Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Ryan Pyle Blog: The Mother & The Message

I had an odd experience a few days ago that I felt needed to be written about. Today's blog is about an English Language sign. This sign was bright RED with large bold YELLOW letters, and it read:

"Learn the socialist concept of Honor and Disgrace, Be a Model Citizen and make Preparations for the Special Olympics World Summer Games."

I felt that the sign was very much in line with many of the signs one will come across while traveling about in China. My problem with this sign is not the fact that it exists, my problem is that this sign - about 20 meters wide - was located in full view as people exit customs and make their way to the taxi line at the Pudong International Airport.

Now, I take offense to a sign like this, and let me try to explain. I live in Shanghai and I call the city my home. It's not my home away from home, it is home. I have no plans of ever leaving. My committment to documenting the country is most serious. And in many ways I feel proud of Shanghai and how the city has developed. Of course there are numerous problems, some serious, some not so much - but it is home none the less and most importantly, Shanghai is the show case city of China. What really gets under my skin is that the sign is embarrassing. As I stood in the Pudong airport arrivals terminal, my mother is making her first trip to China, I listened to people as they were arriving from around the world look up, point and snicker at this sign. I felt as though it was 1972 because the sign seemed to belong to something of that era. The economy of China is changing, but how are the thoughts of government officials and political leaders changing? And crucially, how could anyone put up a sign like that in such a crucial location? It boggles my mind.

Secondly, I take offense to this sign is as an English speaker. If you look at the wording of the sign it is obvious to see that someone has done an exact, awkward translation of the Chinese characters. It's a shame. China courts Foreign Direct Investment with a vengeance. The country is on a Public Relations mission like no other country in history and yet the first thing business persons and tourists see when they arrive in Shanghai is a sign like that, a throwback to the days of Chairman Mao. If China wanted to promote the Special Olympics in Shanghai in 2007 I am sure they could find a much more slick and interesting approach. But then again, the sign outraged me enough to blog about it - so perhaps then the sign is creating a buzz, but for all the wrong reasons.

To conclude, China is an odd country where things don't always make sense, and this sign falls firmly in to this category. It's a reminder that no matter how many flashy buildings are built in Shanghai, or even that the country will grow this year at 10+% again this year - this sign is a reminder that the thought process of those people who run this country lags at least 10 years behind the people you meet on the streets, and perhaps 20-30years behind the people who visit China for work or leisure. The Communist Party is finding itself ever more isolated in its thought and politics, and signs like this are just another painful example of that.

Ryan Pyle
Skype: ryanpyle

1 comment:

  1. I have a feeling this post was the sole reason your blog was blocked.



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