In Beijing, Orwell Goes to the Olympics – Ross Terrill

Author Ross Terrill discusses the government’s efforts to present a happy face (which speaks good ) for the Olympics and argues for depoliticization of the 2008 Games:

The penalty for “Chinglish” is usually humiliation, not incarceration. Still, citizens are asked to snitch, Mao-era style, on people who shame China with their shaky English. An outfit called the Beijing Speaks Foreign Languages Program issues prefabricated foreign phrases to workers who cannot converse in any foreign tongue. The Olympics have become one more tool in the authoritarian state’s box of tricks.

Yes, curbing Chinglish ” along with current efforts to eliminate spitting, littering and pushing to enter a bus or train ” shows the better side of authoritarianism. Clean streets are agreeable, and Beijing’s may now be better than New York’s. The city’s Spiritual Civilization Office has begun a monthly “Learn to Queue Day,” surely welcome to all who have been victims of the scramble to board a Chinese bus. It reminds one that China could have a government far worse than it has now.

Yet behind the attack on Chinglish lies an Orwellian impulse to remake the truth. [Full text]