A long-running debate on Chinese social media about the differences between what the British say and what they mean is thought to have began with an article on the topic in The Economist in 2011. Yet many Chinese still find what they term as “English-style English” somewhat inscrutable. For example: grasping that the British are really inferring the opposite when they start a sentence with the phrase “with the greatest respect”.
On the flipside, what should we deduce from the message sent to Chinese-speakers by the UK government – via the Chinese calligraphy that adorned the famous black door of 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the British prime minister – over Chinese New Year this week?
Netizens were pleased to see a pair of well-wishing couplets framed by two striking cherry blossoms and the photo of the doorway soon went viral across Chinese social media. The couplets can be roughly translated as “the phoenix brings harmony and the dragon brings good fortune; the red peach blossoms in spring to celebrate the new year”.
Alongside the festive message, Number 10 hosted a reception to celebrate the lunar new year, welcoming a hundred schoolchildren – mostly from ethnic Chinese families in the UK or students at the London Mandarin School. Guests enjoyed performances played on the Gu Zheng – a string instrument, before tucking into food prepared by three master chefs from Tianjin, flown in specially for the event.
Theresa May, the current occupant of Number 10, also took part in the ‘lion eye dotting’ ceremony, an ancient ritual supposed to bring luck. That’s something that she will be needing as she heads into another tortuous round of Brexit negotiations.