What do Chinese truckers want to overthrow?

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Last week there were large scale truckers strikes in many parts of China.  China watchers around the world were stunned, especially since some of the strikers were shouting out what sounded like "overthrow the Communist Party!", as at 3:48 in this video.

Here's the audio portion of the leader of one of the strikes shouting what sounds like "dǎdǎo gòngchǎndǎng 打倒共产党" ("overthrow the Communist Party") into a microphone, followed by a throng of truckers responding in unison.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

That understanding of the slogan spread like wildfire, and many observers of current China affairs suspected that China was on the verge of erupting into full-scale revolution.

"Truck drivers strike across China, shout 'overthrow the CPC':  Truck drivers demand lower gas prices and no more police harassment" (6/11/18)

If we read the later, less incendiary, reports, we find that what the truckers were fighting against — believe it or not — were logistics apps.

Imagine Uber and Lyft drivers going on strike against these apps that employ them.  That's what's happening with the truckers strike in China, as described in these articles:

"China's Truck Drivers Stage Strike Over Rising Costs, Low Fees" (RFA [6/11/18])

"Chinese truckers demonstrate over high fuel costs, truck-hailing app Manbang" (Reuters [6/12/18])

So what were the truckers really shouting?

Here's the audio clip slowed down to 75% of original speed:

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Still can't tell for sure.

And here's the audio clip slowed down to 50% of original speed:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Though I'm not entirely certain, it sounds to me like they are saying "dǎdǎo huòchē bāng 打倒货车帮 ("overthrow the freight truck cartel").  The alternative would be "dǎdǎo y ùn mǎnmǎn 打倒运满满 ("overthrow Full Truck Logistics").  The two companies merged in November of 2017 to monopolize the industry.  Their combined app allows truck drivers to bid lowest prices for orders. This cuts truck drivers' profits significantly, so it was a major factor that led to the strike this month.

One thing I'm pretty sure of is that they're not saying "dǎdǎo gòngchǎndǎng 打倒共产党" ("overthrow the Communist Party").  I have no doubt that they begin by shouting "dǎdǎo 打倒" ("overthrow").  My primary evidence that they're not saying gòngchǎndǎng 共产党" ("Communist Party") for the last part of the slogan is that the final syllable sounds like it's a high, level, extended tone, whereas both "gòngchǎndǎng 共产党" ("Communist Party") and yùn mǎnmǎn 运满满 ("Full Truck Logistics") end with a third tone, which would have a very different configuration, even when shouted.

I may be mistaken, however.  Here's how a native speaker from mainland China responded to the audio clips:

Even though I really cannot believe it, I still think they are saying "打倒共产党".

I think these people are not only drivers but also truck owners. If they work for a company, they do not need to fight against the Communist party. I am sure that they will be suppressed by the government.

[Thanks to Francis Miller, Ben Zimmer, Fangyi Cheng, Liwei Jiao, and Zeyao Wu]



7 Comments

  1. Frank said,

    June 21, 2018 @ 9:40 pm

    Three of my Chinese colleagues (North China) say they can clearly hear 打倒共产党.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    June 22, 2018 @ 1:18 am

    @Frank

    Thank you very much for soliciting the reactions of your Chinese colleagues.

    So far 100% of native speakers who are willing to express themselves affirm that the truckers are saying "dǎdǎo gòngchǎndǎng 打倒共产党" ("overthrow the Communist Party").

    That's pretty conclusive. And they say that that's what they're hearing it clearly.

    If this is true, and it seems that it would be prudent to accept what native Chinese are hearing, then what I said in the o.p. about the prolonged, high, level final tone of the slogan is actually persuasive evidence for intonation overriding tone, a phenomenon that we have often discussed on Language Log, e.g.:

    "When intonation overrides tone" (6/4/13)

    "When intonation overrides tone, part 2" (5/11/17)

    "When intonation overrides tone, part 3" (2/7/18) — and see the list of additional posts at the end of this one

    "Dissimilation, stress, sandhi, and other tonal variations in Mandarin" (8/26/14)

  3. ajay said,

    June 22, 2018 @ 5:01 am

    This reminds me of Spike Milligan's favourite fantasy headline "Archduke Franz Ferdinand Found Alive: First World War 'A Mistake'".

    "Linguists: 2019 Chinese Revolution 'Caused By Mishearing'".

  4. Victor Mair said,

    June 23, 2018 @ 1:58 am

    From a PRC graduate student in the United States:

    I couldn't tell what they are saying in the short clip you sent previously, but now with the slowed down versions I can hear it a bit better. The leader's voice sounds like "dǎdǎo xx 打倒xx"(only two characters, I thought I heard dǎdǎo gòngdǎng 打倒共党 ["overthrow Com Party"], but it doesn't make sense, right?). However, the crowd's voice sounds like they are saying three characters (dǎdǎo gòngchǎndǎng 打倒共产党 ["overthrow the Communist Party"]?) but I am not very sure.)

  5. Victor Mair said,

    June 23, 2018 @ 9:52 am

    From a PRC graduate student:

    After I listened to it, I think they said: "打倒huochebang" twice. After I searched the internet for this trucker strike, I believe they said: "打倒货车帮 (祸车帮)". Below I attach some photos about this strike's posters, which can prove this point. 货车帮and运满满 are both app platforms for customers to get truck services–something like Uber or Lyft for taxi services. And in this spring, 货车帮 and运满满 merged together as 满帮集团 (I have attached an announcement from 货车帮's official wechat website to prove this point). According to the strike's posters and audio recordings, they think 满帮集团/运满满/货车帮 (treated as 祸车帮 by truckers) monopolized the market and should be overthrown. In my opinion, it is impossible (and not clever) for them to speak out "打倒共产党" if they really hope to fight for rights and gain something through the strike–in the Chinese political environment, such a watchword would only make their situation even worse.




  6. Victor Mair said,

    June 24, 2018 @ 3:40 am

    On the banners in the above pictures, you see plenty of references to the two offending apps and to their combined monopoly, and I do see at least one call to "overthrow" them.

    On the other hand, it is very interesting that the caption at the bottom of the first picture reads:

    kǎchē sījī bàgōng 卡车司机罢工 ("truck drivers are striking")

    Zhōngguó dāngjú wèihé chénmò 中国当局为何沉默 ("why are the Chinese authorities silent?")

  7. Jonathan Smith said,

    June 25, 2018 @ 1:29 am

    Re: 中国当局为何沉默, that is a VOA "lower third" in the first image, thus U.S. government-type perspective/spin (whatever the truth of this particular situation.)

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