Southern Weekend: We Must Change the Way We Speak Today

An editorial from Southern Weekend looks at a new media policy in Yunnan that forbids the use of certain phrases in reporting:

The propaganda department [宣传部] of the Yunnan Provincial Party Committee recently put out a bold new media policy along these lines. As they released urgent notices regarding the turbulent events in Luliang County over the past few weeks, they also frankly criticized several media outlets for blindly catering to the local government, saying their characterization of the local people involved was formulaic and monstrous. They also stated that reports and editorials on sudden events in the future should not rashly label people as troublemakers or thugs and that they must omit or at least be more cautious about using phrases such as “people who don’t know the truth,” “ulterior motives,” and “a handful [of thugs].” The new policy was hailed as soon as it came out. The bitter dictatorship of words had gone on long enough. It was clear that people were longing for civil and legal discourse like a parched land longs for a rain shower.

China has always been a country of etiquette and as such there has always been strict rules of conduct regarding how to treat others. However, the traditional dictatorship of words was not so. It only knew to fight ruthlessly to get things done, to insult and smear people. Not only can this be seen in the list compiled by the Yunnan Province Party Committee with discriminatory phrases such as jobless persons [无业人员], it also appears from time to time in all media, public documents and legal documents. This kind of language lacks proper manners and is a mark of poor upbringing. One can say that it is not only inappropriate for modern civilization, it would also be unfitting for the last 3000 years of Chinese civilization.

Just as we parted with the old political jargon 60 years ago, we must part with the dictatorship of words of today. We must restore order to the way we use our words. This linguistic transformation is an important part of the ongoing transformation of the government. And this is exactly where the value of the media policy in Yunnan can be seen.


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