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Be喪屍or be浮屍 - that is the question


中國已經不是101年前的中國了。我希望華盛頓的那些人,好好思量一下。如果在今天,還想借疫情對中國進行甩鍋推責,打擊霸凌中國,他們必須要好好思考一下,14億中國人民會做出怎樣強有力的反應——這是中國外交部發言人華春瑩最近的講話。

字面上,這話沒什麽特別,不就是典型戰狼風格的外交辭令。但華春瑩說這段話時,邊說邊眨眼。我想到,去年當林鄭月蛾被路透追問,她是否沒權撤回反送中條例,她也不斷地眨眼。

心理學家說眨眼是心虛的表現,估計華春瑩和林鄭的心虛, 來自「她們也知道自己是說謊,她們也知道我們知道她們在說謊,我們也知道她們知道我們知道她們說謊,但是她們依然在說謊」( 前蘇聯異見作家索忍尼辛的名言)。

有比較就能更清楚看到真理。華春瑩和林鄭的眨眼視頻,讓我聯想到當年鄧麗君在金門向大陸人民講話的錄像。

鄧麗君說:我希望大陸的同胞也可以跟我們享受到一樣的民主跟自由,唯有­在自由、民主、富庶的生活環境下,才能擁有實現個人理想的機會;也唯有全體青年都能夠­自由發揮聰明才智,國家的未來才能充滿光明和希望。

畫面上的鄧麗君有一臉祥和,眼睛發亮,從容地道出每句發自她內心的話,她和華春瑩林鄭之流的反差,不能更鮮明!

但更值得注意是,鄧麗君講話的內容,正好說明華春瑩和林鄭的悲哀之處:極權政府的首要任務是維持它的統治,所以它需要一班走狗,替它通過暴力和謊言去管治人民。所以只有在民主社會,在社會資源沒被獨裁政權壟斷的環境下,人才有空間實現個人理想和發揮聰明才智。在中共的統治下,華春瑩和林鄭再優秀,如果她們想在主流社會表現自己,也只能做奴才,中共給她們的任務如何難啃也要硬著頭皮啃下去。

至於我這種有一定的雙語寫作能力和學識的人,如果不甘心做中共的狗,過「主子叫我咬誰我就咬誰」的日子,在當今主流媒體和出版社都被染紅的香港,唯一的出路, 就是在獨立網媒發表文章,這是我能發揮我的聰明才智的僅有空間。隨著國安法的來臨,想得最極端說得最直白,我面對的可能是要麽做喪屍(如林鄭)要麽做浮屍的局面,有什麽可以幫我熬過前面的黑暗期?

這就是我愛重看上述那段鄧麗君視頻的原因:我深信只要我能活下來,等到大陸再對外開放,我就能帶著我的英文專業北上;在這一天的來臨前,我可以效法鄧麗君,向大陸同胞「喊話」。我的「喊話」形式:紅媒的英文水平通常是不敢恭維的,我可以悉心去修改紅媒的英語,然後在不同的平台上發表,我相信我這些「手作」,早晚會傳到被中共鎖在國內,卻又想提升英語的大陸同胞那裡。他們讀我的教材,學會寫地道英語的同時,也能體會到民主的意義。他們會想,如果吳若琦這個人,是身在民主社會而不是身在被中共淪陷的香港,她想發揮她的聰明才智,想不違心地活,就不會那麽難——而我們和吳若琦正被同一個政權管著⋯⋯

上世紀70年代末,深圳一帶大批人冒著被溺死的風險,也要遊泳到香港,因那裡有自由。關於大陸人逃港一事,當時的國務院副總理谷牧視察深圳後這麽說:「現在往那邊跑的多,將來一定往我們這邊來的多。我們大家共同努力。」谷牧所指的「我們」,是大陸各級的政府;他們要努力改革開放,讓大陸變成一個人能安居樂業的地方,大陸才能吸引外資和人才。今天,不同的是,香港人也要努力,出自己的一分力,開啟大陸同胞的民智,因大陸不變成一個能給人安居樂業的地方,香港人也沒法在香港安居樂業——只要天安門還掛著毛澤東的頭像,香港人是沒法履行煲底之約, 除罩相認的。

我今次修改的,是有中聯辦影子的《南華早報》主編譚衛兒的專欄。

專欄原文:Rules of the game have changed in Hong Kong's protest crisis

《南華早報》網頁截圖

In the text below, I seek to rewrite a column written by Tammy Tam, the chief editor of The South China Morning Post. I have put Tam's text in bold print, to distinguish it from mine.

Rules of the game have changed in Hong Kong's protest crisis

I had to double-check to make sure that Tam didn't insert "the" in front of "rules of the game." Even though I knew from my previous rounds of editing Tam's work that she has little proficiency in English to speak of, still, I wasn't sure she had it in her to commit so glaring an error.

New tactics in the streets – and fresh approaches from city and central government leaders – still cannot break the impasse

A word on "new tactics in the streets": In Chinese, we can write a sentence without a subject, but do so in English and we risk confusing our reader, especially if we haven't provided enough clues to help her process the subject-less sentence. This is exactly what's happening here - whose tactics is Tam referring to? The police or the protesters? 

Tam could have avoided such ambiguity if she had written "ending the unrest still an elusive goal despite change in government tactics" - notice this rewrite is also a subject-less phrase, but here it is clear from the context that I'm referring to the government.

Or, if Tam had preferred the spotlight to fall more on the police, she could have written "unrest persists as the police and the protesters remain locked in combat."

But beneath Beijing's order to 'clean up your own mess' is an urgent call for action

Subtitles exist to help a reader decide whether a piece is of interest to her; they should therefore be written in a way that allows them to be understood at a glance. By this measure, the second of Tam's subtitles is found wanting.

In putting "clean up your own mess" in quotation marks, Tam is signifying to her reader that she ought to know who issued this mandate. I do follow current affairs quite closely, but I don't know the source of the quote - I'm assuming it's someone senior from Beijing?

And it doesn't help that it's not clear straight away to whom Beijing issued the order. The reader could have guessed the directive was meant for the Hong Kong government, but Tam could have relieved her reader of the strain of guesswork by writing (here I'm combining the first subtitle with the second one) "Beijing's patience towards the Hong Kong government running low as the police and the protesters remain locked in combat."

1.  Hong Kong, "Asia's world city", has become the battleground for a new type of urban "guerilla warfare" – defiant anti-government protesters have adopted a "flash mob" strategy, as evidenced in their hit-and-run rampage against police across several districts over the weekend.

Tam exhibits scant understanding of when the use of "the" is called for: a "the" is missing between "rampage against" and "police."

I must say I'm  bewildered by Tam's enthusiasm for quotation marks - there are a whopping three pairs in this 41-word paragraph. Outside the purpose of indicating direct speech, one should use quotation marks sparingly, for they may create confusion. As we have seen in the "clean up your own mess" example, in unskilled hands, quotation marks distract the reader by making her wonder whether the quoted matter came from a source she ought to have known.

Tam's description of the protesters as "defiant" seems to me a mark of her insensitivity to the nuances of the English Language. "Defiant" has a positive connotation; since, as a known pro-Beijing figure, Tam has no intention of painting the protesters as heroes, she should have used a word with negative undertones - I would have used "unruly." 

I'd hesitate to describe the protesters' clashes with the police as "hit-and-run rampage(s)." "Hit and run" is associated with serious injuries, if not death; "rampage" implies unchecked violence on an extensive scale. Even readers with pro-government sensibilities should agree that neither is an accurate characterization of what the protesters have been committing. 

The following less-is-more approach would have allowed Tam to remain safely Beijing-friendly without putting off readers who are somewhat sympathetic towards the protesters:

"Hong Kong's reputation as Asia's world's city is fast losing its luster, as rioters transform the once smooth-running financial hub into a launching pad for their cat-and-mouse game with the police, causing public disorder in one district, only to evade capture and re-surface in another part of town to repeat their misdeeds." 

Notice I've managed to express Tam's meaning without resorting to quotation marks.

2. Police have been changing tactics as well, standing firmer and rejecting most rally applications, which has seen all those angry young people continue to take to the streets in gatherings that are officially illegal.

Paragraph 2 sees yet another odd omission of "the" - it should have been "THE police have been changing tactics as well."

"Which has seen all those angry young people continue to take to the streets in gatherings that are officially illegal" -  not only is this phrase clunky; it also raises a question Tam fails to answer. Did young people take to the streets because of the rally ban or in spite of it?

Tam could have sidestepped the burden of delving into the motivations of youngsters by writing:

"In a move designed to deter youths from continuing to wreak havoc, the police have been rejecting most rally applications, therefore effectively making it illegal for people to gather in public in large numbers."

3.The past week also saw an "awakened" Hong Kong government becoming publicly visible again, after Beijing began mobilising its forces in the city to counter the protest narrative and issued instructions to restore order in the city.

"An 'awakened' Hong Kong government becoming publicly visible again" - so much huffing and puffing about so little. If something is visible, then it's in the public eye. And if the government is appearing in public, then presumably it has already awakened. I would simply have written "This past week also saw the Hong Kong government coming out of its hiding." 

Tam's timidity around English often causes her to send mixed signals to her readers. "Beijing began mobilising its forces in the city" is a case in point; the phrase is likely to conjure up in her reader's mind an image of Beijing lining up its army along the streets of Hong Kong in a  brash display of might. Only later in the column can the reader be certain that the "forces" Tam has in mind isn't of the military type.

Paragraph 3 contains another flaw: Tam fails to elucidate the relationship between Hong Kong's government reappearance and the Beijing maneuverings she described. To whom did Beijing issue instructions to restore order to the city? If it was to Lam's administration, why not say this outright?

My rewrite: 

"This past week, not only did Beijing urge the Hong Kong government to come out of its hiding. The central government also began calling upon its multitudes of supporters in the city to work on restoring order."

4.But the impasse remains, with no sign of a compromise from any side and no light at the end of the tunnel.

"No sign of a compromise from ANY side" should have been "no sign of a compromise from EITHER side."

5. With an embattled chief executive and an exhausted police force struggling to end the chaos, Beijing now feels obliged to step in, especially upon seeing a direct challenge to its sovereignty through the desecration of the national emblem and Chinese flag by protesters.

"Beijing now feels OBLIGED to step in" should have been "Beijing now feels OBLIGATED to step in"; We use "obliged" when we want to signal our wish to repay a favour, "obligated" when we are morally or legally bound to do something. Since in paragraph 5,  the matter Beijing stepped in to safeguard was national honor, Tam should have used "obligated."

"Especially upon seeing a direct challenge to its sovereignty through the desecration of the national emblem and Chinese flag by protesters" is a really clumsy way to express a simple matter; we have to read till the end to find out who caused the offence. I'd suggest the following rewrite, which, in addition to being clearer, has the added advantage of making the same content seem more interesting than it really is:

"An embattled chief executive and an exhausted police force were already prompting Beijing to wonder whether it should play a more active role in tackling the protests, but it was the protesters' desecration of the Chinese flag that finally galvanized it into action - not defending national honour was simply not an option."

6. Zhang Xiaoming, one of Beijing's top officials in charge of Hong Kong affairs, declared in Shenzhen last week that the central government would have "multiple means and enough force" to tackle the mayhem,  which he described as "the most serious situation in Hong Kong" since the handover in 1997.

Shouldn't have Tam provided more information about the meeting in Shenzhen? Whom did Zhang speak to? Without more information about the gathering, it's not easy for the reader to gauge the gravity of Zhang's words.

About the protests  being "'the most serious situation in Hong Kong'since the handover in 1997" - I consulted Chinese language news reports on Zhang's speech, and discovered the Chinese original to be「香港正面臨回歸以來最嚴峻的局面」. Tam's translation is too abstract  for my taste - "serious situation" can cover an overwhelmingly large number of circumstances.The following version can convey something of Zhang's tone of voice: "Never has there been a time since the 1997 handover when Hong Kong came so perilously close to losing its footing."

My rewrite of the whole paragraph:

"As part of its effort to switch to a more assertive approach, Beijing asked a group of Hong Kong political heavyweights to go to Shenzhen to meet up with Zhang Xiaoming, one of the top mainland officials in charge of Hong Kong affairs. There Zhang assured them that, even though 'never has there been a time since the 1997 handover when Hong Kong came so perilously close to losing its footing,' Beijing has at its disposal 'multiple means' to subdue the rioters."

7. While many are wondering about the deployment of Chinese troops in the worst-case scenario,  it turns out that Beijing has other non-military "weapons" in its arsenal that are powerful enough to shake up the city. 

Tam seems deaf to the impact of her choice of words. Her allusion to measures that are "powerful enough to shake up the city" induces her reader to imagine in the cards schemes that will bring upon an apocalypse-level kind of change to Hong Kong. This would flatly contradict her assertion that these alternative courses of action are milder than the military one.

I would have rewritten the paragraph as follows: "While Zhang's hasn't entirely ruled out the possibility of deploying Chinese troops as a last resort, Beijing actually has recourse to less drastic measures that are still forceful enough to bring back peace to the city."

8. Cathay Pacific has become the first target, ordered by the Civil Aviation Administration of China to ban staff who took part in illegal protests and violent acts from all mainland-bound flights, or any flight though Chinese air space.

9. The regulator's drastic action against Hong Kong's flagship carrier, citing "safety and security" risks, was seen as a stern warning to other big businesses in the city of possible consequences if they were seen to support and tolerate protest violence and lawlessness.

I bet most readers have little patience for Tam's ramble on the niceties of the airline regulator's ban - why write banning staff "from all mainland-bound flight, or any flight through Chinese airspace," when banning staff "from the Chinese airspace" would do?

More seriously, Tam makes a mess of her attempt to introduce Cathay Pacific in paragraph 8 as the first company Beijing chose to make an example of. Without offering any transition from paragraph 7 to 8, she thrusts in her reader's face the phrase "Cathay Pacific has become the first target." The first target of what? Tam then tells her reader the Civil Aviation Administration of China is the author of a scheme against the airliner, but leaves her reader to figure out the whys and wherefores of this scheme.

Only in paragraph 9 does Tam supply the contextual information necessary for understanding paragraph 8.  She could have avoided creating such confusion for her reader by combining paragraphs 8 and 9:

"The case of Cathay Pacific offers a window into one such maneuver Beijing can draw on: those of the airliner's staff who have participated in the protests are recently banned by the Civil Aviation Administration of China from flying in China's air space (on the purported grounds that they are a security risk). This move serves as a stern warning to other big businesses: look the other way when your employees take part in the protests, and Beijing will see to it that your business will take a beating."

10. Another obvious method employed by Beijing is pushing Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and her administration to clean up their own mess, but simultaneously showing full support for Lam, whose popularity has plunged, as well as the embattled police force.

Yet another example of Tam's imprecise use of words: By "another obvious method employed by Beijing," I think she means "another course of action readily available to Beijing." It is small details like these that determine whether one's English is native-sounding.

Earlier on, when I commented on the column's subtitles, I said Tam shouldn't have put "clean up your own mess" in quotation marks because chances are most if not all of her readers wouldn't have known where the quote came from. In paragraph 10, Tam makes reference to the same phrase again; this time, she doesn't put it in quotes. So, does this phrase have a known origin or not?

I'm not sure what Tam means by "(Beijing) simultaneously showing full support for Lam, whose popularity has plunged, as well as the embattled  police force" - does she intend to say "the police's popularity has plunged along with that of Lam's," or "Beijing has shown support for both Lam and the police?"

I would have written paragraph 10 as follows: 

"Another course of action available to Beijing - which it proceeded to pursue readily - was to make a show of standing behind Lam's administration and, in doing so, compel it to overcome its fear of public opprobrium and venture into the limelight again."

11. It's only common sense that the other side of this "support" coin means an urgent wake-up call for action.

Here, Tam's reader has to bear with her as she attempts to be inventive in her adoption of a well-worn metaphor ("the other side of this 'support' coin"). Not only does her effect fall flat. Her effort is wasted because the whole paragraph is unnecessary - its meaning is already implied in the previous paragraph.

"An urgent wake-up call for action" - another verbose confection Tam has cooked up. It should have been either "an urgent call for action" or "an urgent wake-up call."

12.That well explains Lam's sudden return to visibility and decision to end the month-long summer break – or "summer hibernation", as some sarcastically put it – of her de facto cabinet, the Executive Council. She also asked Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po to consider rolling out contingency relief measures to help affected businesses.

"That well explains Lam's sudden return to visibility" should have been "THIS MAY WELL EXPLAIN Lam's sudden return to visibility." I suspect Tam meant to use "may well explain," but she has also vaguely heard of the expression "well-explained," and she somehow got the two mixed up.

Note the incongruity of putting in the same paragraph Lam's reappearance in public and her request to the Financial Secretary that he should consider offering contingency aid to businesses affected by the protests. Lam's weeks-long disappearing act was a serious issue, as it meant no one was at the helm of one of the world's major financial capitals while it was being rocked by the protests. Lam's truancy and a stray provisional financial aid scheme - these two matters are of such a different order of importance that Tam's mentioning of the latter strikes her reader as an out-of-place afterthought.

13. Not relying only on pushing the Lam administration, Beijing has also adopted its usual mass-mobilisation strategy to throw its weight behind a citywide anti-violence campaign.

Compare "not relying only on pushing the Lam administration" (Tam's version) with mine: "not CONTENT WITH relying only on the Lam administration." See the difference the addition of "content with" can make? My version reinforces the feeling that Tam is giving her reader access to Beijing's mind, which, after all, is what I take to be the purpose of Tam's weekly columns: to brief SCMP readers on the latest list of speech and behaviour that Beijing considers out of line.

Another observation: you often hear about the writing rule "show, don't tell"; paragraph 13 shows what happens when this rule goes unheeded. "Beijing has also adopted its usual mass-mobilisation strategy to throw its weight behind a citywide anti-violence campaign" - "throw its weight" is unnecessary because the fact that Beijing can mobilize so many people is already proof of its clout. In contrast, in my version, Beijing's hold on Hong Kong is self-evident and is therefore in no need of being spelled out: "Beijing has called on its legion of long-standing supporters to take part in a citywide anti-violence campaign."

14. It has urged the pro-establishment camp, rampant with infighting, to set aside personal interests and support the government, and applied a carrot-and-stick approach to persuade big businesses to stand up and be counted, allowing certain mainland media outlets to criticise the "collective silence" of some tycoon families on the protest crisis.

In this paragraph, Tam couches Beijing's interference in Hong Kong affairs in a flurry of metaphors  ("applied a carrot-and-stick approach to persuade big businesses to stand up and be counted"), as if hiding behind figurative language can downplay the outrage of Beijing's out-of-line behaviour. Tam actually has an impossible balance to keep: reveal too much of Beijing’s meddling, and the facade of “one country two systems” collapses;  be too coy, however, and her column can't play its role of giving guidance to those anxious to avoid offending Beijing.

Writing "certain mainland media outlets" instead of "mainland media outlets", "some tycoon families" instead of "tycoon families" only add to the overall evasive tone. But I suspect something deeper is at work here: mainland officials have the habit of using the adjective「有關」 (which roughly means "certain" in English) when referring to departments, regulations, government personnel etc; falling back on 「有關」 gives them the wiggle room to do as they like while still professing to adhere to party rules. Tam lacks the sensitivity to detect that this spillover of the use of 「有關」 in English doesn't translate well.

If I were Tam I would simply have expressed her content in straightforward English:

"Beijing has urged the pro-establishment camp, itself plagued by infighting, to put aside personal differences and stand behind Lam's government. It has also warned local tycoons with business interests in mainland against evading their duty to denounce the protests, by publishing editorials in state media reprimanding their likes for their collective silence."

15. On Saturday, when Lam picked up a phone call from the British foreign secretary demanding an explanation of the latest situation in Hong Kong, China's foreign ministry slammed Britain, saying it was wrong to exert pressure directly on Hong Kong. It was also a subtle reminder to Lam that this was a foreign affairs issue that should be tackled by Beijing.

I'm not sure what paragraph 15 is doing here. It doesn't flow logically from the previous paragraph, and beginning it with an abrupt "on Saturday" disorients the reader even further. In fact, "on Saturday" is yet another indication of Tam's lack of consideration for her reader: Her columns are published on Sundays, so chances are that when she wrote this piece on a Sunday, she was thinking of yesterday, and "on Saturday" just happened to be the first phrase that came to her. She promptly wrote it down, without pausing for a moment to put herself in her reader's shoes and weigh how "on Saturday" would come across to someone other than herself - now, I just spent 68 words trying to reconstruct the thought process that led Tam to write "on Saturday." No reader would expend that much energy on unraveling what Tam means by it. 

Paragraph 15 also advertises Tam's usual lack of attention to details: "Lam picked up a phone call from the British foreign secretary" should have been "Lam received a phone call from the British foreign secretary." Granted, in English, as a matter of custom, "picked up" and "phone" can be combined in a sentence, but it's "picked up the phone" and not Tam's "picked up a phone call". Perhaps Tam was simply writing Chinglish - she had in mind the Chinese phrase 接電話, which she then translated directly into "picked up a phone call"  (接=pick up, 電話=phone call).

16. While the directive to "clean up your own mess" is clear enough, Beijing is ironically still visibly involved in forming major strategies concerning Hong Kong.

What Tam is saying here is, in Beijing's eyes, at the end of the day, Lam's effort to clean up her own mess carries little practical value, since the regime is now all the more determined to brush her aside and control Hong Kong behind the scenes. My question to Tam is, what is so ironic about Beijing's involvement?  Surely, it's wishful thinking on Tam's part to imagine that Beijing's machinations have been largely kept under wraps, and that she's doing everyone a service by revealing them for the first time? In fact, isn't Tam's very presence at the top of SCMP's masthead compelling proof of Beijing's obsession to take over Hong Kong (by, among other things, taking over a media property)? It's so glaringly obvious that she has neither the nimbleness of mind nor deftness of pen to communicate Beijing's messages effectively (and to do whitewashing jobs when necessary), yet Beijing is willing to overlook her inadequacies because she has longstanding ties with some key party personnel

In this paragraph, Tam mentions "clean up your own mess" for the third time. The first time she alluded to this phrase she put it in quotation marks but left it unattributed. The second time the phrase cropped up (in paragraph 10), it was without quotation marks. In paragraph 16, the phrase makes its third appearance, this time in quotation marks. Even towards the end Tam seems determined to keep the source of the quote a mystery.

17. Whether we blame Beijing, Lam, the protesters, or anyone else, the reality is that the rules of the game have changed – so how do we avoid a lose-lose scenario for Hong Kong?

18. Sadly, there are no real answers yet.

Since Tam herself has made it clear that the rhetorical question she poses ("how do we avoid a lose-lose scenario for Hong Kong?") has no definite answer, she should have written "how CAN we avoid" instead of "how DO we avoid."

I must add that while working through Tam's copy, I kept thinking of Stanley Kubrick waxing lyrical over how Jack Nicholson was cut out for the role of the deranged writer in The Shining.

Kubrick said " (Nicholson) is an intelligent and literate man, and these are qualities almost impossible to act. In The Shining, you believe he's a writer, failed or otherwise." With Tam, however, things are just the opposite: no matter how much money Beijing throws at passing her off as a someone who has the poise to preside an English-language paper - Beijing's budget for overseas media expansion is a reported 45 billion yuan  - Tam will forever remain a miscast, so unschooled she is in even the most basic writing rules. I guess people who have devoted their lives proving to Beijing that they can be relied upon to do its bidding tend not to develop other (real) skills.

I offer my services as a writing coach. Interested parties please contact [email protected]

My website: https://michellengwritings.com/


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