On the political English language

I recall how like four or five years ago, somebody told me that the Ministry of Education of China made English optional on the gaokao. I wonder what exactly was the rationale behind it. That was saying how English will not end up all that useful for most Chinese high school students (remember that those who immigrate to the US are a very small percentage, and that reading technical literature in English isn’t all that hard for smart people in STEM), and that time would be better spent learning more physics and chemistry as well as other non-language skills as far as economic productivity goes. This explanation certainly makes sense. China functions just fine doing everything in its own language, one notoriously difficult and complex in the eyes of outsiders. There is also that too much English might lead to more connection to America than is beneficial. On this note, I can think of how India’s English may have actually hurt it; because of it, the economy there naturally ended up depending too much on English services as opposed to actual industrial production, from which real economic power derives. Moreover, India’s English has greatly hindered her from developing a domestic internet industry, in contrast to China.

More generally, too much English inevitably leads to political brainwash. I’ve more sensitive now to how the English language, its content, style, and words in particular, has been shaped and accumulated over the years to transmit a form of political thinking and narrative in sync with the interests of the Anglo world. Politically, the English news media can be well characterized as relatively uniformly a fusion of fake left and right wing. There is remarkable consistency in how certain countries and political concepts are portrayed and explained in the English language media and education. Learning Chinese reading brought me to realize that the English narrative on China is actually quite a fake, falsified, and politically bastardized one, but most Chinese raised in America have not, sadly. There are also all kind of overused political buzzwords vague and meaningless. Freedom, democracy, dictatorship, totalitarianism, communism, etc. Nobody in China will in Chinese say, “China is a communist country.” They will instead say “China is a socialist country.” The word “communist” in English has obviously a negative connotation. Many Americans might call me a “commie,” and I simply could not give a damn. Most Chinese without exposure to this shit would go, “what the heck?” In Chinese, Marxism (马克思主义) is this political ideology, used in party rhetoric in a certain fashion. I never had any exposure to those politics classes in China where you actually learned about Marxism-Leninism, but I can be almost 100% sure that what they say of Marxism is completely different from this “cultural Marxism” in English, a political buzz term that I learned of recently, which is basically a pejorative for political correctness and multiculturalism.

I notice that I write on this blog about political matters in a way unusual in English, which is surely influenced to some degree by what I have read about such matters in the Chinese language. I must say that in the Chinese language, it is much easier politically to speak in a direct, straightforward, factually analytical manner on many matters than in English, again a product of manufacturing of various forms of political correctness in English by powerful interest groups over an extended period of time. Politically, I do see that in English, there is a strong tendency to talk around the root of problems than to analyze them in an honest manner. In other words, use of the English language has been well moulded for the purpose of fooling people.

Of course, English is the de facto international language. With that, people all over the world tend to see much more of the Anglo viewpoints. With that, people in the United States and other English speaking countries receive generally very politically biased information on a regular basis without awareness of it. Yes, there are certain points of views readily and commonly expressed in Chinese that would be very awkward to do in English, and also the other way round. So those who learn English as a second language in the formal way for academic purposes often communicate with it in a linguistic style and with word choice alien or at least unusual for the native American English speaker. And these people, as they are selected for both linguistic exposure and intelligence, tend to be those smart and learned enough to cross the often very artificially manufactured linguistic political boundaries.

I’m not sure how much the language itself shapes the political thinking through its most natural usage versus that the political forces slowly evolve the use of language to a tool for its own propaganda. I’ll say that from what I’ve seen, English is very good for fooling people by presenting a crude, superficial, distorted version of the picture. It’s good for a certain type of empty, disingenuous but glib talk that seems sufficiently effective at convincing and inspiring people with limited exposure outside the American and English language cultural and political context. It’s very good at painting a simplistically black and white, good vs evil picture of the world. It’s pretty shitty for what I would regard as genuinely powerful political and artistic expression of a more refined nature. As well as for political and historical realism, but maybe because the mass media propagandists have done their job just too well.

Oh right, I realize in English the word “propaganda” is very pejorative. In Chinese, there is no such word for “propaganda.” The closest word for it in Chinese is 宣传, which simply means “publicity,” and is more or less neutral, maybe even slightly positive. So culturally unaware Chinese made a fool of themselves by translating 中宣部 to “Propaganda Department of China,” though it seems they’ve changed that by now. Oh, there are ton of political buzzwords and slogans in Chinese too, but they’re, at least to me, far more humorous, tasteful, and powerful than what the English language can offer. I won’t go into example of that here, since this is supposed to be about the political English (not Chinese) language.