Polishing Chinese Press Releases in English Chris O'Brien, a UK native, just finished two years in Beijing massaging the English press releases from Xinhua, the official Chinese press agency. O' Brien has been a self-described propagandist for the Chinese government, making official old-line Marxist newspeak sound like familiar English in the West.
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Polishing Chinese Press Releases in English

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Polishing Chinese Press Releases in English

Polishing Chinese Press Releases in English

Polishing Chinese Press Releases in English

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Chris O'Brien, a UK native, just finished two years in Beijing massaging the English press releases from Xinhua, the official Chinese press agency. O' Brien has been a self-described propagandist for the Chinese government, making official old-line Marxist newspeak sound like familiar English in the West.

SCOTT SIMON, Host:

Chris O'Brien joins us from Beijing. Thanks from Beijing. Thanks for being with us.

CHRIS O: Nice to be with you.

SIMON: And then tell us about some of what you polished?

BRIEN: Unfortunately, for Xinhua News Agency, only Chinese reporters are allowed to write the actual news stories, and so they're writing their second language. They need native speakers to make it more readable and more palatable for a foreign audience.

SIMON: Well, can you give us a for instance, Mr. O'Brien, a phrase that you had to work over, massage and polish?

BRIEN: The Chinese government is famed for its archaic political terminology, such as the three closenesses. The three closenesses is about controlling mass media. To translate it, it's closeness to reality, closeness to the masses and closeness to real life, and actually in real English, that is to make the media more relevant and attractive to the public, make it kind of a more commercial thing so that people aren't completely turned off by it. The most important thing is to still guide public opinion.

SIMON: I'm curious, though, when you would change a phrase into something that would be considered more intelligible English, was there somebody who checked it after you? I mean, they must have been worries that some British guy would stroll in and subtly undercut.

BRIEN: It's incredibly subjective. If you change a story around, put some more- negative comments in, try and balance it out, some of the releasers would just let it through and put it out into the wire service. Others will completely tear it up and do a real botch-job on it, and it comes out incomprehensively.

SIMON: But you feel if like one out of 10 stories is reasonably truthful, that you've still improved the percentage?

BRIEN: Well, you're under no illusions. You're not going to change the way Xinhua operates, but I always took satisfaction from, say, a decent feature about the health service. (Unintelligible) number one story about a Chinese couple committing suicide because they couldn't pay the medical bills, so we led with that angle, and during the piece, you actually are criticizing central government policy.

SIMON: You speak some Chinese, don't you, Mr. O'Brien?

BRIEN: I do, some.

SIMON: So if I said (Speaking foreign language)?

BRIEN: (Speaking foreign language). Thank you.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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