—A Research on the Set Phrases in China’s Diplomatese
As China continues to expand its role in the international community, its diplomatese stays mechanical. Many people notice that “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people” becomes a phrase the Chinese government chooses for nearly every statement when dealing with international disagreement. For example, after French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s meeting with the Dalai Lama on December 6th, 2008, Deputy Foreign Minister He Yafei said, “The meeting grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs, severely undermined China’s core interests, gravely hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and damaged the political basis of China-France and China-EU relations.”
This kind of expression has deeply influenced the thought and expression of ordinary Chinese people. They are using it frequently, no matter genuine or with irony. Even when a pop star wore a dress resembling a Japanese military flag, the Chinese people would feel hurt.
But the phrase of “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people” was not idiomatic in China 30 years ago. During the first 30 years of P.R.C, its people seemed much “stronger” and “more mighty” than nowadays. They showed their anger and “determination to win the battle against imperialism” instead of complaining the hurt.
Based on the statistic through the archives of the CCP’s mouthpiece the People’s Daily between 1949 and 2006, the following research will reveal the change of the set phrases in China’s diplomatese when facing international disputes, and try to provide a possible explanation for this phenomenon.
The Statistic of “Hurt the Feelings of the Chinese People”
By searching through the archives of the People’s Daily with the keywords “中国人民(的)感情” (the feelings of the Chinese people) and “伤害/损害/损伤/有损/有伤” (hurt), more than 100 articles containing different forms of the statement “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people” were found. After reading and arranging them one by one, a list of 135 articles and a ranking of countries (or regions, organizations) which had “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people” were made.
- Japan: 58 times
- USA: 27 times
- NATO: 10 times
- India: 9 times
- France: 6 times
- Nobel Committee (Norway): 4 times
- Germany: 3 times
- Vatican City: 3 times
- EU: 2 times
- Guatemala: 2 times
- The other 11 countries: Indonesia, Albania, Vietnam, The Netherlands, The Philippines, UK, Nicaragua, South Africa, Denmark, Iceland, Jordan.
The list of search results can also be arranged according to the order of time (Figure 1). The figures show a sharp distinction between the Mao era (1949-1978) and the reform era (1978- ).
Between October 1949 and December 1978, the feelings of the Chinese people were hurt only three times, according to the People’s Daily.
In September 1959, when the border dispute developed between China and India, Hu Yuzhi, vice-chairman of China Democratic League stated that the anti-Chinese movement in India was “not fair to a friendly country”, and such doing hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.
The second time “the Chinese people were hurt” was in December 1959, stated by Chen Jiageng, chairman of the All-China Returned Overseas Chinese Federation, when the anti-Chinese movement broke out in Indonesia.
The third one was in July 1978, stated by Ministry of Foreign Affairs, when the Chinese government decided to stop providing aid to Albania, due to its leaders’ “malicious attacking great leader Chairman Mao and CCP in public since November 1976″.
But when the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh CPC Central Committee decided an “open door policy” of China to the “outside world” in December 1978, the figure grew quickly. Between 1979 and 2006, the feelings of the Chinese people were hurt around 5 times every year in the articles of the People’s Daily.
Up to the year 2006, there were at least 21 countries which had “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people”, covering the continents of Asia, Europe, Africa and America. Among these countries, Japan (58 times) and the U.S.A (27 times) were the unquestionable top two. But the appearance of countries such as Guatemala, Albania, Vietnam and Nicaragua on the list tells that a country does not need to be strong or crucial to successfully “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people”.
The Statistic of “Indignation”, “Anger” and “Denounce”
In order to reveal the set phrases used before 1978, the researcher referred to some articles on international disputes written in the early years of the P.R.C and fixed 3 groups of keywords to search through the archives. They were “中国人民” + “愤慨” (the Chinese people + indignation), “中国人民” + “愤怒” (the Chinese people + anger), and “中国人民” + “谴责” (the Chinese people + denounce).
The result showed an obvious difference before and after 1978 (Figure 2). Between October 1st, 1949 and December 31st, 1978, there were thousands of articles containing the selected keywords, while between January 1st, 1979 and December 31st 2006, the number of articles sharply reduced, though the lengths of time are basically the same (29.25 years and 28 years).
In many cases, the object to which the Chinese people expressed “indignation” and “denounced” was described as “imperialism and its lackeys”. The word “imperialism” was used to define “enemy states” such as U.S.A, U.K, France, Germany, Japan and so on, while the “lackeys” was the name of small pro-American countries. At the same time, so-called “Soviet revisionism” was another important target for expressing “indignation” and “denouncing”.
The Transitions of Chinese Foreign Policy: A Possible Explanation
The change from “angrily denounce” to “be gravely hurt” was so immediate, tremendous, and obviously taking the year 1978 as the separatrix. This phenomenon suggests a possible explanation: the change of set phrases in China’s diplomatese reflects the transitions of Chinese Foreign Policy.
In the Mao era, the chairman made the foreign policy and personally took part in the international reporting of the mouthpieces. At that time, the Chinese government and its people took most of the capitalism countries as “enemy states”. According to the official data provided by Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China had established diplomatic relations with only 49 countries before 1970. More importantly, in the official discourse system, “imperialism and its lackeys” were doomed to be defeated by China. Expressions as follows were seen everywhere in official propaganda organs:
“In the 1940s, Japanese, German and Italian fascism could be defeated; in the 1960s, American imperialism surely can be defeated.”
It’s hard to imagine the feelings of the people being hurt by an enemy state. The Chinese people can “denounce” the enemies and express “indignation” and “anger” to them, but being hurt by them is a kind of weakness. How can a “must-win” country and its people show weakness and frailty in front of their enemies?
Things changed after Mao’s death and the decision of “open door policy”. The number of countries having diplomatic relations with China grew to more than 160. The former “imperialism enemies” became friends instead of countries doomed to be beaten. The sharp reduce of “indignation”, “anger” and “denounce” clearly showed the change. Nowadays, these words are used to criticize public enemies such as terrorists.
But why does the Chinese government choose “hurt the feelings” as the substitute? A possible explanation lies in the cultural tradition. China’s society is based on personal feeling and human sentiment. Having hurt a friend’s feeling is severe in Chinese culture. To denounce someone hurt the feelings of somebody means a strong moral sanction.
But international affairs are not within Chinese cultural tradition. As to the western countries, complaining “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people” means nothing but “I am the weaker one”. Maybe it’s time for the Chinese government to look for another set phrase as substitute.
 Li Xiaokun. Sarkozy-Dalai meeting draws Beijing’s ire. China Daily, December 8th, 2008.
 In 2001, a woman named Zou Xue published a picture of pop star Zhao Wei wearing a dress with a Japanese military flag on the cover of Bazaar Magazine. The public saw it as a sign of disrespecting government policy, as well as the sensibilities of the Chinese. The Chinese public, sensitive over the war with Japan, responded furiously. — From Wikipedia.
 According to several memoirs, Mao not only edited the articles but also wrote comments on international disputes.
 Luo Ruiqing. The People Defeated Japanese Fascism; They Can Also Defeat American Imperialism. The People’s Daily, September 4th, 1965.