No Chinese Spoken Here

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I just heard a report on a Beijing radio station about a nearby town being turned into an English-only enclave.  Not believing my ears, I looked it up online and found that, sure enough, there is such a plan afoot.  This report from People's Daily Online (originally published In Shanghai Daily) (December 16, 2011) is succinct enough that I will quote the whole article:

Beijing's rural village recast as English town

Beijing's suburban Miyun County is going to build a large European-style town within five years and no one will be allowed to speak Chinese there, said the county mayor.

Wang Haichen said a local village would be turned into a 67-hectare English castle with 16 courtyards of unique houses. It will offer visitors souvenir passports and ban Chinese speaking to create the illusion of being abroad, Beijing News reported today.

So far 4.5 million yuan (US$708,300) has been invested to transform 16 peasant courtyards in Caijiawa Village into English-style dwellings. Wang told the newspaper that each of the 16 peasant households had received 30,000 yuan of government subsidy.

The county mayor insisted that one courtyard had been turned into a boutique hotel. "We built a laundry center to supply clean bed linens to the 16 households free of charge," Wang said. "We are considering to offer them bicycles and electric bikes next year."

At a local people's congress meeting held on Wednesday, Wang promised to transform Miyun into an international tourism and leisure attraction.

China is known for its fake Apple stores, fake Starbucks, and fake practically everything else.  In this instance, it would seem that Mayor Wang is determined to make his English castle town a consummate fake.  To tell the truth (!), the vexed dichotomy between what is real and what is false has been a major theme in Chinese literature and philosophy down through the centuries.  China's most famous novel, Hónglóu mèng 红楼梦 (A Dream of Red Mansions) is centered on the dyad of zhēn and jiǎ 真假 ("true and false"), while my favorite early Chinese thinker, Zhuāng zi 庄子, is preoccupied with shìfēi 是非 (that which can be affirmed and that which cannot be affirmed).

I have a suspicion that, if this English-only village is ever completed, visitors who enter it will succumb to anomic angst.

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20 Comments »

  1. Trimegistus said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 8:23 am

    Back in the coldest days of the Cold War there was an American urban legend that somewhere in the vastness of Russia was a replica of a typical American town where Commie spies were trained in how to live and speak like real Americans.

    If such a town actually exists, a clever entrepreneur could clean up by opening it up as a theme park.

  2. joanne salton said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 8:40 am

    They have been creating similar places in South Korea for a while now – I don't know that all that much English gets spoken in practice though.

  3. Leonardo Boiko said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 9:02 am

    I wonder if someone has compared that area of Chinese thought with Baudrillard’s philosophy.

  4. Michelle said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 9:43 am

    There is an American entrepreneur running "el pueblo inglés" in Spain, too. They supply 'real, live Americans' hungry for an unpaid vacation abroad as well. No public money involved as far as I know :)

  5. Andy Averill said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 9:44 am

    Hónglóu mèng is probably better known in English now as The Story of the Stone, the title of the superb 5-volume Penguin translation. In any event, I'd be much more excited if they were re-creating the family compound where the novel takes place, rather than yet another Authentick English theme park.

  6. Philip Newton said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 10:14 am

    They’re not going to keep the name “Caijiawa”, though, are they? It’s hardly American-tourist-pronunciation-capability compatible.

  7. NW said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 10:15 am

    Who exactly will it be ban from speaking Chinese? The Chinese inhabitants so typical of a Cotswold village? Or will they be importing all the inhabitants and staff?

  8. Jon Weinberg said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 11:55 am

    @Philp Newton: It's not for American tourists; it's for Chinese tourists, who get their vacation-in-England experience without the hassles or expense of travel abroad.

  9. John Lawler said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 12:33 pm

    Thank you for "庄子". I've admired his writings for years in translation and never knew the characters. I've just added them to my bopumofu poster at http://www.umich.edu/~jlawler/Pinyin.pdf.

  10. Marion Crane said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 3:32 pm

    I think there are a bunch of European villages in Shanghai, as well, including a Dutch one (I remember reading about it in the news, a few years ago, anyway). So I guess Jon Weinberg's got the right of it – tour Europe, without ever setting foot outside of China! I'd be sold, if I was Chinese.

  11. Peter Taylor said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 4:10 pm

    @Michelle, there are one or two pueblos in Spain which are genuinely English – so many ex-pats that they elect an English mayor.

  12. vanya said,

    December 17, 2011 @ 1:11 am

    What explains the insane fascination of Chinese with English? You would think at this point with the growth of the Chinese economy and China's role in the world, it should be obvious that Chinese don't really need English at all.

  13. Hamish said,

    December 17, 2011 @ 2:37 am

    I agree with Vanya. If I were the Chinese government, I'd be saying 'Now we're the biggest economy on the planet, the rest of the world can speak to us in Mandarin'.

  14. PXJ said,

    December 17, 2011 @ 9:15 am

    Fascinating post, but I don't understand why you would characterize it as "fake" with all the negative connotations there. One of the big problems for Chinese learners of English is the lack of a suitable immersion environment. And while the English village is clearly not being set up as a Middlebury type school, and will probably be out of most students' price range, still the possibilities are potentially interesting. In response to vanya and Hamish, English remains a prestige language in China for reasons that are actually really obvious. Western media scare stories aside, China has not "caught up" with the US in terms of quality of living, education, or in many other aspects. And its current economic success has a lot to do with its ability to do business with the US and other Western countries. So of course they want to learn English. And they do need it, to keep growing and doing business. Though of course you should all learn Mandarin. Why not? Learning another language is a good in itself, and in this case will probably be of eventual practical advantage.

  15. Thomas said,

    December 17, 2011 @ 9:28 am

    English is the language off commerce and engineering throughout the world. If the Chinese want to tank their economy they can choose to speak only Mandarin.

  16. reader said,

    December 17, 2011 @ 9:43 am

    "Now we're the biggest economy on the planet, the rest of the world can speak to us in Mandarin."

    This sort of sidesteps the underlying point. If the Chinese demand to be spoken to in Mandarin (and all else that that implies), the rest of the world will simply find another place to turn into its giant sweatshop and producer of cheap reverse-engineered merchandise. Cart, horse, castle, sand, etc.

  17. lukys said,

    December 17, 2011 @ 10:45 am

    Reminds me of that mock-up of London in Soviet Russia I've heard about (different case from what Trimegistus mentioned), where they would send people on holiday if they'd been good citizens. Except they weren't aware of the imitation in the Russian instance, as no one had really been abroad back then.

  18. Carl-Robert Hall said,

    December 19, 2011 @ 1:01 am

    A few years ago, just outside of Shanghai, I was amazed to find a compound with huge iron gates as a replica of London's Buckingham Palace. It was still being constructed so I could not get further info.

  19. Victor Mair said,

    December 19, 2011 @ 11:01 am

    This just in:

    ====

    Beijing's controversial "English-language town" abandoned – Xinhua | English.news.cn

    http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2011-12/19/c_131315757.htm

    ====

    But, if the Chinese economy keeps going forward, there will be others of this ilk.

  20. Vijay John said,

    December 21, 2011 @ 10:24 am

    @Andy: The translation of Hónglóu mèng that I'm familiar with is "Dream of the Red Chamber," based on one of various renditions on Youtube. Wikipedia has all three of the translations suggested here plus "Red Chamber Dream," and also calls it just "Red Chamber" for short.

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