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How to deal with other people’s verbal violence – reflections on the use of language

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This is the 1510 Digest, a weekly roundup of recent essays and articles published on the Chinese web, with links to translations on the Marco Polo Project.

From weibo politeness to SMS abuse, this week’s digest brings together three pieces reflecting on the role of language as social lubricant or source of symbolic violence. Novelist Pian Pian offers an advice column on how to deal with passive aggressive personality types; cultural commenter Kan Chai advocates a more formal use of weibo @’ing; film critic Cui Weiping warns against the dangers of symbolic language, and articulates instead an ethics of intellectual and literary realism.

How to deal with other people’s verbal violence?
By Pian Pian, 11 January 2013

This psychological advice column about passive aggressive personality types was published on douban by novelist Pian Pian. Someone contacted her about the following situation: “one of my friends is displaying jealous and possessive behaviour, she also systematically puts me down and dampens me enthusiasm. I’m beginning to doubt myself. How should I react?” This is behaviour familiar to Pian Pian, who offers her readers a more detailed analysis.
First, she distinguishes two forms of aggression: rare fits of anger should not be taken too seriously, but systematic verbal attacks can be attributed to an aggressive personality disorder. She goes on to describe aggressive personality types as emotionally unstable and prone to impulsive attacks, but adds that some people are prone to more passive or indirect forms of systematic aggression.
Pian Pian proposes a psychological explanation for this form of disorder in the person’s childhood experience. Some people spend all their life pining after something they missed as a child. Their mind never grows up, and they remain like a suffering child inside: afraid of authority, yet full of hostility for a world that doesn’t satisfy them. This form of psychology may be particularly prevalent among people in her parents’ generation, born in the 50s and 60s, who grew up among the chaos of the cultural revolution. Pian Pian concludes with the following advice – no matter whether the person is friends or family: ignore their passive agressive pressure, don’t offer any justification, and simply do your thing.

Marco Polo translation: How to deal with other people’s verbal violence?
Original link: 怎么应对别人的语言暴力?

Politeness is a minimum requirement for professional correspondence
By Kan Chai, 03 April 2012

This short post hinges around the question of politeness in the context of online social media, and reveals a generational difference similar to that observed in other country. It is based on the following incident: a communications student sent a weibo message to celebrity Yao Chen on weibo, asking for an interview using very familiar language. Cultural critic Kan Chai reacted online by asserting that this is not appropriate, and she should have been more polite, He received massive backfire, and labels of ‘pedantic’ and ‘conservative’. Here, he makes a case for verbal politeness in all professional communication, including through weibo – but also laments the lack of expertise in that area by university students.

Marco Polo translation: Politeness is a minimum requirement for professional correspondence
Original link: 会用敬谦词是写好工作函件的起码要求

Finding the landlord under the crows
By Cui Weiping, 10 March 2012

This short essay by film critic and cultural commenter Cui Weiping begins with an analysis on verbal violence. Using a passage from Dream of the red chamber as case study, she identifies one underlying assumption to the action of cursing someone: the person proffering the curse believes in a magical effect of language, and trusts the other person will actually be hurt by the curse. In other words, Verbal violence rests on the confusion of the verbal and the real. In passing, Cui Weiping notes an amusing difference between English and Chinese – the latter finding it more humiliating and effective to attack not the whole person, but various parts of their body.
In the second part of her essay, Cui Weiping criticises the use of symbolic language that superposes images to reality, underlining the risk of possible delusion this entails. She focuses on the expression ‘天下乌鸦一般黑’ (Under the sky, all crows are black), a phrase used to say that oppression is bad, no matter where it comes from. This proverb, she argues, by mentally replacing the exploiting landlord with a dark cloud of crows, does not help in identifying and fighting the sources oppression. In contrast, Cui Weiping advocates a form of literature and a use of language that calls things by their name, and therefore brings about a common understanding of the world. She proposes a verbal ethics of realism against magic symbolism, seeing this as a first step towards the possibility of intellectual dialogue and consensus building.

Marco Polo translation: Finding the landlord under the crows
Original link: 从乌鸦身上找回地主

All articles in this digest and a large range of other Chinese readings are accessible at Marcopoloproject.org. Some are available in English, French and Spanish translation. (You can join the project if you’d like to help with translations.)

Danwei is an affiliate of the Australian Centre on China in the World at The Australian National University. This posting is a result of one project that is part of that on-going collaboration.

The China Story, China Heritage Quarterly and East Asian History are publications of the Australian Centre on China in the World.