In the Beijing neighborhood that I stayed in last week, I noticed a wall covered with propaganda paintings (in the US, we might call them “public service announcements”). I’m always fascinated by these paintings and/or posters as they give a glimpse into what the leaders are concerned about and what the leaders think the people should be concerned about.
These propaganda paintings are typically done in the style of “socialist realism” — sturdy, square-jawed hero conquering whatever difficulty lies before them.
But these were different. In terms of color and style, they seemed to be evoking traditional Buddhist art instead of socialist realism. I know that the government has been on a campaign to promote traditional culture and cultural values; this was the first I had seen it reflected artistically in propaganda.
A friend recently posted this photo to Twitter and asked me about the translation. Apparently it’s part of a campaign going on in China to promote “socialist core values.”
Setting aside the mildly disturbing nature of the photo, it is an interesting look at contemporary political discourse in China.
The main question my friend had was in regard to the phrase “democracy is a belief” — was that an accurate translation of 民主是一种信仰 (minzhu shi yi zhong xinyang)? The translation on the poster is certainly the most direct. Minzhu = democracy; shi = is; yizhong = a kind of/type; and xinyang = to believe in something (like a religion).
I immediately remembered seeing that construction somewhere else, on an advertisement for some kind of learning center. In this case, they translated the phrase 学习是一种信仰 (xuexi shi yizhong xinyang) as “In Learning We Trust.”
The grammatical construction is the same, but the translation is less clunky (in my opinion, anyway). So if I had been asked to translate that phrase, I would have used “In Democracy we Trust.”
The real question, however, is what does the word democracy mean when used by a Communist government? This of course brings to mind the famous line from The Princess Bride. (click here to see video clip if you receive this by email)
In other words, they keep using that word, but I do not think that it means what they think it means!
And if you’re wondering what those socialist core values that these rather dour looking students are speaking for, here’s a photo that another friend in China sent me just today: