The Mainland Rhetoric
"It seems to me that every mainland and Hong Kong exchange event would turn into a mainland losing face event eventually." I stated, holding my microphone in a auditorium filled with around 500 other mainland students participating in a such event.
These hundreds of students were from several mainland universities enjoying their cultural/social/intellectual exchange tour in Hong Kong. The last event on their schedule that day was to watch this award winning documentary, and to have a question and answer session with the director. The documentary was about the very young piano genius. It has showed how proud he is with himself and how different he was from other kids. After the screening dozens of hands were in the air quickly.
One humble speaking young man started his question by saying things like "Dear director thank you so much for this wonderful piece of art. I really learned a lot" but then he went on talking about his own thoughts and problems in college life. Three long minutes later he finally came up with a unrelated question which I forgot now. In fact I forgot his question that night.
Another question was from a young female teacher with a similar empty praising start. She mainly talked about her problems of being a young college teacher, which I think was more suitable for pillow talk rather than formal event like this.
Finally it was my turn, here is what I said. "It seems to me that every mainland and Hong Kong exchange event would turn into a mainland losing face event eventually. Tonight is not exception. Most of the questions are about your own personal life which are not even remotely related to the documentary we watched tonight. I wonder how many people have really watched it tonight. Can’t we ask question because we are curious not because we want to show off?…" My voice was shaking in the end and I only received a handful of applaud.
That humble young man replied almost immediately. He became louder and more emotional. His comeback end with an classic term "I believe…!" The crowd applauded and cheered for their hero, louder than they did for the documentary. I escaped the scene.
What frustrate me that day was the familiar mainland rhetoric. The first one is to start your question with unnecessary long and almost often empty praising words. The second one is filling one’s ignorance with unrelated personal thoughts. The third one is using "I believe!" and louder voice instead of logic and evidence.
As a mainland Chinese myself I know there are many more than the above three. Our way of speaking was once something I took for granted but now in Hong Kong it became dramatically more oblivious and awkward for me. I cannot stop wondering why are they still practicing the same way to speak when they are now in a completely different environment.
I encountered a classic CCTV newscast rhetoric in a seminar held by HKMGA, Hong Kong Mainland Graduates Association. It was a seminar about the then to be built high speed railway. One serious middle aged mainland man went:"The protest against the high speed railway is a conspiracy of a small group of people. They cannot represent Hong Kong people’s view. I hope the Hong Kong government can speed up and build this meaningful project."I was surprised by his statement not just by how wrong it is but by how similar it is to a CCTV newscast statement. Just replace "The protest against high speed railway" with any sensitive word you want and you get a classic CCTV style explanation: everything is plotted by "a small group of people" and no one can "represent the people"(except the speaker). Yet this guy was not a CCTV newscaster but just another mainland man living in Hong Kong.
I got up and "asked", "To build this high speed railway or not is one thing. The protest of it is another. The protest not only serves for its obvious purpose of stooping the project but it can also help strengthening civil society and political awareness. Why are we mainlanders still see it as ‘a small group of people’? Why are we still using CCTV language? Why can’t we see the positive meaning of it? Do we mainlanders came to Hong Kong in vain?" The whole crowd turned to me as I was speaking and laughed and shake their heads.
Some audience surrounded me after the seminar. They spoke loudly and passionately. While I could not remember most of what they were saying but I did remember this one statement "We are from mainland China and did not enjoy most benefits Hong Kong people enjoys. The high speed railway is one thing we can take advantage of. So why not? Hong Kong government is rich." he could have said this earlier.
The latest encounter was during the Hong Kong film festival. After the screening of the well-received movie Guanyin mountain. One of the Actress, Sylvia Chang came to answer question, which like many Q&A sessions I attended, were mostly in mandarin. One question was rather professional. It was about the relationship between A&B in this movie. And A&B can be any pair of abstract and remotely related concepts such as hope and dreams, love and fears or passion and reality. In the end I did not get a chance to ask question but was "fortunate" enough to witness a very special question. A young man asked "There are many scene of train hitchhiking in this movie. You know this is dangerous and illegal". The audience laughed. Sylvia Chang answered with wit, "Well, life itself is dangerous" and then left the theatre. The audience laughed harder and cheered. I do not know this guy but we share the same background and speak the same Putonghua. So I laughed too but felt awkward at the same time as if the audience were laughing at me too.
Having watched too much CCTV may cause all these. It shaped how we speak. The recent internet phenomenon, the "high rank" young pioneer league member Huang Yibo, can speak like a typical government official and he is just 13 years old. Everyday at 7 o’clock. Every channel broadcasts CCTV newscast all of a sudden. There is nowhere to hide. Education shaped us too. There was a course lasting throughout our 6 years of middle school called "Moral principles and politics" , a course is a mix of Marx philosophy 101, socialist economy 101and socialist political science 101. Like our education, the solely depends on written test. The written test is not about thinking and expressing but about linking the given principles in the text book to the questions asked. If the question ask the student how to make the economy better. One should answer "according to Marxism philosophy. Material factor is the defining factor so we should firstly focus on material development…" Our thoughts are well practiced patterns and our answers are well recited text on the book. Having went through some of the reasons, I am now at loss. Should I be a critical bicultural observer or should I be a sympathetic cross-boarder mainland Chinese? Or should I just be thankful that I had lived in Hong Kong (or any other outside place)?