Local Vote Sinks “English Town”

The local government in the suburban Beijing town of Miyun has voted down proposed plans to transform the town into an “English-language” tourist destination with European-style architecture and a rule against speaking Chinese, according to a government spokesman. From The People’s Daily:

Wang Haichen, the mayor of Miyun County, proposed the whimsical plan at a local congress meeting, which immediately raised controversy. The spokesman absolved him from the blame, saying it wasn’t his idea, Beijing Youth Daily reported today.

A company planned to build a large English-only community to create the illusion of being abroad, but the county government has vetoed it, the spokesman told the newspaper.

According to Wang’s earlier statement, a local village would be turned into a 67-hectare castle with 16 courtyards of English-style houses.

Before this week’s vote, the concept of an English-only tourist town generated a mix of opinion from netizens and academics, with some claiming it demonstrates a worship for foreigners and others viewing it from a pure business perspective. From XInhua News:

“‘English-language town?’ It sounds like the foreign concessions in old Shanghai that forbid Chinese people from entering,” wrote Chua Kai, a user of Sina Weibo, China’s biggest Twitter-like microblogging site.

Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociologist at Renmin University of China, however, criticized such discontent as “narrow nationalism.”

“As a business matter, the project should not be accused (of discrimination) if it obeys business laws and ethics,” said Zhou, noting that some people on the Internet often voice opinions irresponsibly.

“It is not a case of discrimination,” he said.

Foreigner Tim Gingrich writes in The Global Times that the proposal not only exposes a sensitive historical issue for China, but it also signals a lack of understanding of the role of immersion in language learning:

The fact is that simply being in a foreign language environment is not enough. There are some Chinese people who never studied overseas yet speak English better than their counterparts who studied overseas. Watching foreign films and TV shows, reading foreign books and websites – this is the best way to immerse oneself in English.

Miyun should be commended for its willingness to bring the world to Chinese people’s doorstep, even if it’s already been done online. Through the power of the Internet, Chinese Web users already have the opportunity to experience foreign cultures or spread Chinese culture, converse with their peers in English or any other language they wish to learn.

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