Malign Woodpeckers and Other Hegemonic Behavior

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With this stunning journalistic masterpiece, Global Times, China's official, nationalistic, daily tabloid newspaper under the CCP, has outdone itself in exposure of truly insidious "Western" (U.S., British) linguistic behavior:

"Twisted in translation: Western media, social groups set up language barriers by intentionally misreading, misinterpreting Chinese materials", by Huang Lanlan and Lin Xiaoyi, GT (4/14/22)

Here's one gem from the article:

Professor Tang from Fudan University noted that anti-Chinese forces are now mature enough to use the internet to self-organize – actively plan anti-Chinese issues to infiltrate and mobilize some netizens, driving them to act like woodpeckers to find a few rare, extreme statements and then embellish them.

Gosh!  Who knew that woodpeckers could be trained to do that?  Every day is an education. 

This isn't quite up to Ivanhoe standards for length of sentence — IS it a sentence? — but it poses challenges of an Ivanhoe type for those wishing to parse / diagram / make sense of the darn thing.  (See first item in the "Selected readings" below.) 

But HOW did the Chinese ever penetrate our most secret organizations to discover the existence of our massive "Cognitive Warfare" operations and the sources of the "Great Translation Movement" that has supposedly been deployed against China during the Russia-Ukraine conflict?  Where is this being done in the US?  Their intelligence must be far superior to what we imagined. 

Enjoying a dominant voice in the international public opinion field, the US-led West has been launching an anti-China "cognitive warfare," and mistranslation is one of its tricks targeting the billions of non-Chinese speaking audience….  "There must be some organizations or individuals that intentionally tarnish the images of China and Chinese people by setting up the language barrier and deepening the misunderstanding…".

Here's an example of an alleged mistranslation from the GT article:

Portraying the images of Chinese entrepreneurs as extreme and absurd through mistranslating their words was a common tactic of US media during the China-US trade frictions in 2020. In June 2020, the article titled "Huawei Founder Ren Zhengfei Takes Off the Gloves in Fight Against US," The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) quoted Ren's words "sha chu yi tiao xue lu" – a Chinese idiom for fighting one's way out of a difficult situation.

The article, however, ridiculously translated it into "surge forward, killing as you go, to blaze us a trail of blood," which laughably described Ren as an irrational Chinese tech giant who vowed "revenge" on the US and the West. The mistranslation was soon quoted by some British and Australian media in stories with sensational titles such as "China's Huawei threatens West with 'trail of blood'" and "Huawei's founder declares 'war' on West."

Here's the idiom employed by Ren Zhengfei:

Shā chū yī tiáo xuèlù


lit., "kill out one [classifier for long, thin items] bloody road"


Background:  This expression is often used by generals and heroes in Chinese fiction like Romance of the Three Kingdoms (14th-century historical novel).

Language Log readers are invited to come up with a graceful, non-sanguinary, yet accurate translation.  Bear in mind that the Chinese internet was ablaze with indignation at the Western "mistranslations" of this idiom and overflowing with spirited defense of the Chinese technocrat who invoked it.

As in business, so in war:

According to a report in the South China Morning Post titled "War of Words: How the United States Got Lost in Chinese Translation," former Chinese PLA colonel Qiao Liang criticized the English translation of his and Wang Xiangsui's military strategy book Unrestricted Warfare* for being full of loopholes from the start.

Qiao considered the title of his book should have been translated as "War Beyond Limits" because the book was only intended to emphasize how a weaker country should deal with a strong power. He also complained that a subtitle added later, War and Strategy in the Globalisation Era, was reworded into China's Master Plan to Destroy America in an English edition of the book.

"Such a translation is not only incomprehensible, but also fails to make the outside world feel the goodwill of China," Tang noted.

"The impression of those who read the book in English is that [China has] moved from being terrorism researchers to terrorists," Qiao said.


*VHM:  The title of the book in Chinese is Chāo xiàn zhàn 超限战 (Wikipedia article in English, in Chinese).

"Twisted in translation" is a long article filled with numerous quotations and examples like those presented above.  It covers translation in many fields, including entertainment, science, public health, politics, philosophy, and literature.  In this post, I've only been able to touch the surface of its riches.

Dong Guanpeng, professor and dean of the National Institute of Strategic Communication at the Communication University of China, believes that Western mistranslations of Chinese are not due just to incompetency and lack of understanding, but are often deliberate.

Dong suggests English-speaking government officials, politicians and entrepreneurs to communicate with foreign peers and media directly in English. "That' won't give those with an ulterior motive a chance to play tricks in translating their words."

Here's another example of current Global Times journalism:

US attempt to unit [sic] Southeast Asian nations against China via US-ASEAN summit a ‘wild goose chase’, Cui Fandi, GT {4/17/22)

Endless delights from Global Times, People's Daily, PLA Daily, China Daily, and all the other CCP official media — which is practically all there is in the PRC.


Selected readings

[Thanks to Don Keyser]


  1. AntC said,

    April 18, 2022 @ 3:55 pm

    The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) quoted Ren's words …

    soon quoted by some British and Australian media in stories with sensational titles …

    Citizens inside China cannot access the WSJ nor British/Australian media. I wonder if it is wise for GT to even admit such publications exist? The curious might wonder why they've never seen them.

    use the internet to self-organize – actively plan … to infiltrate and mobilize some netizens, …

    just like (so-called) netizens inside China can't. I think GT should stop giving people ideas.

  2. Jonathan Smith said,

    April 18, 2022 @ 5:06 pm

    For context, this CCP response is to efforts like The Great Translation Movement on twitter (, written up recently across U.S. media — see among many other The Diplomat, " The Great Translation Movement Shines a Spotlight on China’s Propaganda"

  3. Phil H said,

    April 25, 2022 @ 1:10 am

    Haha, I missed all this. I used to work for Huawei, and occasionally translated for Ren Zhengfei. He was aware of this problem, and gave a standing instruction to Huawei translators to modify his use of language if we felt it was going to sound unpleasant in English. He uses a lot of military metaphors, I guess because of his military background, but is well aware that if taken literally they can sound violent and nasty, when he really doesn't mean them that way.
    But his military rhetoric is widely copied within the company, and not everyone who copies the rhetoric has the same nuanced understanding. The culture within Huawei can be quite aggressively macho and game-bro, and it occasionally causes them problems.
    The Global Times being a laughable piece of trash is just dog-bites-man news though…

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