Vicious smears

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Headline in Global Times today (9/10/20):

"People's Daily has right to reject US article containing vicious smears against China: FM"
"FM" means "Foreign Minister", Wang Yi 王毅.

Since the colorful, eye-catching term "vicious smears" has been popping up elsewhere in PRC English language media these days, colleagues have been wondering where it comes from in PRC Chinese language media.  Tracking down the Chinese original of this Global times article, it seems that "full of errors, inconsistent with the facts, and full of vicious smears against China" in this article is translated from "cuòlòu bǎichū, yǔ shìshí yánzhòng bùfú, chōngchìzhe duì Zhōngfāng de èdú gōngjí mǒhēi 错漏百出,与事实严重不符,充斥着对中方的恶毒攻击抹黑", and thus the Chinese word they use for "smears" in this article is "gōngjí 攻击 ("attack") mǒhēi 抹黑 ("discredit / [bring] shame [on] / defame / blacken OR tarnish [someone's reputation]")"; and "èdú gōngjí mǒhēi 恶毒攻击抹黑" for "vicious smears". Without the reference to the original Chinese sentence, I would probably translate "vicious smears" as "èdú de huǐbàng 恶毒的毁谤" ("vicious slander") given this specific context.

Just as we sometimes speak of "Indian English", which has its own rich assemblage of lexical items and pronunciation patterns, so is there "Chinese English" with its own usages, idioms, and emphases, which sometimes become firmly embedded in the speech of China hands — e.g., "China's", "add oil", "deepen cooperation", "paper tiger", and "running dog".


Selected readings


[Thanks to Mark Metcalf, Yijie Zhang, and Chenfeng Wang]


  1. Chas Belov said,

    September 10, 2020 @ 10:05 pm

    At risk of inadvertently supporting the PRC, "vicious smears" sounds perfectly normal to me. Google ngrams shows "vicious smears" as having it's moment in the 1940's to 1960's.

  2. Chas Belov said,

    September 10, 2020 @ 10:06 pm


  3. Chas Belov said,

    September 10, 2020 @ 10:20 pm

    That said, I see "vicious lies" is much more popular than "vicious smears".

  4. Bloix said,

    September 11, 2020 @ 8:02 pm

    At a law firm I used to work at years ago, there were a couple of young, ambitious associates we called the running dogs because they were so eager to do the will of one of the senior partners.

  5. Philip Taylor said,

    September 12, 2020 @ 2:58 am

    Whereas in the environment in which I worked before taking early retirement, such people were referred to as the "brown-tongue brigade" for reasons which I hope it is unnecessary to explain. Needless to say, they were promoted while their less servile colleagues were passed over.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    September 12, 2020 @ 8:40 am

    From a Chinese colleague:

    The Chinese word for "smear" is 抹黑 (mǒhēi). "Vicious smear" is "恶毒抹黑“ (èdú mǒhēi). See how the Chinese propaganda is devoted to the word "hēi 黑“ ("black")!

  7. Joshua K. said,

    September 14, 2020 @ 1:20 am

    Another famous "Chinese English" expression is "… hurts the feelings of the Chinese people."

  8. Joshua K. said,

    September 14, 2020 @ 1:26 am

    In fact, Victor himself has blogged about "hurt the feelings of the Chinese people" (

  9. Rodger C said,

    September 14, 2020 @ 7:39 am

    I wonder if "hurts the feelings of the Chinese people," along with "Let's play!", might be artifacts of the fact that Chinese instruction in English starts in childhood?

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