我的第一次中国之行(三) / My First Trip to China (Part 3)

我的第一次中国之行(三)

我要在这儿做些什么呢?

我的首次中国之旅起源于一个不太可能的时间和一个不太可能的理由:那是在上世纪六十年代的芝加哥郊区。

1966年夏天,美中两国还处于敌对和非对话关系之中。中国的文化大革命刚刚开始。美国媒体当时将大陆称为赤色中国或共产中国。

在这种背景下,我那个夏天从就读的高中收到一张用IBM机器打印出的纸条,建议我在高二选修中文。

60年代中,在美国中西部的高中里学习赤色中国语言被视为十分怪异和可疑。人们对麦卡锡时代的反共拘捕仍然记忆犹新(见尾注)。

说起我学中文的事,一位邻居问我将来长大了要用中文做什么:是开洗衣店还是送快餐?还有人提醒我中文教材里可能暗含共产党的洗脑内容。有些同学给我起的外号如今说来可能都算得上是反动。

我并不知道我学习中文其实是顺应了当时短暂的潮流。60年代中,300多所美国高中(和几家小学)因为依据国防教育法获得了联邦基金的支持,开始教授中文课程。国防教育法案资助汉语、阿语、俄语和日语教学,因为这四国已被认定在未来的军事冲突中将与美国对立。

我所在的高中是芝加哥地区赶上早期中文教育浪潮的三所高中之一。但几年以后,国防教育法资助计划到期,大多数学校停办了中文课。但我很幸运,在高中学习了三年中文以后,就进入普林斯顿大学学习东亚研究。

震撼与敬畏

接下来,试想一下我在广州四月潮湿的清晨遭遇到的震撼与敬畏:早晨才六点,我就被东方宾馆新楼外大街上响彻云霄的高音喇叭吵醒了。新的一天居然就此开始:一位花腔女高音播报着最新的毛主席语录,听上去就像是牙医的钻头。在这个特定的早晨,她批判的重点是孔老二、林彪,还有和我老家有点关系的美帝国主义及其走狗。

我从窗户望出去,看到身穿蓝色和灰色毛式制服的自行车手汇成了一条河。对他们来说,这种早餐广播早已是家常便饭。

“打倒美帝国主义及其走狗!”

让我感到些许欣慰的是,我可以听懂广播的大部分内容,证明我的中文学习并非徒劳无功。但另一方面,这句话传达的意思却让人不太高兴,尤其是考虑到它的播出方式、音量和腔调。

半梦半醒之间听到对家乡刺耳的指责,我心头暗想“我肯定不是帝国主义……但我不确定自己算不算是走狗。”

这种讽刺沉重地打击了我。几年前在老家,因为学习赤色中国的语言我饱受捉弄,还差点儿被贴上了“左倾”或“同情共产主义”的标签。如今我终于来到了中国,却又被列为帝国主义的走狗。

My First Trip to China (Part 3)

What Am I Doing Here?

My first trip to China had unlikely origins at an unlikely time: in the suburbs of Chicago, during the 1960s.

In the summer of 1966, the U.S. and China were ensconced in a hostile, non-conversational relationship. China was in the early stages of the Cultural Revolution. American news media at the time referred to the mainland as Red China or Communist China.

Against that backdrop, that summer I received an IBM print-out from my high school suggesting that my second year courses would include Mandarin Chinese.

For a high schooler in the American Midwest in the mid-1960s to study the language of Red China was considered weird at best, and possibly suspect. The anti-Communist witch-hunts of the McCarthy era were very fresh in people’s memories.

One neighbor, commenting on my studying Chinese, asked me what I was going to do with that when I grew up: open a laundry, or a take-away joint? Another warned of possible communist brainwashing buried in the language texts. Some peers gave me nicknames which would be considered politically incorrect today.

I didn’t realize that my study of Chinese was part of a new but temporarily short-lived trend. During the mid-1960s, more than 300 American secondary schools (and a handful of primary schools) began offering Chinese language courses, mainly as a result of federal funds made available under the National Defense Education Act. NDEA provided funding for new programs in Chinese, Arabic, Russian, and Japanese studies, because these four groups were deemed most likely to be on the wrong side of future military conflicts with the U.S..

My high school was one of three in the Chicago area to get on the early Chinese language bandwagon. Within a few years, however, the NDEA funding for these programs had expired, and most of them were discontinued. My timing was thus fortunate. After three years of Chinese in high school, I became an East Asian Studies major at Princeton.

Shock and awe

Imagine, then, my shock and awe that humid April morning in Guangzhou, when I was rudely awakened at 6 a.m., by piercingly loud, searingly shrill broadcasts from loudspeakers in the streets outside the window of my room in the new wing of the Dong Fang Hotel. What a way to start the day, with the latest thoughts of Chairman Mao recited by a high-pitched female announcer with a staccato style. reminiscent of a dentist’s drill. That particular morning, her focus was on denouncing Confucius, Lin Biao, and — much closer to home — American Imperialists and their running dogs.

I looked out the window to see a river of blue and gray Mao-jacketed bicyclists for whom this breakfast broadcast was a regular daily routine.

“Dadao meidiguo zhuyi jiqi zou gou!”

There was some solace in the fact that I could understand most of the message, which proved my Chinese language studies had not been in vain. On the other hand, it was not exactly a welcoming message, especially given the method, volume and tone of its delivery.

Still only half awake as the harsh denunciation sunk home, I thought to myself: “I’m pretty sure I’m not an imperialist… but I’m not so sure what exactly constitutes a running dog.”

The irony hit hard. A few years ago at home, I’d been teased about studying the language of Red China, marginally at risk of being labelled a pinko or commie sympathizer. Now that my journey had finally brought me to China, it seemed I was now being labelled an imperialist running dog.

广州市区的典型交通场景 / Typical traffic in downtown Guangzhou

所有会议,至少是有美国人参加的会议都以中方的政治批判开场。特别是因为中方没有提供名片也没有透露职务信息,所以判断对方人物的级别高低总是靠猜。

中方的翻译通常都很年轻,大多缺乏国际经验,这一点可以理解。鉴于当时的政治形势以及对语言教学的影响,他们对英式英语似乎比对美式英语更加熟悉一些。因此语言灾难和混乱也就层出不穷。

All meetings, with Americans at least, were scripted to begin with a critical political diatribe from the Chinese side. Especially given the lack of business cards or job title information from the Chinese side, it was always a guessing game as to who the senior person on their side was.

Interpreters on the Chinese side were generally young and understandably lacking in international experience. Given the politics of the day and its impact on language instruction, they were more familiar with British than American English. Language misadventures and snafus were commonplace.

广交会主展厅 / Main exhibit hall of the Fair

在一次美国商会代表与中国外贸高官举行的冗长而枯燥的会议上,美方代表滔滔不绝地罗列出一大串实际中的贸易问题。年轻的中国译员还算流利地将这段话译成了中文,但随着问题在下午的潮湿和闷热中不断地延续,这位译员疲态尽现。后来,中方官员说某件事可能“有关部门”会予以考虑。

性子急又爱使用商务俚语的美方代表就说:“那好吧,同志。可我希望有人真的会给这件事儿装上轮子。”

筋疲力尽的翻译误以为美国人又要开始谈汽车工业的事,引得中方官员发出忍耐的咕哝声。从那一刻起,我们的对话就偏离了轨道,朝着一系列毫无结论的外太空发展。双方都带着满肚子的疑惑离开了会场。

首次从中国大陆返港以后,我在朋友和同事间引发了一波充满好奇的提问浪潮。毫无疑问,宇航员阿姆斯特朗在从月球返回后一定也面临过同样的遭遇。

我觉得自己非常幸运,可以亲身见证中国那个非凡的年代。从那以后,我一直定居在香港,并继续到中国各处旅行。这些早期的经历对我理解中国此后的巨大变迁颇有裨益。

注:

约瑟夫•雷芒德•麦卡锡(Joseph Raymond McCarthy,1908年-1957年),美国政治家,生于威斯康星州,美国共和党人。

1946年他依靠反共观点当选为参议员,任参议员期间,经常发表演说谴责杜鲁门和乔治•卡特莱特•马歇尔对待共产主义的软弱态度。他曾任政府活动委员会主席,指挥调查委员会调查美国民主党成员以及他的政敌、对他有意见的新闻人物,不少人被撤职、逮捕甚至被处死。1954年,参议院通过法案谴责麦卡锡的政治迫害行为。1957年,他因肝炎在马里兰州逝世。

In one long, tedious meeting between my Amcham delegation and a fairly senior Chinese foreign trade official, our delegation leader rattled off a long laundry list of practical trade issues. The young Chinese interpreter rendered these into Chinese with a fair degree of fluency, although he was clearly becoming fatigued as the detailed laundry list dragged on through the afternoon heat and humidity. At one point the Chinese official said something to the effect that perhaps in due course the “relevant departments” (“有关部门”) might consider looking into the matter.

At this stage the impatient American interlocutor, fond of using big business slang, responded “That sounds fine, Comrade, but I sure hope someone’s actually gonna put wheels under it”

The weary interpreter took that to mean that the American now had a proposal regarding the automotive industry. This elicited a barely tolerant grunt from the Chinese official, and from that point on, the conversation veered off into a series of non-sequiturs in the remote reaches of outer space. Both groups left the meeting in a state of puzzlement.

My return to Hong Kong after this first visit to China elicited a wave of curious questions from friends and associates, no doubt similar to what astronaut Neil Armstrong must have faced after his return from the moon.

I consider myself very fortunate to have witnessed that extraordinary stage of China’s history first-hand. I’ve lived in Hong Kong and continued my travels in China ever since that trip. Those early experiences are very helpful to the process of appreciating the phenomenal changes in China since that era.


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