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Black and White Cat › How the New York Times (should have) covered the Olympics
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How the New York Times (should have) covered the Olympics

*Update: See postscript at the end of this entry

After seven grinding exciting years of preparation, the Olympics are mercifully sadly over. So what did the foreigners think of it all? The “western media” are sometimes accused of prejudice against China, focusing too much on the negative and ignoring the positive. Not so Charles McGrath of the New York Times who had nothing bad at all to say about the Beijing Olympics. At least he didn’t have anything bad to say after the Beijing Evening News had got through translating and improving his work, in the style of Xinhua’s One-Edged Double-Edged Sword.

Original New York Times article (English).
Beijing Evening News translation/redaction (Chinese).

Beijing Puts On Happy Face for Games, Without Wrinkles
Beijing gives the world some youth and a smile

An August 11 New York Times report says: No one knows for sure how many people live in China, but the population is at least 1.3 billion. And thanks to increased longevity and the one-child policy family planning rules, it is quickly aging. Demographers estimate that bBy 2050, more than a quarter of the people in China will be 60 or older.

Visitors to the Olympics, however, can be forgiven for thinking are discovering that China is a land of unnatural youthfulness where it seems nobody is older than 30. About 100,000 volunteers, wearing blue “Beijing 2008” shirts, are working at these Games, staffing the stadiums, gymnasiums and security stations, driving golf carts, answering questions or just standing around and greeting people — “communicating smile and building harmony,” in the words of a Beijing organizing committee news release. all of them wearing a smile. Close to 90 percent of them are in their 20s. Older Chinese, and there are plenty in Beijing, are mostly out of sight.

All Olympics are a little unnatural, of course: they are biennial intervals of make-believe when the world pretends to be a happier and friendlier place. And New York Times reporter Charles Mcgrath says all Olympics depend on volunteers, high school and college students especially. At tThe 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, for example, enlisted squads of smiling, bright-eyed students from Brigham Young and the other local universities they welcomed the whole world with smiling faces.

But the Beijing Olympics are remarkable for the immense number of young people working at the Games, seemingly all of them cheerful, polite, friendly and determined to create a good impression.

“We want to let the world know that China is powerful and that the Chinese people are very friendly,” said Wang Fei, a 20-year-old college sophomore who was working at the newsstand in the news media center.

The volunteers are part of a much larger script for what may be the most carefully stage-managed spectacle in Olympic history — a grand-scale version of the opening ceremony, intended to demonstrate to the world, and even to the Chinese, that the country has finally arrived as a world-class actor.

For one thing, Tthe stage set has been expanded to include not just the various sports venues but the entire city of Beijing. The beggars and the homeless have been rounded up and banished from the streets. People have been urged to quit smoking and spitting, and to adopt the Western custom of standing in line for a bus, instead of jostling.

Entire neighborhoods, especially some of the mazelike alleys known as hutong, have been razed to make way for newer, less-unsightly There are big, modern apartment blocks. And some 40 million plants have been placed along the road to the airport and in baskets along the downtown medians. It is as if the city has been hermetically sealed in a way that would eliminate anything unpleasant cheerfulness permeates the entire city.

The organizers have not entirely succeeded in controlling the climate or Beijing’s smog problem, nor were they able to make good on their promise to teach all the cabdrivers basic English. But not for want of trying.

Traffic has been cut in half by allowing only cars with license plates ending in an even number to drive one day, and cars with odd-numbered plates the next. Roads have been shut down in the areas where many of the events are taking place. Some roads have been shut down because it is necessary for the events. Earlier in the summer, climatologists were even shooting rockets tipped with silver iodide into the clouds in an attempt to seed them.

Security personnel are everywhere: white-shirted security guards; the regular, blue-uniformed traffic cops; and the hard-to-miss fully armed armed police who stand at attention for hours, looking straight ahead, with their arms rigidly at their sides. Yet the police presence is not nearly as intrusive as it was at the Seoul Olympics in 1988, when pedestrians were herded along with batons.

This may be one of the government’s shrewdest touches of stagecraft, even after the stabbing of an American tourist at the Drum Tower — to make the massive security presence seem not invisible, exactly, but unthreatening. A few of the stern, impassive armed police were even seen to smile on occasion.

Journalists, about whom the government seemed so wary before the Games — shutting down their access to human-rights Web sites and those critical of China — have been practically pampered.

But it is the legions of volunteers who make the greatest impression, and who seem to be sending the strongest message about how China wishes to be perceived striving to convince us that China longs to be understood. This is the face the country is showing to the world: young, eager, proud and patriotic. China is, without doubt, a youthful and energetic country.

Most of the volunteers are college students, and many are from Beijing; they can return to their dormitories at the end of their 12-hour shifts, unless, as often happens, there is overtime. The college population is a logical resource for any organization that needs to round up a lot of willing help. As one volunteer, who declined to give her name, pointed out said: “I feel like everyone from my college who applied got this position to be a volunteer. After all, we are young and full of passion, which is all it takes to be a volunteer.”

But that there are so many of them, and that they are so focused on their task, is no accident. There are few middle-age volunteers, in part, perhaps, because people in their 40s and 50s have lived through some of China’s political upheavals and have more complicated feelings about the country than the patriotic young. Here, it is not uncommon for help-wanted ads to specify that applicants must be attractive or of a certain height. Employers are accustomed to finding exactly what they are looking for.

Almost a million people applied to be volunteers; a tenth of them were chosen. Successful applicants had to pass two rounds of written examinations and interviews. Tony Qi, who is working as a driver, said he had to pass tests in English, in driving skill and in knowledge of the Olympics.

Volunteers with the best linguistic skills appear to have been assigned the best jobs — the indoor ones, interacting with the news media. Those less fluent were put on traffic or security detail and stand out in the smog all day.

But almost Eeveryone knows at least “Hello,” “O.K.” and “Have a good day,” so it’s possible for English-speaking visitors to have friendly conversations not much different from the ones they have in the elevator every morning back home making English speaking visitors all feel at ease.

The volunteers are so polite and friendly, in fact, that it can be a little disconcerting. It would be Stepford-like if the eagerness to please were not so seemingly genuine. A volunteer called Qi is in his 40s and thus a little long in the tooth for a volunteer, though not as much as 87-year-old Sun Fangchu, an engineer working at the Bird’s Nest. Qi is a sales manager for Nestle, and he gave up his 10-day annual leave to work at the Olympics.

“We have been waiting for seven years,” he said. “We feel it’s really an honor to do something for our country.”

Volunteer Wang Fei said: “We have great patience. To serve people foreign friends is our pleasure.”

Unscripted bursts of patriotism have been happening all over the city. On Thursday night, a toll-taker at the Beijao exit off the airport expressway was making a shy but earnest effort to speak English to foreign motorists. She had been issued a traditional satin blouse for the Olympics, and her booth had been retrofitted to make it look like a pagoda. Flight attendants on a Hainan Airlines flight from Shanghai to Beijing were handing out small Chinese flags and cheering, “Go China!”

During the opening ceremony Friday, about 50 volunteers spontaneously gathered by a big flat-screen television in the news media center and sang as the Chinese national anthem was playing while taking and took pictures of themselves and of the screen with their cellphone cameras together.

Even the very young have been pressed into taken part in voluntary service. In the elementary schools, students have been studying and preparing for the Olympics and for years. Each school has adopted one of the visiting teams and has learned all about that country.

At the Tianhua a pPrimary sSchool in Beijing, for example, the students were becoming experts on Botswana; they knew that the people ate corn and that their favorite animal was the bull. Some were learning how to cheer — it is a good thing to applaud when the Botswanans play well, but not when the other team stumbles — and to sing Botswana’s national anthem. Lucky students would even attend the Games and help fill the stands.

The point of the exercise, Chinese officials said, is not just to reward the children, but to demonstrate that China’s might does not stop on the playing fields. It also extends to the classroom. ….The Chinese government believes this complements both the classroom, and also extends the playing fields.

“I believe it is the biggest public education campaign that history has ever seen,” said Jiang Xiaoyu, the executive vice president of the Beijing organizing committee.

Wang Hui, the director of the organizing committee’s media and communications department, said, “Our strength is our numbers, and with our people, we can do anything.”


When I was putting this post together, I originally intended to add a few thoughts and caveats. As it turned out, though, Internet access to a number of sites (eg. ESWN, China Law Blog, Zhongnanhai and my own blog) was cut on my ISP in Beijing for about eight hours, meaning I had to do all the editing via a very slow proxy. By the time I finished, I decided enough was enough and that I would add my own thoughts later.

CTENBP, in the comments below, raises one of the points I was going to make myself: translating between two very different languages means that an idea will often have to be expressed in a different way if it is to communicate the same thing. One very clear example of this in the article above occurs in the very first paragraph: the one-child policy is a misnomer, but it is the term known in English. In Chinese it is referred to, more correctly, as the family planning policy. For that reason, it would have been better to have left the original phrase untouched.

Another aspect I was planning to mention has been pointed out by Imagethief - also in comments below: some of the deletions and paraphrasing would have simply been due to space requirements - something all newspapers have to deal with anywhere. (Correction: Imagethief was joking - see second comment by Will.)

One thing I hadn’t planned, though, was to accidentally delete two phrases that are in fact in the Beijing Evening News: 抑或是仅仅向外国友人表示欢迎 (”or just standing around and greeting people”) and 中国人民对于自己国家的热爱和自豪 (”This is the face the country is showing to the world: young, eager, proud and patriotic”). Many thanks, CTENBP, for pointing these out - I’m embarrassed that I missed these.

However, caveats aside, one overwhelming fact remains: every single statement that could possibly be seen as negative - and there’s quite a lot - has been expunged from the Beijing Evening News article, and almost every nuanced phrase that carries any negative connotations has been turned into one of unqualified praise. In some instances, this can simply be error (as with my own unfortunate mistakes). But genuine errors cannot always be in one direction. The New York Times article expresses admiration for some aspects of Beijing’s preparations, disapproval of other aspects and also a slightly disoriented mixture of the two. There is no way the Beijing Evening News article could in any way be said to have remotely reflected this. And it cannot be called a summary if it does not actually summarize the original.

It should go without saying that similar examples of misrepresentation can be found in European and American reports.


  1. padu wrote:

    A full text of the Dalai’s 1951 telegram to Mao:

    “Chairman Mao of the Central People’s Government:

    This year the local government of Tibet sent five delegates with full authority headed by Kaloon Ngapoi to Beijing in late April 1951 to conduct peace talks with delegates with full authority appointed by the Central People’s Government.

    On the basis of friendship, delegates on both sides concluded the Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet on May 23,1951.

    The local government of Tibet as well as the Tibetan monks and laymen unanimously support this agreement, and under the leadership of Chairman Mao and the Central People’s Government, will actively assist the People’s Liberation Army in Tibet to consolidate national defence, drive imperialist influences out of Tibet and safeguard the unification of the territory and the sovereignty of the motherland. I hereby send this cable to inform you of this. “

    Thursday, August 28, 2008 at 2:31 pm | Permalink
  2. otherlisa wrote:

    Oh, snork! As a long-time traveler to China and Beijing (since 1979), I had to go see the Olympics, and in many regards it was a truly lovely experience, and really impressively executed. Yet you’ve managed to capture the contradictions simply by presenting the two versions of this story - kudos to you, and please keep up the wonderful work.

    Thursday, August 28, 2008 at 3:48 pm | Permalink
  3. Will wrote:

    Don’t be too hard on the Beijing Evening News. I’m sure they were editing solely for word-count.

    Thursday, August 28, 2008 at 5:52 pm | Permalink
  4. Dongdong wrote:

    I am dizzy from reading that.

    Thursday, August 28, 2008 at 6:43 pm | Permalink
  5. Nice one. Well done!
    Very harmonious indeed.

    Thursday, August 28, 2008 at 7:10 pm | Permalink
  6. FOARP wrote:

    Amazing, just amazing. They even changed the quotes, thus totally burning the journalist who collected them. Given the way in which the article has been substantially copied by the newspaper, and the changes made were presumably made without permission of the author, you have to wonder what kind of legal options might be available.

    Thursday, August 28, 2008 at 10:37 pm | Permalink
  7. Shijieren wrote:

    Great post. I just wonder why they go to these lengths to shift the goalpost. I mean, if you want favourable (even gushing) “foreign” opinion of the Olympics, there’s plenty of it out there. Wouldn’t it have been easier to just translate one or more of those? Why go to such elaborate lengths, pick an article that is somewhat nuanced, and translate selectively and unfaithfully to convey a wholly different perspective from what the author intended… That just beats me.

    Thursday, August 28, 2008 at 10:58 pm | Permalink
  8. chinese buddhist wrote:

    NYT article? Who cares? SOUR GRAPES, I’d say!

    Thursday, August 28, 2008 at 11:02 pm | Permalink
  9. MAC wrote:

    Hahahaha, I sometimes do these side-by-side comparisons for kicks (it would be good to put them up, but frankly, I’m lazy) but this is just about one of the most shameless I’ve ever seen. They might as well just make up their foreign praise.

    Friday, August 29, 2008 at 12:23 am | Permalink
  10. no matter wrote:

    Don’t be too sensitive to the translation. Translated articles of one media agency by another agency can never be literal. I would say some of the words in the original article is not accurate and a change of order is necessary to convey the meaning.

    Friday, August 29, 2008 at 2:29 am | Permalink
  11. Kiss of X wrote:

    The disconcerting part - is that most Chinese willingly embrace these stereotypes and assumptions without examination. As if being right is a natural racial entitlement. China is the most racist country I’ve ever seen but it doesn’t even get talked about. Generally speaking, ingroup good, outgroup bad - in all things, even observations of the obvious. In China, if something doesn’t endorse racial superiority of the Han, it is “racist”. It is supremely condescending in its anticipation of all the foreigner’s needs and thoughts and ideas. But this is a cultural vestige from ancient times - one it needs to shake off.

    But sounding off about “minorities” and “foreigners” being mocked, ridiculed, undermined and invalidated on a daily basis by so many locals, is… culture shock? It’s a cozy delusion, that racial entitlement. The world isn’t divided into “Chinese” and “Foreign”, but you see how that language manipulation works? It forces things on those terms. Look at Wang Wei’s stereotypical counterassertions during the sporadic IOC press briefings. It’s as if convictions would make something true. Personally I see on a daily basis the soporific lure of unexamined self-serving stereotypes - in which all foreign things are “crazy”, but let’s be gracious about it. Claptrap.

    The Chinese government doesn’t want people drawing conclusions. It wants to shape all the ideas in its own contexts.

    But the universe is old, in which a nation merely flickers like a candle.

    Now I understand the development of Zen a bit more. The mind that does not seize its own conclusions or constructs. I understand its historical context a bit more.


    Friday, August 29, 2008 at 4:14 am | Permalink
  12. Wei wrote:

    Here’s Western Media at work…after a full week of screaming fakes, you have this after the games…

    SYDNEY (AFP) - Eight years after it hosted an Olympics that were famously hailed as the “best games ever,” Sydney has had to confess that it faked one of the key musical performances at the opening ceremony in 2000.


    The revelation came after it emerged that nine-year-old Lin Miaoke was just lip-synching when she “sang” a patriotic song before 91,000 people and a global television audience during the August 8 opening ceremony at the Beijing Games.

    Orchestra bosses have admitted that the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO) mimed its entire performance at the ceremony, and that some of the real music was in fact recorded by rival musicians in Melbourne.

    “It was all pre-recorded and the MSO (Melbourne Symphony Orchestra) did record a minority of the music that was performed,” SSO managing director Libby Christie told Australia’s Fairfax newspapers earlier this week.

    “It’s correct that we were basically miming to a pre-recording,” she said.

    The respected orchestra gave the fake performance because Olympics organisers “wanted to leave nothing to chance” and a second orchestra was found to record the backing tape because of a “mountainous workload” in Sydney, Christie said.

    The admission has columnists in Melbourne — which has a longstanding rivalry with glitzier Sydney — crowing over the fact that its musicians ghosted a crucial performance by their arch-rivals.

    The head of the MSO confirmed the performance had been pre-recorded but defended the move, saying it was “purely a workload issue” and in no way reflected on the relative quality of either orchestra.

    “It’s nothing to do with priorities or which orchestra is better. It was decided to split (the work) between the two orchestras,” he said.

    “It’s quite a normal practice and if the Olympics had been in Melbourne, the Sydney Symphony would have been involved — I’m sure of that.”

    Christie said the Sydney orchestra had very rarely mimed performances but had done so at the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Sydney, while the MSO said it had used a backing tape at the opening ceremony of the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

    Beijing Olympic officials went on the defensive two weeks ago when it was revealed that pigtailed Lin Miaoke, who became a celebrity in China after her performance, had not actually done the singing.

    It later emerged the real voice belonged to chubby seven-year-old Yang Peiyi, who was deemed not attractive enough to go on stage, and that the switch was ordered by a politburo member of China’s ruling Communist party.

    Friday, August 29, 2008 at 5:39 am | Permalink
  13. ctenbp wrote:

    Dear rob,

    I find your post adroitly misleading, if not dishonest. Do you really believe that round-trip translation should give back the original text? Come on, you know very well that the Chinese language is despairingly different from English in so many ways. And your translation/redaction is not that faithful either. Some clauses, like 抑或是仅仅向外国友人表示欢迎的, or 中国人民对于自己国家的热爱和自豪, have simply gone missing in your translation. How honest is that? Beijing Evening News is the lesser to blame, as their opening “New York Time report says” (there’s neither a colon nor capitalization that follows) clearly warns the reader that they are only presenting a summary.

    Friday, August 29, 2008 at 6:22 am | Permalink
  14. Laozhang wrote:

    It’s just a summary translation, or “编译”in Chinese. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s stupid to compare it with the orginal.

    Friday, August 29, 2008 at 7:59 am | Permalink
  15. rob wrote:

    Thanks for pointing out those mistakes, CTENBP. I’ve added a postscript, saying where I agree with you and where I disagree.

    Friday, August 29, 2008 at 8:16 am | Permalink
  16. mjo wrote:

    What a great post. Thanks for your time and efforts, via proxy. It’s much appreciated.

    We all, I suppose, know how the official media operates here. But seeing it’s work in such a clear and crude form is something else.

    Friday, August 29, 2008 at 8:33 am | Permalink
  17. Publicity Department wrote:

    To: No Matter

    Please note that 5 jiao has been deposited in your account no: 598xx98

    Please check your account balance and confirm receipt.

    Publicity Department

    Friday, August 29, 2008 at 9:48 am | Permalink
  18. Neo wrote:

    That is really interesting.

    Friday, August 29, 2008 at 10:23 am | Permalink
  19. Will wrote:

    @Rob: With regard to the postscript, actually I was being sarcastic. While I imagine at least some of the cuts were for space, there’s also do doubting the complete and obvious reorientation of the tone of the article. Apologies if my snark didn’t come through clearly. Good post, by the way.

    Friday, August 29, 2008 at 12:30 pm | Permalink
  20. MAC wrote:

    It’s just a summary translation, or “编译”in Chinese. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s stupid to compare it with the orginal.

    That’s bullshit and you know it.

    Friday, August 29, 2008 at 1:20 pm | Permalink
  21. Edo River wrote:

    As a former journalist (small town, USA) I am of two minds about this. First it is pretty obvious that the Chinese press wants to use the prestige of the NY Times to puff up China’s reputation. This is the bottom line. All comments quibbling about back translations, lack of quote marks, are just debating the crumbs of the issue. Second no one is surprised, because the Chinese gov. is so one sided anyway. What would really be newsworthy is if they were honest about some problem, before the issue was discovered by the foreign press. THAT WOULD BE NEWS! So, documenting and preserving this as an example to those who will not admit to anything unless the proof is there in black and white is necessary, but rather “ho-hum”. I admire your efforts.

    Secondly, all journalists want the elbow room to “sneak” or “imply” their true feelings and opinions on a straight news story (just the facts-haha). We all know how to use a carefully placed adjective or better yet, what we don’t say (a la Beijing Evening News). And eventually, enough is enough, these guys need to be called out occasionally because one desire leads on to another, and pretty soon……

    Kiss of X, you have my and our sympathies. It may have done you good to get this off your chest (are you female?) But, we all know this is part of the package. This is something we can’t change any more than we can change the gov. Just being there (or here, in my case) counts for something, eventually. We can’t whine and complain about it more than once in a …… Take a break, get out of the country for a day or two. Changes are happening….just we won’t see it in our lifetime.

    Friday, August 29, 2008 at 9:21 pm | Permalink
  22. I work for the New York Times Company and spend what feels like 90% of my working life cutting NYT stories for the International Herald Tribune.
    You don’t summarize news stories like this. It’s against all basics of good journalism. You either write your own article and quote or paraphrase other sources. Or you “run the top,” meaning you just use the first few paragraphs. Or you “cut from the bottom.” In any case, you keep big chunks of text. You don’t delve into sentences and paragraphs, deleting bits you don’t like and changing the entire angle of the story. There’s a big difference between editing for space and censorship.
    And, no, it has nothing to do with translation.
    You can translate from English to Chinese and still be relatively accurate. Don’t tell me there’s no Chinese term for “razing hutongs.”

    @ Wei — As for the Aussie fake music thing — yes, that is exactly how Western journalism works. It brings out problems, issues, contradictions and scandal in all countries. Some are major issues, some is trivia. This idea that only China is picked on is wrong. You do something wrong in Australia, America or England, and readers / viewers hear about it. Criticism is not some China-specific Western conspiracy. It’s the way the media world works all over the world.

    Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 3:54 am | Permalink
  23. David Eaves wrote:

    So who gave McGrath license anyway, to badmouth the Beijing Olympics that way? He deserves to be ignored, rather than translated.

    Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 8:25 am | Permalink
  24. george wrote:

    It is obvious to most Chinese what #9 pointed out is true. Also I want to point out that the Chinese one is obviously an indirect citations - means you cite one o the author’s ideas/view to present the new ‘idea’ - that is why the title is changed a little. And if you translate word for word it would be very bad literally due to ill-fitting to Chinese customs and cultures.

    Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 12:31 pm | Permalink
  25. george wrote:

    Also to mosy of Chinese, if you can’t tell what it is “black/white/ else’, you will be seen as a troble-maker, wasting reader’s time since anyone can say ‘I am not sure’….
    NYT for American readers are fine but the translation is for Chinese readers…
    The CCP did a good job to fight against warmongering and hatre-creating stuffs, I would say.

    Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 12:40 pm | Permalink
  26. Francis wrote:

    as a chinese i feel very happy and pride! tnank you!

    Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 3:25 pm | Permalink
  27. momo wrote:

    Since we are on translations, I was sent this version of Thomas Friedman’s op-ed on Beijing Games, US and Iraq.


    There goes the ‘hood



    > A wake-up call for America
    By Thomas L. Friedman
    > BEIJING: After attending the spectacular closing ceremony at the Beijing Olympics and feeling the vibrations from hundreds of Chinese drummers pulsating in my own chest, I was tempted to conclude two things: ‘Holy mackerel, the energy coming out of this country is unrivalled.’ And,
    two: ‘We are so cooked. Start teaching your kids Mandarin.’
    However, I’ve learnt over the years not to over-interpret any two-week event. Olympics don’t change history. They are mere snapshots - a country posing in its Sunday best for all the world to see. But, as snapshots go, the one China presented through the Olympics was enormously powerful - and it’s one that Americans need to reflect upon this election season.

    China did not build the magnificent US$43 billion (S$61 billion)
    infrastructure for these Games, or put on the unparalleled opening and closing ceremonies, simply by the dumb luck of discovering oil.
    No, it was the culmination of seven years of national investment, planning, concentrated state power, national mobilisation and hard work.
    Seven years…Seven years…Oh, that’s right. China was awarded these
    Olympic Games on July 13, 2001 - just two months before 9/11.
    As I sat in my seat at the Bird’s Nest, watching thousands of Chinese dancers, drummers, singers and acrobats on stilts perform their magic at the closing ceremony, I couldn’t help but reflect on how China and America have spent the last seven years: China has been preparing for the Olympics;
    > we’ve been preparing for Al-Qaeda. They’ve been building better stadiums,subways, airports, roads and parks. And we’ve been building better metal detectors, armoured Humvees and pilotless drones.
    The difference is starting to show. Just compare arriving at La Guardia’s dumpy terminal in New York City and driving through the crumbling infrastructure into Manhattan with arriving at Shanghai’s sleek airport and taking the magnetic levitation train, which uses electromagnetic propulsion
    instead of steel wheels and tracks, to get to town in a blink.
    Then ask yourself: Who is living in the Third World country?
    Yes, if you drive an hour out of Beijing, you meet the vast dirt-poor Third World of China. But here’s what’s new: The rich parts of China, the modern parts of Beijing or Shanghai or Dalian, are now more state-of-the-art than rich America. The buildings are architecturally more interesting, the wireless networks more sophisticated, the roads and trains more efficient and nicer. And, I repeat, they did not get all this by discovering oil.
    They got it by digging inside themselves.
    I realise the differences: We were attacked on 9/11; they were not. We
    have real enemies; theirs are small and mostly domestic. We had to respond to 9/11 at least by eliminating the Al-Qaeda base in Afghanistan and investing in tighter homeland security. They could avoid foreign entanglements.
    Trying to build democracy in Iraq, though, which I supported, was a war of choice and is unlikely to ever produce anything equal to its huge price tag.
    But the first rule of holes is that when you’re in one, stop digging.
    When you see how much modern infrastructure has been built in China since 2001,
    under the banner of the Olympics, and you see how much infrastructure has been postponed in America since 2001, under the banner of the war on terrorism, it’s clear that the next seven years need to be devoted to
    nation-building in America.
    We need to finish our business in Iraq and Afghanistan as quickly as possible, which is why it is a travesty that the Iraqi Parliament has
    gone on vacation while 130,000 US troops are standing guard. We can no longer
    afford to postpone our nation-building while Iraqis squabble over whether to do theirs.
    A lot of people are now advising Senator Barack Obama to get dirty with Senator John McCain. Sure, fight fire with fire. That’s necessary, but
    it is not sufficient.
    Mr Obama got this far because many voters projected onto him that he could be the leader of an American renewal. They know we need nation-building
    at home now - not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, not in Georgia, but in America.
    Mr Obama cannot lose that theme.
    He cannot let Republicans make this election about who is tough enough
    to stand up to Russia or Osama bin Laden. It has to be about who is strong
    enough, focused enough, creative enough and unifying enough to get
    to rebuild America. The next president can have all the foreign affairs
    experience in the world, but it will be useless, utterly useless, if we,
    as a country, are weak.
    Mr Obama is more right than he knows when he proclaims that this is ‘our’ moment, this is ‘our’ time. But it is our time to get back to work on the
    > only home we have, our time for nation-building in America. I never want to tell my girls - and I’m sure Mr Obama feels the same about his - that they have to go to China to see the future.

    Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 5:48 pm | Permalink
  28. Oh, for God’s sake.

    A translation is a translation. If you like the article, you translate it accurately. Like David said, if you don’t like the New York Times, or think it’s insulting or wrong, then leave it alone. Nobody is forcing you to run it in your paper.

    You don’t take someone else’s byline (name) and company, and then twist their meaning without making it clear to the reader that you’re doing that. It’s dishonest. It’s awful journalism. Either the Beijing Evening News writes its own article, or it uses the New York Times one honestly.

    Any BEN reader would assume the NYT wrote a positive article when in fact it wrote a critical one, and that’s misleading.

    The fact that readers are talking about how the “CCP did a good job to fight against warmongering and hatre-creating stuffs” shows that the newspapers in China are not about presenting opinions from independent people, but are obviously (proudly?) used by the Party to manipulate public opinion.

    Nobody assumes that the Bush administration runs The New York Times’ newsroom.

    Western media is not perfect, but it basically respects the right for someone to express themselves unimpeded by government censorship.
    China has built so much great media infrastructure — new newspapers, new magazines, new TV stations, new websites.
    But it’s clear that China’s basic understanding of copyrighted material, international commentary and honest translation is still far off from the developed world.

    Sunday, August 31, 2008 at 5:25 am | Permalink
  29. amoiist wrote:

    Hi, my friend, why not have a look at the following to see how did the editors from Huanqiu Times (环球时报,Global Times) translate the article written by Thomas Friedman.
    On some extent, you don’t have to give us such proves, because the official media just always done in this manner according to the wills of the party. Actually, it’s a well-known secret.

    Tuesday, September 2, 2008 at 10:36 pm | Permalink
  30. amoiist wrote:

    I must add one point. The propaganda goons are always self-proven no matter how many are set up calling for “balanced” reports on China and exposing the lies and distortions in the western media.

    Tuesday, September 2, 2008 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

15 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] and White Cat shows how the Xinhua has translated the New York Times Olympic Report into Chinese. Posted by Oiwan Lam  Print Version Share […]

  2. Xinhua’s creative editors » The Peking Duck on Thursday, August 28, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    […] Absolutely, totally priceless. BWC should post more often. Thank god for people who have the patience and fortitude to do work like this. Baked by Richard @ 3:28 pm, Filed under: General […]

  3. China Law Blog on Thursday, August 28, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    China: Where The News Is Always Good….

    Black and White Cat does a great job showing how China’s media sanitizes foreign media articles on China, in its post entitled, “How the New York Times (should have) covered the Olympics.” I am “speechless” not because I am surprised (I am not), b…

  4. China Journal : Best of the China Blogs: August 29 on Thursday, August 28, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    […] me a rewrite: a graphic look at how a Beijing newspaper “translated” a New York Times report on the Beijing Games. [Black and White […]

  5. Editing: Chinese style | on Thursday, August 28, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    […] tip to Peking Duck for pointing the way to this fascinating insight into the modus operandi of China’s official news agency when editing reports taken from […]

  6. The Chinese Media At Work | et cetera on Thursday, August 28, 2008 at 11:51 pm

    […] organizations, recently reprinted an article about the Olympics from the New York Times, only they changed it just a little. This isn’t surprising at all to me, since I encounter this kind of thing every single day in […]

  7. Nieuws in China is altijd positief… « 重庆报告 on Friday, August 29, 2008 at 12:11 am

    […] daarover zei (voor wie Chinees kan, oorspronkelijke versie staat hier). Best grappig eens hun post “How the New York Times (should have) covered the Olympics.” te bekijken. Grijs doorstreept is wat de Chinezen hebben weggelaten, rood is wat ze ervoor in de […]

  8. Lost In Translation « China Bystander on Friday, August 29, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    […] Comments EastSouthWestNorth led this Bystander to Black and White Cat’s post entitled “How The New York Times (should have) covered the Olympics“. It shows how the Beijing Evening News translated a New York Times piece on the Beijing […]

  9. […] Black and White Cat (BWC) took the time to compare an original English language article in the New York Times entitled “Beijing Puts on a Happy Face for Games, without Wrinkles” and a translation/redaction of the article by Beijing Evening News (zh). (h/t to China Bystander, China Law Blog, many others). BWC author Rob then translated back the Chinese article and compared against the original. In summary, according to Rob, this is what happened: However, caveats aside, one overwhelming fact remains: every single statement that could possibly be seen as negative - and there’s quite a lot - has been expunged from the [translated] article, and almost every nuanced phrase that carries any neg4tive connotations has been turned into one of unqualified praise. In some instances, this can simply be error (as with my own unfortunate mistakes). But genuine errors cannot always be in one direction. The New York Times article expresses admiration for some aspects of [the city’s] preparations, disapproval of other aspects and also a slightly disoriented mixture of the two. There is no way the [translated] article could in any way be said to have remotely reflected this. And it cannot be called a summary if it does not actually summarize the original. […]

  10. […] the wake of Black and White Cat’s excellent post and this site’s previous work on examining translations in both the Western and Chinese media, […]

  11. inappropriately diplomatic « bilingual sensitivity on Tuesday, September 2, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    […] Black and White Cat has a great post covering the edits made for the Beijing evening news to a syndicated New York Times article: Volunteers with the best linguistic skills appear to have been assigned the best jobs — the indoor ones, interacting with the news media. Those less fluent were put on traffic or security detail and stand out in the smog all day. […]

  12. Translation, Chinese-style? « Englisch Jetzt on Saturday, September 13, 2008 at 12:09 am

    […] who noticed some differences between the Chinese meaning and the English meaning of the article. If that’s unclear, here’s what […]

  13. […] via Clay Spinuzzi, this great comparison of an original NY Times piece on the Beijing Olympics, and the Chinese translation for a Chinese […]

  14. Weekly Roundup: The Games are over. on Monday, October 27, 2008 at 10:28 pm

    […] article from China Law Blog - Where the News is always good showing the differences between how one story, was printed differently in The New York Times and in the Beijing Evening News.  I found it quite […]

  15. […] schools to universities, are now teaching Chinese in language curricula (1, 2, 3) Also see this Beijing Evening News summary of a NY Times article on the Olympics. As the blogger who did the side-by-side comparisons of the article puts it, […]

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