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How to Interact with Foreigners, and other Olympics Propaganda

Don't be "excessive" when helping handicapped people.  The diagram shows how to say "Beijing Welcomes You" in sign language.

Don't be "excessive" when helping handicapped people. The diagram shows how to say "Beijing Welcomes You" in sign language.

Today I happened across a new series of posters on the neighborhood propaganda bulletin boards about etiquette to be observed during the Olympics.  Olympics propaganda is not new to Beijing, nor are paternalistic slogans on how to be a “civilized” citizen, but this new series in particular caught my eye because of one poster with a list of rules for how to act around foreigners.  Always curious to understand more about Chinese behavior towards us Western folk, I stopped to take a closer look.  Most delightful was a list of eight questions Chinese are not to ask us, which if observed, would leave these curious and enthusiastic hosts with essentially nothing with which to make conversation.  Following are some translated excerpts along with photos from some of the posters:

Smile When Communicating with Foreigners

A Smile is Beijing’s Best Business Card — A Smile is the Whole World’s Propriety

“Eight Don’t-Asks” When Chatting with Foreign Guests

Rules for Interacting with Foreigners

Rules for Interacting with Foreigners

Don’t ask about income or expenses, don’t ask about age, don’t ask about love life or marriage, don’t ask about health, don’t ask about someone’s home or address, don’t ask about personal experience, don’t ask about religious beliefs or political views, don’t ask what someone does.

General Rules for Etiquette with Foreigners

One’s manners and bearing, and image should be graceful;
Be neither humble nor haughty, but at ease and self possessed;
Seek commonalities while reserving differences, have reason and integrity;
Adapt to others’ customs, respect ethical code;
Abide by agreements, adhere to promises;
Be enthusiastic in moderation, differentiate between insiders and outsiders;
Be appropriately modest, be affirmed in yourself;
Do not ask private questions, respect others’ customs;
Ladies first, be gentlemanly;
Seat honored guests on the right, and get along harmoniously.

(The man in the lower-left bubble says: “This is Mr. Peter.”)

I’d say the highlight of this translation is the line “differentiate between insiders and outsiders,” neiwai youbie.  One online dictionary chose to translate this four-character phrase as “keep inside information from outsiders or foreigners,” which I suppose is also a valid interpretation for the more paranoid reader.

Also amusing were some of the guidelines for interacting with handicapped athletes:

Don't say bad things to handicapped people!

Don't say bad things to handicapped people!

Etiquette for Interacting with Handicapped Athletes

  1. You should use polite and standard forms of address for handicapped athletes.
  2. Try to keep as light as you can with handicapped overtones.
  3. Pay attention to how you congratulate handicapped athletes.

Pay attention to avoiding taboo subjects, quit using bad platitudes, and do not use insulting or discriminatory contemptuous or derogatory terms to address the disabled.  Say things such as, “You are amazing,” or “You are really great.”  When chatting with the visually impaired, do not say things like “It’s up ahead,” or “It’s over there.”  When chatting with athletes who are paraplectic in their upper body, do not say things like “It’s behind you.”

I’m not sure I understand the last tip; presumedly it’s cruel to tell someone something is behind them if their upper body is crippled.

Lastly, there was one rule on a poster about proper behavior for commuters and pedestrians that seemed a bit odd:

When men and women are walking together, men should generally walk on the outside, and the person carrying things should normally walk on the right.  Men should help women carry things, but must not help women carry their handbags.  When three people are walking side-by-side, elderly should walk in the middle.  Where there are many cars around, men should walk on the side of the sidewalk closer to the street.  When four people are walking together, it is best to walk two-by-two.

It sounds to me as if the people are being asked to mobilize into tactically advantageous walking formations, so as to maximize protection for women and elderly against rough and rowdy foreign hordes which will soon be threatening the safety of Beijing’s streets and sidewalks with unchecked groping and thieving.  To sum up, it seems the message behind these posters is “Smile, but don’t let the foreigners get close.”  Beijing welcomes you, indeed!


  1. john wrote:

    This is an excellent post. I did want to say, however, that there is a very specific and very old Western tradition about men walking on the “car” side of the sidewalk instead of women or elderly and it is certainly a good pointer. The reason initiated in the stanky and waste filled cities of old Europe. Before plumbing those who, ahem, “relieved themselves” in their homes often did do is buckets or had rudimentary pipes that let out onto the street. In the case of the pipes, waste obviously pushes out as well as down, and waste thrown from a bucket above ground floor will travel out too. In other words, men should take the “shitty” side to preserve womens garments and honour. I like this idea, though why mens garments and honour do not need protecting is something of a mystery.

    Also, then and now, if a cab (or horse cart) drives by in the rain, the person closer to the street will take the bulk of the waste. Again, this amounts to men being covered in filth. Again, I see the chivalry, but I still don’t really want that on me.

    My two fen, cheers.

    Tuesday, July 22, 2008 at 3:43 am | Permalink
  2. “Don’t be “excessive” when helping handicapped people. The diagram shows how to say “Beijing Welcomes You” in sign language.”

    Which sign language? Chinese, American and British are all different.

    Tuesday, July 22, 2008 at 5:39 pm | Permalink
  3. John2 wrote:

    The poster for proper behaviour for pedestrians is something that is not odd at all if you live in Europe (this may change from country to country though). In France it is still considered impolite for a man to expect the woman to walk on the car side of the pavement. It is normal to allow the eldest to walk in the middle and hence be at the centre of conversation. When carrying heavy bags as most people are right-handed it makes sense to walk on the right-hand-side.

    In France it is still normal to open doors for women (including car doors), except when entering a restaurant or bar in which case the man enters first.

    While none of this is actually necessary, women will silently judge you on this.

    Tuesday, July 22, 2008 at 7:33 pm | Permalink
  4. 宝茹 wrote:

    Hahahaha…the don’t asks are very funny and direct.

    Tuesday, July 22, 2008 at 10:14 pm | Permalink
  5. Clay wrote:

    Thanks for sharing these. The “Don’t ask about political/religious views” is quite notable, especially since Chinese normally avoid such topics anyway. Its very interesting….

    Oh, Isn’t the 内外有别 meaning more accurately something like: “All countries are different”. That’s fair and accurate enough I think.

    Tuesday, July 22, 2008 at 11:43 pm | Permalink
  6. jr wrote:

    I don’t know, Clay, I think that’s a bit too generous an interpretation. Character by character it’s “inside outside have difference.” To just gloss that over as “all countries” loses the distinction of inside vs. outside.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 12:20 am | Permalink
  7. James wrote:

    America is not that far behind. We are getting to the point we can’t ask people too many questions also.
    But really the chinese government is trying to control their people. They are affraid that the real people of China will find out how they are doing with their own country. I have been to all of China twice in the last 10 years for over a year. Just go to China with an open mind. Smile!!! The universal greeting. Smile!!!! And say hello.
    People will open up. Chinese people are very friendly!!

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 6:14 am | Permalink
  8. Amber wrote:

    Wow, what is the Chinese govornment afraid of? It would not offend most people to be asked general questions when engaging in conversation. These are common and normal questions to ask someone who you are getting to know. A protocal of questions to ask and not to ask is crazy. People will feel so nervous about asking the wrong thing that they will avoid conversation. They need to find a way to have more faith in their people.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 6:25 am | Permalink
  9. David Quentin Dauthier wrote:

    I am an American who has lived in Beijing continuously for 10 years. While it is true that “Propaganda is a concerted set of messages aimed at influencing the opinions or behaviors of large number of people”, I don’t think that is a fair word to use in this case. It is so politically charged that it catches the attention for all the wrong reasons and lends a patina to what the Chinese are trying to do in THIS particular case. In fact, I found my way to your blog by Yahoo News “The ‘eight don’t asks’ of the Olympics”.

    This list of “don’t asks” is the governments heavy-handed way of trying to circumvent culture clashes. With the exception of don’t ask about religion and politics (the Chinese would never ask about those things anyway), the rest of the list usually comes up in the course of normal I-just-met-you-five-minutes-ago conversation. I am surprised that they didn’t include a “don’t comment on fat people’s weight” guideline. Believe me when I say the average Chinese hasn’t the slightest compunction about making fat comments. They use it just as we would use any other sort of descriptive word. “Just stand over there next to guy in the BLUE shirt—in front of that really FAT lady.” It is common (and polite) for a Chinese person to comment on a close friend’s weight. “My! You’ve gained weight since I saw you last.” I think you can see that these particular pieces of “propaganda” are going to be quite useful in keeping foreigners from getting white-hot pissed off.

    Furthermore, your translation of 内外有别 is absolutely for shit. You said it is either
    1. “differentiate between insiders and outsiders,” or
    2. “keep inside information from outsiders or foreigners,”


    内 Nei means inside. 外 Wai means outside. 有 You means has (the verb). and 别 Bie means differences.

    TRANSLATION: We are different. “We” being “Nei”, those inside China, Wai being all that is outside (China) and YOUBEI, meaning different.

    In lecturing on Western Culture, I don’t know how many times I have used this very line. It is a far cry from the Orwellian rant you are making it out to be.


    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 6:54 am | Permalink
  10. Ben wrote:

    Are you serious? Forget about asking foreigners; would you ask a total stranger regardless of ethnicity these eight questions? How would you feel if I go up to you and ask, “how many times did you get fired?”

    Besides, I really don’t understand people like Amber who tries to make this a political issue. You guys are putting waaaaay too much power into the hands of the Chinese gov’t. So what if someone asks these questions? Is the CCP going to round ‘em up and shoot them all?

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 6:56 am | Permalink
  11. Blake wrote:

    @Amber and James

    I don’t think the CCP issued this poster to control Chinese people. A big part of the message the BOCOG hopes to convey is that China can play up to “international standards”; that includes etiquette. Often the first three questions a non-Chinese citizen will receive from a Chinese citizen are:

    1. Where are you from?
    2. Is China better or is better?
    3. How much money do you make?

    Most people from Western countries would think it’s kind of rude for questions two and three to follow question one. The “Eight Don’t-Asks” are really meant to avoid our “WTF?!” reaction.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 6:58 am | Permalink
  12. Esther wrote:

    Claramente se ve que el gobierno quiere controlar a su poblacion y la verdad que exagerados!!! Creo yo que solo con una sonrisa se debe de ver tanto los de casa como los visitantes.
    Las traducciones de China nunca han sido su especialidad.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 7:00 am | Permalink
  13. Darrell wrote:

    It’s always amusing to hear criticism of China by the US mainstream media. They barely even understand their own government’s role in global affairs- why would anyone expect them to understand a foreign country’s affairs? All in all, there’s little understanding of China in all its complexity
    by American journalists. The viewpoints are always the same few items: human rights, Tibet, Darfur, the environment. I mean, China is larger than any of the other CONTINENTS, and these ignorant journalists are going to understand that country from 10,000 miles away? Laughably ignorant.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 7:03 am | Permalink
  14. Matt wrote:

    Actually having the man walk on the outside, closest to the traffic, is an older etiquette standard. Ask your grandparents about it.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 7:17 am | Permalink
  15. sally wrote:

    As an ESL teacher in the US, I think the Chinese suggestions for inappropriate questions are on the mark and relevant. Believe me, conversation openers and smalltalk taboos as well as conversation customs differ from country to country and culture to culture. They are trying to help people be polite and get along, and that’s a good thing.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 7:22 am | Permalink
  16. Carole in Umatilla wrote:

    I have heard that in China it’s perfectly alright to hawk up a big gob of sputum and spit it out when you’re out in public. If that is true, then I feel it would be better to have Chinese people not spit on the ground when they are hosting outsiders who consider spitting to be not only disgusting, but a disease-carrying action.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 7:23 am | Permalink
  17. LC wrote:

    While “Eight Don’t Asks” is a general practice in the States (I can’t speak for Europe), I don’t understand why Chinese living in China should follow this rather western guideline. Shouldn’t visitors instead learn to accept or tolerate Chinese way of chatting with strangers? Or, does the Chinese government view it as downright rude?

    It’s alright that “inside and outside have differences”.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 7:31 am | Permalink
  18. Adan wrote:

    @darrell. Darrell wrote,

    “I mean, China is larger than any of the other CONTINENTS, and these ignorant journalists are going to understand that country from 10,000 miles away? Laughably ignorant.”

    Darrell, check your map. At the very least, China is smaller than Asia, since it’s only a part of Asia. (And it’s smaller than Africa, Europe, North and South America….)

    Laughably ignorant indeed…

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 7:38 am | Permalink
  19. Marian wrote:

    I used to work as an interpreter in China. One thing westerners complained the most was that a lot of the Chinese people they met for the first time would ask them what they do, how much they make, whether they are married or not, whether they have kids or not… And they felt that such questions are intrusive. The reality is that it’s pretty common among Chinese to ask about these questions and people do not mean to be and would not be perceived to be rude. So the so called “propaganda” is really a sincere good-will gesture to remind the Chinese people of cultural boundaries and really should not be taken beyond that.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 7:54 am | Permalink
  20. jr wrote:


    If propaganda is a concerted set of messages aimed at influencing the behavior of a large set of people, then it seems it would be the perfect word to describe these posters. I don’t see what makes it unfair to use the word. The posters are released by the Dongcheng District 宣传部, or as I think many people would call it, the Department of Propaganda, and posted in the neighborhood 宣传栏, or “propaganda bulletins.” I know the central Ministry of Propaganda finally realized that word doesn’t fly so well and changed their English name to the Ministry of Publicity, but it’s still the same thing. I’m not arguing that a campaign to educate some of the people around here with some tips on how to interact with foreigners is wrong — if it were me, I would have thought up a number of other tips — but it is what it is.

    As for the translation of 内外有别, the first translation came from “A New Century Chinese-English Dictionary” by Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, one of the best Chinese-English dictionaries I’ve used. The nciku definition is certainly a bit over the top. But regardless of which dictionary you trust, I think that with four-character phrases there is a lot of room for interpretation, and correct understanding is heavily dependent on context. When they just present the short phrase by itself in a list with no explanation for its context, it’s hard to say exactly what they’re implying by it.


    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 7:58 am | Permalink
  21. Tiannamen wrote:

    The reason for this is a clear case of the CCP trying to warn their citizens NOT to exchange political viewpoints with foreigners–and they try to make this seem innocuous by adding on a bunch of other advice that seems to be saying something simple like “Hey, don’t be rude”. And based on the opinions of some morons on this site (CCP workers perhaps?), this was a great move. Honestly, do that many of you actually believe the CCP incapable of such propaganda?

    To Darrell: You complained about the stupidity of ppl who don’t understand the complexity of China, and you said, “China is larger than any of the other CONTINENTS”. Take a look at an almanac, shithead.

    To Ben: You said, “You guys are putting waaaaay too much power into the hands of the Chinese gov’t. So what if someone asks these questions? Is the CCP going to round ‘em up and shoot them all?” Ahhh, yes, that’s exactly what they can do; indeed, they’ve done it before, and they routinely execute their citizens (using mobile lethal injection vans) for political crimes now. Hey Ben, have you ever heard of Tiannamen Square? Have you ever heard about all the MILLIONS of people killed under Mao (and his successors)? Read a book, fuckhead. Hey, Ben, what would happen if a Chinese citizen ran out to the track during opening ceremonies flying a flag that said “Democracy Now!”, or “Remember Tiannamen!”, or “Down with the CCP!”?

    DOWN WITH THE CHINESE COMMUNIST PARTY! TRY AND EXECUTE HU JINTAO AND THE ENTIRE CCP LEADERSHIP NOW!!! Now come and try to arrest me for saying this, you red fucking bastards! Suck it, you filthy degenerates!

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 8:32 am | Permalink
  22. PJ wrote:

    After reading all these responses I have to agree with Marian.
    The list of Don’t Ask questions struck me as simply a reminder of differences in cultural etiquette. Any country hosting the Olympics would issue some kind pre-game reminders to “please be pleasant to our guests as we don’t want an international incident” type of courtesy offered to the incoming foreigners.
    I just don’t see anything laughable about it. If I had the chance to go I would appreciate the effort they are putting forth.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 8:43 am | Permalink
  23. Neal wrote:

    I’m a Chinese who has lived in US for 20 years. Let me straight some of the phases you guys put up there:
    1.内外有别:Be careful when speak to foreigners, use your words selectively, and tread them as your guest
    2.宣传部:Broadcasting Department
    3.宣传栏:News bulletins
    You guys can all laugh along about “Eight Don’t-Asks”, but it’s absolutly normal when majority of Chinese never have a chance to speak to a foreigner face to face.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 9:06 am | Permalink
  24. Jashin wrote:

    Basically, a teeny tiny little resident district put this poster out, and it gets painted up to look like the city government did it.

    lol what’s with the libel/idiocy these days concerning China? There’s 200,000 foreigners working, living, setting up shop in Shanghai alone, nobody gives a shit.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 9:17 am | Permalink
  25. Todd wrote:

    I am starting to hate Yahoo. The things in the chinese propaganda should be propaganda for the whole world.

    I’ve been to china 3 times now and spent time with a couple of families. They are just like us. The chinese government doesn’t control people, the power they do have is because the people are proud and love their country just like we love our.

    I wish in the States we had the one child policy. So after you have one child the government will pay for a surgery to prevent another pregnancy or if you want more kids you don’t get the surgery then pay taxes for additional children or as our media calls them “fines”. I am still confused on why I have to pay more taxes than people with kids when I am using less of the public resources.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 9:43 am | Permalink
  26. kate wrote:

    One of a reporter’s duties is to reduce the gap between peoples in different cultures, not to enlarge the gap. It is obvious that the good intentions of those who posted the rules are distorted. Some American reporters really need to spend more time on their Chinese before being sent to China working as a journalist.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 9:45 am | Permalink
  27. Dave wrote:

    Joel, in response to your comments on the etiquette of walking on the street in “tactically advantageous maximize protection…against foreign hordes…”

    This is my first visit to this site, and I’m wondering how long you’ve been in China and if you know any Chinese people, the language, or have any Chinese friends, because it’s obvious you’re absolutely clueless about China. The above excerpt on ‘how to walk on the street’ is practically a Chinese tradition passed on to people so that they can be generally safe. It has nothing to do with foreigners. If you ask just about any Chinese person if they the man should walk on the outside closest to the curb and cars, they will probably say “Of course, you idiot. What do think I’m completely uncivilized?” It’s really common sense when you’re with an elderly person that you let them walk in the middle; in case they take a bad step, the people on either side can help them up.

    Get a clue Joel, I think you could actually learn some manners from the “propaganda” during the Olympics.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 9:57 am | Permalink
  28. zhu wuneng wrote:

    This is more like paternalistic moral preaching than heavy-handed mass control. It’s actually well-intentioned but somehow laughable to some outside observers.

    Some pieces of advise might be good, some might be debatable, but does the government have the right to be a manners coach. instructing adults how to behave? In China, and to many many Chinese, the answer is definitely yes.

    Chinese government and social elite tend to consider moral teaching as the government’s sacred responsibility. Commonners (lao bai xing) are treated like children, who need to be taken good care of, and need to learn good manners.

    At school, kids are being taught to cultivate new manners for the sake of the Olympics. On the street, grown-ups are urged to control their instinct to spit. Taxi drivers are told to learn English. People are even told how to smile.

    Olympics is seen as a coming-of-age ritual for China. I guess, for the authorities, and for many social elites, it’s also an opportunity to each the masses to be more mature, as if they were still little kids.

    BTW, some one is trying to whitewash 内外有别:) 内外有别is a regulary used catchphrase when dealing with foreigners. It does mean that there are certain things that you are not supposed to say in front of foreigners. to complain about inconvenience caused by the Olympics among your neighbors is one thing, but to badmouth your motherland in front of a foreigner? That’s a big no, no. That is what 内外有别means.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 10:14 am | Permalink
  29. jr wrote:


    Fair enough, but the point is, if it is practically a Chinese tradition, what do Beijingers need the government to put up these silly posters for?

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 10:15 am | Permalink
  30. zhu wuneng wrote:

    I guess, to many Chinese, they just don’t think these posters are silly. To some, this is the right thing to do. And to some, these posters are something that they have long been used to but never really cared.

    The other day, a seemingly knowleagble and well-intentioned professor, who is also a security consultant, appeared as a studio guest in an official TV station. He gave a piece of friendly advise to senior folks:

    If you’re old, –if you’re over 60 years old, for your own well0being, don’t come to the venue. You can stay home and watch TV.

    He must though he was wise and nice. But can you imagine a commentator making these kinds of remarks in U.S.? For one thing, the TV host himself/herself might be way over 60.:)

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 10:46 am | Permalink
  31. Neal wrote:

    You have a very nice Chinese name “Zhu Wuneng”, lol
    zhu wuneng: “retarded pig” in Chinese, very funny. But I think you are a “smart ass”.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 10:59 am | Permalink
  32. zhu wuneng wrote:

    Thank you for not calling me an impotent hog.:)

    You know,nowadays, with pork so expensive and all those Olympic pigs specially raised for foreign guests, etc., the Year of Pig should not have ended with 2007.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 12:04 pm | Permalink
  33. Ren wrote:

    It’s not a political issue. These “don’ts” are to avoid cultural clashes. Chinese people, among themselves, do ask a lot of questions about one’s privacy. It’s normal here, but might make a Westerner feel slightly uncomfortable.

    For those who insist that this is the gov’t trying to prevent people from exchaning political views with foreigners: hundreds of thousands of foreigners live and study in China every year. Get a brain, or a life.

    One step further: this article actually reeks of racism. The Chinese public just want to be polite towards foreigners during the Games, that’s all. They and their hospitality don’t deserve mockery. Who ever wrote this should really be ashamed of themselves.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 1:34 pm | Permalink
  34. zhu wuneng wrote:

    Please, they’re foreigners, and the government is telling us to smile to them. So smile.

    As how to smile properly, I think there are also official guidelines recently laid out by the Olympic organizors.

    Also, according to the rule, please “differentiate insiders and outsiders”, so we shouldn’t use those higher moral standard to judge them outsiders.

    Or, look it at another way, if there’re hundreds of thousands of foreigners living and studying in China every year, maybe the “commoners” (lao bai xing) have already figured out on their own on to how to deal with foreigners, and they don’t necessarily need a daddy government to teach them manners?

    Anyway, let’s smile.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 2:07 pm | Permalink
  35. Tato wrote:

    Just curious exactly where you saw this poster! We want to go and check it out in person!!!! :)

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 5:12 pm | Permalink
  36. jr wrote:


    Should be up in any common neighborhood in Dongcheng. I don’t know if any of the other districts put up similar ones. The two neighborhoods I saw them in were just around Dongzhimen.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 5:22 pm | Permalink
  37. G wrote:

    I think the posters are a good thing. Cultural differences are huge. I live in Flushing, NY, which is like a small Chinatown. I like it here and people are really nice, but I had to adjust to certain things, like being asked a ton of personal questions, and my friends are asked all the time how do you know this bai ren. At first it bothered me, as I am quite private about my life and don’t like to tell strangers the whole story of my life, I thought it was rude. But now I know they don’t mean any harm, even though I still don’t like it.
    Considering that you have a bunch of foreigners coming to the Olympics and you want them to leave happy and not complaining, I think it’s better if Chinese people respect their privacy and I guess just talk about the weather, even though it’s boring :)

    Thursday, July 24, 2008 at 2:24 am | Permalink
  38. Annie wrote:

    To Carole in Umatilla:

    About a year or so ago I read an article about Beijing’s campaign to curb the sputum-spitting ways of its populace in preparation for the Olympics. Apparently teams of volunteers were recruited to wear brightly coloured vests that had the Chinese character for mucus printed arcoss the back. These volunteers would also hand out pamphlets about the health hazards associated with spitting and strongly discourage this habit, especially when foreigners are present.

    Thursday, July 24, 2008 at 9:14 am | Permalink
  39. Joel wrote:

    We blogged this and used your photo. Don’t know how to do a trackback. Hope that’s alright:

    July’s propaganda: the “Eight Don’t Asks” and civilized traffic

    Friday, July 25, 2008 at 8:23 pm | Permalink
  40. jm wrote:

    I think the “8 don’t asks” shows the good and freindly attitude of the Beijing Olympic Commitee and Beijing authorities to the foreign guests to China. Some questions (like the 8 don’t asks)are common in China and may not be polite in other countries. So I think these “8 don’t asks” are good education to the locals before the Olympic Games. I realy don’t see why some people are fussing about it.

    Friday, July 25, 2008 at 10:41 pm | Permalink
  41. Bill Thompson wrote:

    I think the 内外有别 means, among other things mentioned above, that there are somethings that are private–not to be talked about, and there are some superficials things that are to be talked about. Don’t reveal too much to the foreigners. (or else?)

    Bi bu tai da de

    Saturday, July 26, 2008 at 5:47 am | Permalink
  42. Bill Thompson wrote:

    That should be “bi zi bu tai da de” (鼻子不太大的)

    Saturday, July 26, 2008 at 5:48 am | Permalink
  43. Lilo wrote:

    Backing up, I’d like to know just where in the US the person who said “While “Eight Don’t Asks” is a general practice in the States” lives… cause I’ve lived up and down the East coast my entire life, and I’ve yet to find a person who was insulted if I questioned their marital status, their life experiences or even about what they do for a living. That’s just part of normal chit chat. And I’ve never been offended at anyone asking me any of those 8 questions.

    Sunday, July 27, 2008 at 4:25 am | Permalink
  44. David Quentin Dauthier wrote:

    Joel Said, “If propaganda is a concerted set of messages aimed at influencing the behavior of a large set of people, then it seems it would be the perfect word to describe these posters. I don’t see what makes it unfair to use the word. The posters are released by the Dongcheng District 宣传部, or as I think many people would call it, the Department of Propaganda, and posted in the neighborhood 宣传栏, or “propaganda bulletins.” I know the central Ministry of Propaganda finally realized that word doesn’t fly so well and changed their English name to the Ministry of Publicity, but it’s still the same thing. I’m not arguing that a campaign to educate some of the people around here with some tips on how to interact with foreigners is wrong — if it were me, I would have thought up a number of other tips — but it is what it is.”

    Joel, in regards to 宣传 (xuan1 chuan2), you are precisely right that we translate that into English as “propaganda”, but my contention is that it is a word that has an import, which in THIS case, is unfair to the nature of the bulletin. It has been pointed out by others, and rightly so that this bulletin is a publication of Dong Cheng district. Incidentally, it is the district in which I live. Furthermore, one of the bulletins is posted in my neighborhood, and I can see it just through my window as I type this final response. I have asked some of my neighbors and also the folks in my neighborhood office concerning their understanding of the bulletin, but I will get to that later. For now, I will continue my discussion of the use of the word “propaganda.”
    Would you call an advertisement for Nike shoes propaganda or just an advertisement? Would you call an anti-smoking billboard paid for by the American Heart and Lung Association propaganda or just a public service announcement? Would you call a UNICEF poster showing a disadvantaged child an attempt to raise awareness or propaganda to squeeze money out of those more fortunate? I think in each case, we wouldn’t use the word propaganda despite the fact that in each case propaganda is the perfect word.

    In America and other parts of the English-speaking world, since World War I, we have move quietly away from the word propaganda by using euphemism or as Carl Sagan would have called them “Weasel Words”. Now if you are merely trying to avoid the use of weasel words, then I applaud you, but if you just felt the irresistible urge to call this “public service announcement” propaganda because it was issued by a branch of the Chinese government, then I have to ask you why. Is it because you want to paint the Chinese government in a dark and sinister hue? Believe me, if that is what you want to do, there are certainly better targets for you to aim at that this one little (and I think very important and useful) bulletin. Generally, we use words that bear a negative connotation when we want to do more than just report what is going on. Is that what you are trying to do—either unconsciously or otherwise? Well, if your intention was to take a decent thing and turn it into dark orders from Big Brother, then congratulations. Mission Accomplished. Now, moving on to the infamous内外有别.

    Joel said, “As for the translation of 内外有别, the first translation came from “A New Century Chinese-English Dictionary” by Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, one of the best Chinese-English dictionaries I’ve used. The nciku definition is certainly a bit over the top.
    [If it was over the top, as you say, then why did you publish it?]
    But regardless of which dictionary you trust, I think that with four-character phrases there is a lot of room for interpretation, and correct understanding is heavily dependent on context. When they just present the short phrase by itself in a list with no explanation for its context, it’s hard to say exactly what they’re implying by it.”
    [It is hard, but you made choices to interpret it that are being spread all over the world.]

    Anyway, you are certainly right when you infer that Chinese, like English, is a high-context language, meaning that you can’t really understand precisely what a word means in isolation—it has to be used in context to exhibit its true meaning. Nevertheless, words do have meaning by themselves, and standing alone, they have their default meanings. I asked several friends how they understood the phrase (in isolation) 内外有别. The majority said, “inside and outside are different”. When I gave it to them in context of the verse form, as it appeared in the poster (just a side note: these general rules of etiquette are written in verse form—a poem, ten lines, eight characters each), they understood it as “we shouldn’t be too enthusiastic when meeting foreigners (use the appropriate amount of enthusiasm) because we are (our culture is) different.” When I went to my neighborhood office (the guys who actually posted it in my neighborhood), they said basically the same thing. When I told them about your blog and about Yahoo News, let’s just say that they were just a little more than dismayed at your understanding of this bulletin.

    As a further note, you defended your translation with the dictionary meaning. I have the exact dictionary you referred to. Actually, in my case, the title of my dictionary is “The Contemporary Chinese Dictionary” also published by the Foreign Language and Research Press. In fact, they have published this very dictionary dozens of times under all sorts of names over the last 30 years or so. The dictionary was first published in 1978 based on work completed between 1968 and 1976, the time of the Cultural Revolution, and era of unparalleled paranoia concerning all things foreign. While a tremendous amount of reworking and reediting has gone into subsequent editions, the paranoia, built in to it through the tortured lives of scores of editors, lexicographers and translators, trickles down to the present day in dictionaries that still fill the shelves of bookstores all over China. Incidentally, just for your information, this 1978 edition is called A Chinese-English Dictionary published by 商务印书馆 and was written by the Beijing Foreign Language Institute, English Department (北京外国语学院英语系). Today, this institute is called Beijing Foreign Language University (北京语言大学, formerly 北京语言文化大学, formerly 北京语言学院). Just as a side note to a side note, the English advisor to the project is an acquaintance of mine, named David Cook, a Brit born in Beijing and still living here. As a sad commentary to this dictionary, the word love (爱) defined as affection, cherish, treasure, dear are exemplified by such sentences as “Love one’s country,” “Those who love flattery but not criticism are bound to go astray”, “Hold the People’s Commune dearer then one’s family”. Tragic but this is the lexicological ancestor of the dictionary that you hold in your hands. This is the danger of basing one’s claims to authority concerning matters of Chinese on one’s ability to thumb through a Chinese dictionary. It takes a little more than that, but evidently not much more than that to have your ideas picked up and published by Yahoo News.

    Let’s see how the Chinese use内外有别 themselves. Here is a list of Internet Articles in which the phrase appears. If you don’t read Chinese, you can translate them with Good translator and get the jist of the content. I didn’t find even one example remotely related to the paranoid Cultural Revolution command “differentiate between insiders and outsiders”. 内外有别
    This article asks “how can pollution be a case of “inside and outside are different”” 内外有别
    This article says that there are differences between western and foreign holidays. 内外有别
    This article says that internet prices for real estate are different from the actual prices. 内外有别
    The article reports that Russian president Putin complained about a Russian Steel company using double standards in pricing. 内外有别
    This one is about Pay Per Click 内外有别
    This one is about building businesses. 内外有别
    Interesting article: In this case, the phrase occurs in a way similar to President Putin’s article. Foreigners were overcharged for tickets to a garden expo. It is in the Chinese courts now. 内外有别
    Once again…buying real estate.

    In all the examples I look up of 内外有别, I didn’t find a single example that used it as Joel and his paranoid dictionary define it. I found that it is used either as purely descriptive as in “the inside and outside are different” and as a pejorative as in having a “double standard”.

    Please, don’t take my word for it. Just look it up. Or better yet, why not learn Chinese and understand it all for yourselves rather than relying on weak news sources that barely have the ability to report local news in their own language much less international and cultural news in a language far more difficult to understand.


    Sunday, July 27, 2008 at 1:15 pm | Permalink
  45. James Cheng wrote:

    As someone who actually speaks this language, here’s my two cents:

    I guess it’s already been agreed that “有别” means having differences, so I won’t waste time on that here.

    宣传 simply means advertising. Period.

    内外 could mean “inside and outside” as well as “insiders and outsiders”. In Chinese it is a common practice to omit certain characters in 4-character phrases when the meaning is obvious. And esp. in the context of the poem, it is quite apparent that such a phrase is referring to the difference in customs between Westerners and locals (E.g. S. Americans greet by kissing a lady on her two cheeks – something that would be quite shocking to traditional Chinese people).

    *Good post by Quentin there.

    *I think Mr. Thompson’s “I think…” has been over-influenced by reports on human rights and censorship issues by the media and totally disregards the context and purpose of these posters.

    *Translators do not do the Chinese language any justice – English and Chinese are simply too different to be translated by some automated machine. Surely humans are more sophisticated than that… no?

    Tuesday, August 5, 2008 at 3:00 pm | Permalink
  46. Beijinger wrote:

    Idiots! you think these are rules created to keep foreigners at a distance while these are common etiquette for Chinese people that have nothing to do with the Olympics. Authorities are just reminding people to behave well during the Games according to existing and already widespread traditions. People who don’t research this shoudln’t try to interpret stuff without knowing the basic background info.

    Tuesday, August 5, 2008 at 3:13 pm | Permalink
  47. bepp wrote:

    I wish they would hand out pamphlets in the same way, addressing foreigners’ behaviour whilst in China.

    Tuesday, August 5, 2008 at 3:45 pm | Permalink
  48. cjudah wrote:

    Or the walking of people is out of being polite. Men should walk next to the sidewalk with women so that nothing has the potential to splash etc. Fucking read up on being polite to people.

    Tuesday, August 5, 2008 at 4:43 pm | Permalink
  49. phauna wrote:

    Men are supposed to walk on the street side of a lady so as to take the brunt of any splashed water or mud from passing cars. It’s kind of old fashioned chivalry.

    Tuesday, August 5, 2008 at 5:51 pm | Permalink
  50. NickMacnab wrote:

    Those walking rules aren’t abnormal. I was taught those same things as the proper way to walk in groups. It’s good etiquette.

    Wednesday, August 6, 2008 at 2:39 am | Permalink
  51. Jeff Lee wrote:

    I really encourage you to learn Chinese before translating Chinese.

    Online dictionaries? Seriously?

    What path of thinking did you use when you decided to label etiquette posters as political propaganda?

    And if you’re going to critisize Western etiquette, maybe you should research what basic Western etiquette is first.

    Wednesday, August 6, 2008 at 4:31 am | Permalink
  52. Kevin wrote:

    The Olympics is China’s coming out party of sorts, it’s first steps into the modern world. China’s trying hard to enter a new age. It’s sad to see that instead of help, the developed nations try at every turn to criticize and downplay China.

    How willing to you think China and it’s people will be to change when the views of “people” like “Tiannamen” seem to be the norm in the west?

    Wednesday, August 6, 2008 at 5:02 am | Permalink
  53. zach wrote:

    And they don’t say what is the proper behaviour toward tibetan monks or burma students?? Hit them? Don’t watch the Olympics! Don’t support the hipocrisy

    Wednesday, August 13, 2008 at 2:06 am | Permalink
  54. sarah wrote:

    Great post, I put a link to your site in one of my blog posts, fyi. Keep it up!

    Monday, August 18, 2008 at 11:55 am | Permalink
  55. Crystal Tao wrote:

    This is a very good example of cultural differences. Going to use it as a reference in some of my posts ))

    Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

5 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. China Journal : Best of the China Blogs: July 21 on Monday, July 21, 2008 at 11:22 am

    [...] to the plethora of Olympics-inspired behavioral guidelines, some advice for Chinese on how to communicate with foreign friends—smile more, and don’t ask about incomes. [...]

  2. on Tuesday, July 22, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    Llegan las Olimpiadas: Normas de conducta para hablar con extranjeros…

    Ya queda muy poco para el comienzo de las Olimpiadas, y en un país tan históricamente cerrado en si mismo como China, la propaganda oficial lleva tiempo preparando a los habitantes de Beijing para la llegada de lo que se prevé sea una marea de visit…

  3. 变态辣 » Blog Archive » Being a Cultured Citizen on Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 12:12 am

    [...] I wanted to share with everybody a post from my friend Joel’s blog that had me laughing. He writes about the propaganda posters that have gone up recently around Beijing, and [...]

  4. [...] to pass up – a post that translates Olympic propaganda posters teaching the Chinese people how to interact with outsiders flocking into the city in the weeks ahead. The 8th rule is particularly useful. Lastly, there was one rule on a poster [...]

  5. [...] designed to smooth Chinese-foreigner relations during the upcoming summer 2008 Olympics. The series of three posters are great Olympics propaganda, combining Taoist courtesy with humorous anecdote and undecipherable [...]