." In fact, "taoguang yanghui" is not an interim policy. We would adopt a low profile in any situation. A good translation would not ignore the core connotation of this phrase: a modest attitude toward the world.

China Today: Explaining China to the world doesn't always have its intended effect. How can we improve our efforts?

Zhao: Three main factors determine the influence of our communications. First, the country's strength; second, the logic and truth of the content, or credibility. Third, the simple ability to express ourselves well.

It is easy to understand the first two points, so I will elaborate on the third one. There is a phrase, 'a nation's command of rhetoric,' which refers to a country's aptitude to be on message about itself. This requires the proper translation of words and phrases specific to a nation's conditions and culture. For example, when putting the idiom "taoguang yanghui" in a political context, China has to exert its command of rhetoric to bring out what it means exactly within a foreign language. Here we can see, a good command of national rhetoric requires the ability to control foreign interpretation, the ability to avoid a strained translation or a brutal transliteration.

Imprecise translation can result in misunderstandings and misapprehensions about China. The differences between Chinese and foreign languages are daunting, and often it is hard to find corresponding English for a Chinese word. Linguistic analogues are plentiful in the realm of natural science, like speed and quality. But once we speak of daily life, it takes effort to find perfect matches of meaning in a foreign language. For example, Jingju is known as Peking Opera in the West. Those who have never seen this performance may suppose it to be a Western opera performed by Chinese or a Chinese mutation of this stage art. But actually it is a distinct traditional art form of our culture. It should remain in Chinese pinyin as "Jingju." For example, Kabuki, the 'theatrical' performance indigenous to Japan, was not translated into Tokyo Opera. In fact, retaining the Japanese word preserves in it the essence of Japanese culture.

Peking Opera is just an example. As for political communication, the situation is far more complicated. While building socialism with Chinese characteristics, China has created many special political terms. As our political system is not identical to any others in the world, it is difficult to achieve equivalence in other languages. Therefore, when translating our terms into a foreign language, we reach, and sometimes overreach. Strained interpretation is the result of a limited capacity for trans-cultural communication.

If we are to rise above the weight of our words, we have to first build our might, of course, then tell it as it is, and what's more, be clear in our message. It is in our interest to improve our command of the national rhetoric through developing expertise in trans-cultural expression.

VOL.59 NO.12 December 2010 Advertise on Site Contact Us