Friday, August 31, 2007

“Steamed Crap:” A Chinese Delicacy

I don’t know if it’s good news or bad news, but soon you will no longer be able to order “steamed crap” in Shanghai.

As a result of the approaching 2008 Olympics, the Chinese government has decided to clean up its act, starting with translation problems on restaurant menus.

“Steamed crap” was supposed to read, “steamed carp,” according to the Associated Press, which also reports that dishes such as “virgin chicken” and “temple explodes the chicken cube” are off the menu.

The fact that they didn’t bother to fix these mistranslations before now tells me the evil communist regime at least has a sense of humor.

If you’re wondering why the government has to be involved with restaurant menus to begin with, you’re forgetting that the government controls everything in China.

But that’s starting to change a little, too, with the Olympics on the way. China agreed to relax its normal limitations on journalists, for example, hoping to receive more positive worldwide press coverage during the games.

Normally, writing stories that expose protests or unflattering views of the government can get a journalist in China beaten up or jailed.

Thankfully, the situation in the good ol’ U.S.A. is different. Here, if a foreign journalist writes negative views about our government, he or she instead gets an all-expense-paid extended vacation in sunny Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Ha! I’m just joshing, obviously. We have it much better here in the West. I can’t imagine any government agency setting up surveillance on journalists or intimidating them (hmmm… Watergate… Patriot Act… NSA surveillance without court approval…).

But I’m getting off track. By all accounts, reporters in China have it much worse, and their government would like to disguise that fact for a couple of weeks or so.

With 30,000 foreign journalists expected to visit during the Olympics next year, Beijing has decided some of them might notice police beating up protesters or forcing pregnant women into late-term abortions. It might be bad PR if more than a few hundred of those journalists noticed these events and ended up behind bars or repeatedly jabbed with cattle prods for telling us about them.

To ensure that you can enjoy liberated coverage of the games (which I’m sure will also remain untainted by the interests of corporate sponsors), China agreed to allow journalists to travel freely throughout the country without first getting government permission.

Also, correspondents are no longer required to include the phrase “China Rules!” in their broadcasts, and they won’t have to dispatch 74 stories a year about captive pandas attempting to mate.

However, it appears China may not be living up to its word, as multiple news sources indicate the police still detain and harass journalists whenever they feel like it, even though the government had agreed to end this practice back at the beginning of the year.

In light of this, how could we summarize the quality of news and sports coverage we should expect to see in the Olympics? Is there some word or phrase that seems fitting?

If there is, you’ll probably find it on some restaurant menu in Beijing.

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