Donald Trump, the U. S. President, began imposing punitive tariffs on China in mid-2018 in order to balance out the US-China trade deficit. This includes a 25% tariff specifically against Chinese technological commodities. Global Times, a Chinese government mouthpiece, and other state media have asserted time and again that China might actually benefit from this. The internet has been flooded with remarks such as “China might end up being the biggest winner” and “China, I’m afraid, would be the biggest winner” for a time. Another buzzword was “how almighty, my country” (see note 1) – all these phrases being words of self-congratulation as a way to deny trouble brewing domestically and abroad.
Since China chooses to see tribulation as a blessing, its critics decide to their self-denial as their object of mockery by addressing China as the “winning country”, as an alternative for the sarcastic term “powerful nation”.
The word “might” (或) implies “speculation”. Media outlets in Hong Kong have chosen to use “China, I’m afraid, would be the biggest winner”, where the word “afraid” (恐, or “hung” in Cantonese) in Chinese carries the meaning of both fear and conjecture. “Hung” is a double entendre in this case, and also reflects the influence of the English expression “I’m afraid”. In English, “I’m afraid” is often used as a way to give advice when one is unsure, trying to show humility, or hoping to avoid conflict.
In fact, the word “afraid” (恐怕) in the Chinese language can also mean “possible” or “probable”. In Chapter 31 of Journey to the West, it reads, “Master loves cleanliness; I’m afraid he would dislike me”. In Chapter 21 of A Short History of Civilization by Li Boyuan, it reads, “When the foreigners come looking for the culprit, I’m afraid no one would be able to escape.” The Kangxi Dictionary notes that when “hung” is used as a function word, it can mean “suspect, contemplate, and speculate”. This suggests a sense of probability and possibility, as well as a sense of uncertainty, as in something may not turn out the way it is supposed to be. The poet Cui Hao from Tang dynasty, in his Song of Changgan (長干曲), wrote: “Staying my boat awhile I ask; for fear that we might be fellow countrymen” (停船暫借問，或恐是同鄉); here, the word “fear” carries the meaning of speculation.
The word “hung” in Chinese is often used in conjunction with the word “fong” (防), which means “guarding against”. Words and phrases such as “hung fong” (恐防; meaning “wary of”) or “hung fong yau sut” (恐防有失; meaning “wary of losses or mishaps”) have an underlying meaning of “taking precaution”. In the 21st verse of his Palace Poem, the Tang Dynasty poet Wang Jian wrote, “Horsemen and pedestrians walking by, wary of the king up in his tower” (騎馬行人長遠過，恐防天子在樓頭). The Short Stories of the Three Kingdoms says, “Xuan De says, ‘Just in case of mishaps, take with you five hundred soldiers.’” (玄德曰：『恐防有失，爾可將取五百軍去。』). In Chapter 9 of the late Qing Dynasty novel Bizarre Happenings Eyewitnessed over Two Decades, it reads, “It is therefore ordered that residents along the foot of the city-walls must dismantle their balconies, as a way to guard against thieves, so to speak.”
The Kaleidoscopic Cantonese
The love for gambling can be found in the blood of many Cantonese. Idioms alluding to the concepts of winning and losing, such as “Losing out is worse than going bankrupt” or “winning the final bang” (meaning that one finally wins after a losing streak), are thus commonplace in the Cantonese language. Nevertheless, how can phrases such as “China might end up being the biggest winner” (中國或成最大贏家) or “China, I’m afraid, would be the biggest winner” (中國恐成最大贏家), which originated from Mandarin in the north, be expressed in vernacular Cantonese?
In Cantonese, “pa” (怕) is often used as a substitute for “hung”. There is also an expression called “pa ce” (怕且), which means “I’m afraid that”. “Pa ce” is not synonymous with “wak je” (或者, meaning “perhaps”). “Pa ce” implies a sense of speculation, while “wak je” or “hung pa” (恐怕, meaning “for fear that”) imply a sense of dread for impending doom. As a result, when Hong Kongers say “China, I’m afraid, would be the biggest winner”, most are genuinely fearful that China might indeed end up being the biggest winner.
So how do Hong Kongers say “China, I’m afraid, would be the biggest winner” in Cantonese? Here are some possible examples:
“I’m afraid that China would win it all in the end.”
Cantonese transliteration: pa’ce zeoi’hau dou’hai zung’gwok yeng saai ga lak
“This time, I’m afraid that China would end up killing off all of its opponents.”
Cantonese transliteration: ni ci dou pa’ce hai zung’gwok zeoi’hau saat saai di deoi’ga laa
“This time, China is winning little by little, making a fortune without making a sound. It’ll have all the glory in the end.”
Cantonese transliteration: ni ci a, zung’gwok yam di yam dig am yeng, mun’sing daai faat’coi, zeoi’hau sin leon dou keoi wai zeon a
“What’s the point of fighting? China is intentionally handicapping itself in order to lose some battles but win the war in the end.”
Cantonese transliteration: zang me zang? zung'gwok daa gan yoeng coi, syu zyu sin, zeoi’hau sin yeng a
The documentary film Amazing China (厲害了，我的國) was co-produced by the China Central Television and China Film Co., Ltd, and was released in China on March 2, 2018. The film is a montage derived from a six-part television documentary also titled Amazing China (but 輝煌中國 in Chinese) depicting General Secretary Xi Jinping’s “splendid achievements” since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2012.
On January 23, 2017, U. S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order officially withdrawing the United States from the TPP agreement. On November 11 that same year, 22 clauses of the said agreement were suspended. TPP was then rebadged as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
(Editor’s Note: This article was published in the 60th printed edition of Passion Times. Please support our printed newspaper by subscribing here: http://www.passiontimes.hk/4.0/regform.php)