Xi Jinping's denunciation of splittists

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During his recent trip to Nepal, Xi Jinping blasted those who aimed to split up China by saying they would have their "bodies pulverized and bones crushed" (fěnshēnsuìgǔ 粉身碎骨).  A lot of people were shocked by the harshness of the language and also wondered why he would take advantage of the first trip to Nepal by a Chinese president in more than two decades to denounce splittists back home.

Here's a fuller context for his sharp denunciation:

Rènhé rén qìtú zài Zhōngguó rènhé dìqū gǎo fēnliè, jiéguǒ zhǐ néng shì fěnshēnsuìgǔ; rènhé zhīchí fēnliè Zhōngguó de wàibù shìlì zhǐ néng bèi Zhōngguó rénmín shì wéi chīxīnwàngxiǎng!

任何人企图在中国任何地区搞分裂,结果只能是粉身碎骨;任何支持分裂中国的外部势力只能被中国人民视为痴心妄想!

Anyone who schemes to engage in splittism in any part of China will only end up having their "bodies pulverized and bones crushed".  Any external force that supports the splitting up of China will be viewed by the Chinese people as having "foolish ideas and fond dreams".

China Daily, cpcnews, rfi

A PRC student tried to finesse Xi's extreme language thus:

He uses it to describe how much he hates efforts to split up China, and I am afraid that taking it literally may cause misunderstanding. For example, if I really hate my enemy, and I say "我要你粉身碎骨" ("I want your body to be pulverized and your bones to be crushed"), generally it doesn't mean I want to do those things literally. Instead, this kind of expression shows the extent to which I hate my enemy.

It would be interesting to compare the customary use of such violent images in various languages.

Readings

"The linguistics of a political slogan" (8/17/17)

"'Hurt(s) the feelings of the Chinese people'" (9/12/11)



16 Comments

  1. Philip Taylor said,

    October 14, 2019 @ 4:41 pm

    While I in no way condone the use of such language in a context such as that in which this language was used, it does bring to mind a quotation with which most British children were (and probably still are) very familiar :

    Fee, fi, fo, fum : I smell the blood of an Englishman.
    Be he alive or be he dead, I'll grind his bones to make my bread.

    From Jack and the Beanstalk, an old fairy tale, now more often encountered as a pantomime for children.

  2. Bathrobe said,

    October 14, 2019 @ 5:26 pm

    I don't find this surprising at all. Put beside what he is doing in Xinjiang, this is just a mild rhetorical flourish. But if I were in Hong Kong I would be very afraid. This is literally what the man plans to do. Given the background he comes from (Stalinism, Maoism) and his grandiose dreams of national power no matter what, be prepared for more of the same.

  3. ohwilleke said,

    October 14, 2019 @ 7:05 pm

    A term which would have more resonance with an English speaking audience and convey the intended meaning more clearly and exactly than "splittism" would be "successionism" even if it isn't quite as literal of a translation.

  4. monscampus said,

    October 14, 2019 @ 7:19 pm

    @Philip Taylor

    A pantomime is so much safer in these days of ubiquitous suspicion of racism? (… I smell the blood of a Brit? Of all varieties of humans?)

    I take it Xi Jinping is a Han? The Chinese could be the new Huns in that case, given that Wilhelm II's infamous Hun Speech resonates in this Han's speech. The Kaiser was serious, though, but lived to regret it.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    October 14, 2019 @ 7:51 pm

    @ohwilleke:

    I think that you meant "seccessionism".

    "Successionism" is a theory on the origin and continuation of Baptist churches.

  6. Anschel Schaffer-Cohen said,

    October 14, 2019 @ 8:15 pm

    It reminds me of Krushchev's "we will bury you", which had an idiomatic meaning of "we will outlast you" but sounded like a threat in translation.

  7. ohwilleke said,

    October 14, 2019 @ 8:17 pm

    Definitely. Spell check is a blessing and a curse, because sometimes it lulls you into not being more careful.

  8. Rodger C said,

    October 15, 2019 @ 7:00 am

    "Fee fi fo fum"? Sounds suspiciously Cantonese to me.

  9. Calvin said,

    October 15, 2019 @ 11:56 am

    The expression 粉身碎骨 is idiomatic, see here for origins and meaning.

    Translating idiomatic expression literally word-for-word could be clumsy and even confusing. How would you translate expressions like "break a leg" and "having butterfly in stomach" into other languages?

    Instead of translating 痴心妄想 (another idiomatic expression) as "foolish ideas and fond dreams", why not just use "delusion"?

  10. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 15, 2019 @ 1:47 pm

    Philip Taylor: I think "Jack and the Beanstalk", especially "Fee fie fo fum," is much better known in the U.S. and probably some other places outside Britain than your strange theater genre called pantomime. The way I was brought up, "pantomime" was the word "mime" (without speech or props) was short for.

  11. Philip Taylor said,

    October 15, 2019 @ 1:55 pm

    In that case, Jerry, I can only think that our much-loved "pantomime horse" must be a source of great puzzlement, since if one can't have props in pantomime one certainly can't have a horse !

  12. Michael Watts said,

    October 16, 2019 @ 1:24 am

    Speaking as another American, I tend to endorse Jerry Friedman's view of things:

    – Jack and the Beanstalk is a fairy tale, so well known that I expect literally everyone who is or was a child in the US to be familiar with it.

    – It is certainly not a theatrical production.

    – "Pantomime" is the word "mime" is short for, and refers to entertainment delivered by a silent performer. (I take no position on props. There could be props.)

  13. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 16, 2019 @ 8:59 am

    Philip Taylor: I think that as Michael Watts said, I was wrong about props—maybe especially canes and umbrellas.

    "Pantomime horse" didn't cause me much puzzlement. Pantomime was clearly theatrical and not too serious, and we have the same "horses" over here, though I don't know a short name for them. Pantomime Princess Margaret, on the other hand…

    What's really puzzling is associated references to Christmas, the Widow Twankey, "Oh yes you did!" etc.

  14. Philip Taylor said,

    October 16, 2019 @ 11:03 am

    Not forgetting, of course, great shrieks of "he's behind you !".
    Onions (The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, OUP, 1966), makes no mention of "pantomime" in the etymology of "mime", citing rather Latin mimus, Greek μίμος, μιμείμαι, μιμετικός, etc. For "pantomime" he cites French pantomime, Latin pantomimus, Greek παντομίμος

  15. Philip Anderson said,

    October 16, 2019 @ 5:33 pm

    Jack and the Beanstalk is still very well known as a story in Britain, not just as a pantomime (I have read it to my son). In fact I think most children or adults going to any pantomime would probably know a version of its story already. Though pantomime versions have often developed their own traditions.

    Mime doesn't come from pantomime, rather vice versa. Both came from Greek via Latin, but the pantomimos was the actor in a mime, "mimicking everything", which was the first meaning of pantomime, before it became an unspoken performance, then a theatrical show, and now a children's show (though with room for political satire).

  16. Philip Anderson said,

    October 16, 2019 @ 5:38 pm

    @Anschel Schaffer-Cohen
    In English I have read of a widow burying two husbands, with that sense of outliving them, nothing more sinister.

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