“这是您的名片还是家谱?” / "Is This Your Name Card, or Family Tree?"

“这是您的名片还是家谱?”

从上世纪70年代中我搬到中国起,中国的名片就以有趣的方式记录着时代的变迁。

记得我第一次到访中国内地时,那里还没有名片。为了搞清会议桌对面坐的是谁,我们必须玩一些猜谜游戏。不使用名片不仅是因为纸张短缺,也反映出当年对来访人员开放信息的程度。

那时候认为提供全名和职务并不重要,反正当年也没有什么来往,至少在商业事务上情况是如此。

中国在世界大家族中有个显著特点,就是庞大的人口和稀少的姓氏形成了反比,大约15亿人仅使用100个常见姓氏,共用的人实在是太多了。

人多,姓少,而且过去还只有一种称谓——“同志”,再加上没有名片,可以想见当年的商务会谈会这样开局:

外方: 中方官员:
“您姓李?” “不是,您再猜猜。”
“那您姓张?” “不对,再猜。”
“陈?” “不不,再来一次。”
“黄?” “还不对,接着猜。现在只剩96个备选答案了。”
“同志!” “对,谢谢!”

改革开放以后,名片在管理人员和干部当中流行起来,名片的正面一般是中文,反面印有英文和拼音字母。最开始是简单的黑白两色,后来发展成彩色印刷,附带标识、品牌,有时还有压花之类的特殊效果。

后来,顶顶重要的大人物对名头和单位的追求日渐成风。为震慑朋友和同事,他们把名片印成折页状,仿佛中国的古书,上面的字也小到必须用放大镜才能看清。反正真正目的也不是要让人看清,只要职务和隶属关系的数量以及范畴能让人肃然起敬就行。

另一种不太普遍但也众所周知的做法就是在中国人的名片上印个(不带姓的)洋名儿,就像我有个中国名一样。这多让人糊涂啊?而且有时那些洋名儿还选得不伦不类。好比我就见过一个人的名片上印着“Green Chen”。我就纳闷儿,世上的名字千千万,他怎么偏就挑中了“绿色”作名字呢?难道他是位环保先驱?

反过来,有些外国人也取了很奇怪的中文名,比如有的美国人管自己叫“史大同”,用广东话念出来就成了“屎大桶”。

以前我在博客中也写到过一位北京的哥在名片上自称“约翰•史密斯”,好方便外国乘客记忆。他真是太有商业头脑了。

而最不受欢迎的就是内地人——多数还是留洋回国的人——把名片上的中文名和姓倒过来,让名在前,姓在后。这种好心的“西方化”非但没帮上什么忙,还让可怜的外国人陷入了迷茫的怪圈。中文名即使不倒过来就已经够复杂了,倒过来就更让刚习惯了中文名模式的外国人吃不消。

有一天我遇到一位中国青年,他的名片还真是特立独行。

名片上除了有他的彩色证件照外,旁边还印着生日(1971年)、婚姻状况(单身)、原职(曾任政府官员)、人生使命等等。但这些都不足为奇。

让我觉得不一般的是他在名片背面列上了父母、兄嫂以及侄子(现为学生)的姓名、职务和单位。

这也太神了。更让我惊讶的是,除了学生侄子以外,他的四名亲属都在中国某大城市的同一个公安部门出任高职,而他的父母被注明是该部门退休的高级官员。

好好看看,他自己在名片上没有任何职务和单位,但传达出来的信息就是他的家族人脉丰厚,神通广大。我明白了:认识这么多人,谁还用得着工作啊?

名片的沿革还在继续,下一个流行的是什么呢?

“Is This Your Name Card, or Family Tree?”

Name cards have been an interesting reflection of the changing times in China since I moved here in the mid-1970s.

When I first visited the Chinese mainland, there were no name cards, which created many guessing games about who was who on the other side of the conference table. The absence of name cards was not just due to a shortage of paper; it was a reflection of what information you as a visitor were allowed access to.

Full names and titles weren’t considered a high priority at the time. There wasn’t much going on in those days anyway, at least not in the world of business.

One of China’s distinguishing factors among the family of nations is the inverse relationship between her huge population and the tiny number of common Chinese surnames. About 100 common surnames in total, shared among nearly 1.5 billion people. That’s a whole lot of sharing.

So many people, so few names. And in the old days, only one title: ‘Comrade’. In the absence of name cards way back then, business meetings could conceivably have begun like this:

Foreign Visitor: Chinese Official:
“Is your name Li?” “No. Guess again.”
“Zhang!” “No. Keep trying.”
“Chen?” “Nope. One more time.”
“Huang?!”
“Nice try, but no. Keep going. Only 96 possibilities to go.”
“Comrade!” “Fine, thank you.”

After reform. and opening, name cards became common among executives and officials, often with Chinese characters on one side and a mixture of English and pinyin romanized spelling on the other. From simple black and white affairs they evolved to 4-color printing with logos, brand names, and sometimes fancy printing effects like embossing.

Later, really really important people (RRIPs) seized upon an inflationary trend in their titles and affiliations. To impress friends and associates, they had business cards produced which had multiple folding pages like ancient Chinese books, with type fonts so small you needed a microscope to read them. The real purpose was not for you to read them anyway, just to be impressed by the number, and the scope, of titles and affiliations.

Less common but not unknown was the practice of printing only a Western given name on a Chinese person’s name card, which would be like me having only a Chinese name on mine. How confusing is that? And some of the chosen Western names were odd. I once met a man whose name card said “Green Chen”, and I wondered how in the world he came to choose this name. An early environmentalist, maybe.

On the other hand, some Westerners ended up with strange Chinese names as well, such as the American whose given Chinese name (史大同) sounded like “big bucket of shit” when pronounced in the Cantonese dialect.

Then there was the Beijing taxi driver I wrote about earlier in this series, whose name card said “John Smith” to make it easier for foreign customers to remember him. Very enterprising indeed.

The least welcome practice of all is when mainlanders — often those who have returned from overseas study — reverse the normal order of their Chinese names on their name cards, placing the given name first, and the surname last. This well-intentioned effort at Westernization is not helpful. It sends us poor Westerners into circles of confusion. Chinese names are complicated enough without turning them upside down just when the West was almost familiar with the Chinese style. of naming.

The other day I met a young Chinese gentleman with a very unusual name card.

The fact that he has his passport photo printed in color on his name card is not particularly noteworthy. Nor, really, is the fact that he lists his date of birth (in 1971), marital status (single), and former job title (he was once a government official) next to his photo; or the brief summary of his mission in life.

What struck me as unusual was that on the reverse of the card he lists the names, titles and organizations of his father, mother, brother, sister-in-law, and his nephew (who is a student).

This is novel. Even more striking is the fact that with the exception of his student nephew, the other four relatives listed all have senior titles in the same department of a rather large city in China. The department in which they all work is in the law enforcement field. His mother and father are listed as “retired” senior officials from that department.

So, let’s see. Given the fact that he does not list a current job affiliation for himself on the card, the message would seem to be that he is a resourceful chap from a resourceful family. Got it: with connections like that, who needs a job?

The name card continues its evolution. What’s next, I wonder?


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“这是您的名片还是家谱?” / "Is This Your Name Card, or Family Tree?"》上有 16 条评论

  1. Jonetta 说道:

    Yo, that’s what’s up trutfhully.

  2. Fell out of bed feeling down. This has brigthneed my day!

  3. 匿名 说道:

    评 -5 分

  4. 下一步可能会流行征婚名片吧。。。

  5. 匿名 说道:

    评 5 分

  6. 匿名 说道:

    评 5 分

  7. 匿名 说道:

    评 5 分

  8. 逛逛 说道:

    不错不错:loveliness:

  9. 匿名 说道:

    评 5 分

  10. 匿名 说道:

    评 1 分

  11. 茄子 说道:

    :loveliness:

  12. 匿名 说道:

    评 1 分

  13. 匿名 说道:

    中国特色

  14. 匿名 说道:

    评 5 分

  15. 匿名 说道:

    评 5 分

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