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So many have asked me about “不折腾”, as in “不动摇、不松懈、不折腾”, a new three-nope mantra put forward by President Hu Jintao in a speech last month to mark the 30th anniversary of the opening-up policy championed by the late Deng Xiaoping that it gets to a point where I feel I need to write a piece about it – also as a preemptive measure to prevent the same question from being asked again in future.|
So here we go.
First of all, the popularity of the phrase – not to mention the great confusion it has caused – shows that when the Communist Party speaks, people listen.
Which must be a great relief, I'm sure.
For the Party, of course.
However, that's not of concern here. Here, what we're concerned with is how to put those three Chinese words into English, in a way that not only a literal translation is made, but deeper meanings are also conveyed in the process.
First, the idea of 不折腾 is pretty easy to understand.
Say, you're meeting someone at 4pm but you call in at 3:30 saying you're going to be late. You suggest that you meet at 4:45 instead. "Oh, never mind," the other person will say, "Don't bother (别折腾了). I've got another appointment coming up at 5, and so let's call the whole thing off. See you some other day."
Or imagine yourself, for example, unable to get to sleep. You make tosses and turns in bed, disturbing bedmates. To them, your tossing about is meaningless because they don't think tossing in bed solves a thing, and so they would rather you stop doing it, thus allowing everybody to get a wink. If they mutter anything to you in this situation, they will probably say something like: “不折腾，行吗？我们还要早起呢！(Could you please stop tossing about? Guys have to get up early you know (and so we need some sleep now).”
You get the idea.
When Hu Jintao talked about 不折腾, however, he actually had some large business to get up early for. He was talking about the country working together to accomplish the great goals of turning China into a democratic, wealthy and harmonious society. When he mentioned 不折腾, he had political campaigns and massive movements of the past in mind, such as those that had the nation by the neck during the Cultural Revolution years of 1966-76, when squabbles over ideology took precedence over everything else, which led the nation to endless political tumult and close to total economic breakdown. What he meant by the Three Nos (不动摇、不松懈、不折腾) is: No wavering (in the Party's determination to carry on flying the flags of reform and opening-up), no letup (in economic advancement) and no more hassle (over ideology at the expense of all else).
A necessary disclaimer: These are my own idle interpretations (Yes, I, being a non-Party member, have to be very idle to meddle with Party business). I don't pretend to understand the President perfectly, as I have often muddled through pretty well without understanding exactly what politicians are up to. But my interpretation is based on 40 years of personal experience. That is to say, what I said is my feeling and therefore it is correct, as all feelings and emotions are correct unless you pretend that you don't have any. My dear readers, therefore, come up with your own interpretation and you'll be fine.
On this very point, the Communist Party deserves some extra credit – for merely allowing the people to have their own interpretations apart from the official verdict. Thirty years ago, this would not have been possible. Inadvertently admitting to the collective ineptitude on the part of its interpreters notwithstanding, this incident over 不折腾 clearly demonstrates that the Party is firmly committed to the path of change, a change from a one-voice authoritarian regime towards that of a democracy, Chinese style.
For that, I think, thirty years on, the opening-up policy championed by Deng Xiaoping merits another collective “Hurrah!”