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Hu Jintao's "bu zheteng" baffles foreign media
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15:57, January 08, 2009

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During the conference held on December 18 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the reform and opening-up policy, after putting forward two major goals for the future, President Hu Jintao said that, "As long as we don't waver, don't slack off and don't ‘zheteng’ (折腾 in Chinese,get sidetracked), and as long as we firmly push forward reform and opening-up... we are certain to be able to successfully realize this grand blueprint and achieve the goals we are striving for."

Singapore's Lianhe Zaobao newspaper published an article on January 2 saying that, during the conference held by the Communist Party of China in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the reform and opening-up policy, President Hu Jintao used in his speech a phrase from a northern Chinese dialect, "bu zheteng," something which has baffled the bilingual elite of Chinese and foreign media.

In demonstrating China's firm determination to walk the road of socialism, Hu used three "don'ts" in succession, saying, "As long as we don't waver, don't slack off and don't 'zheteng,' and as long as we firmly push forward reform and opening-up and walk the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics, we are certain to be able to successfully realise this grand blueprint and achieve the goals we are striving for."

According to the article, immediately after Hu used the phrase "bu zheteng", the audience at the Great Hall of the People burst out in a simultaneous laughter. In the official occasion of announcing the path to follow for a significant development, Hu, who was serious throughout his speech, suddenly used a colloquial expression, something which clearly sounded very intimate to the audience. However, the laughter also suggests that the audience understood what "zheteng" refers to and the connotation of "bu zheteng."

The author of the article believes that, since the country was founded by the Communist Party of China, the party has taken various wrong and ineffective paths, due to domestic and international factors. All previous political campaigns, the Anti-Rightist Movement and the Great Leap Forward, led to considerable damage to the nation's political and economical development. The Great Cultural Revolution, in particular, was the most harmful. Even the resolution of the reform and opening-up policy suffered a setback after 1989 and was not resumed until Deng Xiaoping's tour of the south of China in 1992. Today, all of the twists and turns as well as the mistakes made, are referred to as "bu zheteng", referring to the fact that China will not waste time in arguments about development direction and political conflicts, which are irrelevant to the development of the economy and can cause internal frictions. As well as targeting real issues, the phrase "bu zheteng" is characterized by great subtlety and precision.

Moving forward, for the international media that want to understand the thoughts of China, how can the phrase "bu zheteng" be translated?

Readers took the initiative to find all kinds of translations on the internet, such as "don't flip flop," "don't get sidetracked," "don't sway back and forth," "no dithering," as well as "no major changes."

When the above words were mentioned in casual conversations to colleagues from the English media, all agreed that none of the translations were adequate, since they do not convey the ideas of "chaos" and "self-consumption" associated with the word "zheteng."

Interestingly, during a press conference held by the State Council Information Office on December 30, when a reporter asked about "bu zheteng", the interpreter on site directly used the Chinese pinyin "bu zheteng" when referring to the phrase, drawing another round of laughter from the audience. Afterwards, this was praised by the Chinese media in articles saying that "bu zheteng" may become a proper noun in the English language.

After spending some time working on the translation of "bu zheteng", the Chinese pinyin "bu zheteng" has become its translation. It’s not the first time for Modern Chinese words to be added to the English vocabulary. Take spaceperson for example; North Americans use the word "astronaut," the former Soviet Union uses "cosmonaut," and now, since 2003, there has been a new word in space terminology, "taikonaut" (originating from Chinese pinyin "taikong," meaning outer space), which means Chinese spaceperson. As a country's national power grows, or it receives more attention, that particular country will have the opportunity to contribute to the vocabularies of foreign languages.

The article says that despite this, the official authoritative interpretation of "bu zheteng" is still absent, probably in order to leave ambiguous room for various interpretations. On the Internet, there are articles that highly praise the phrase "bu zheteng", saying that it demonstrates the wisdom of the Communist Party of China. At the same time, there are netizens that do not accept this, with some arguing that "ordinary people just want to live a trouble-free life and do not want any unnecessary trouble."

By People's Daily Online

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