大山’s "Chinese college" English
A friend pointed me to a discussion on Quora about why foreigners in China don’t like 大山 (dàshān), [I was going to describe who that is, but if you don’t know who that is, go read something else]. I clicked on a link to Mark Rowswell’s (the guy who “plays” 大山) activity page and started reading some of the things he had to say, being very interested since he was saying them as Mark Rowswell, and not under the highly-censored-by-the-Chinese-media character of 大山.
I was shocked by how much one of his answers read like a perfect Chinese undergraduate English major’s writing assignment.
Below, I’ve highlighted what I mean:
[This is his answer to the question “Why do so many Chinese websites use numbers in their domain name?“]
Several detailed and analytical answers have been given here, but I think Joe Yang comes closest to the truth: Chinese don’t feel that Hindu-Arabic numerals are at all foreign. Chinese have adopted this numerical system as a universal standard that is independent of language, and therefore learn it from an early age. In fact, most Chinese now are more comfortable writing numbers as 6, 7, 8 than 六、七、八, much less 陆、柒、捌 (according to the formal full-form writing of the characters).
In other words, Chinese have gradually adopted these Hindu-Arabic numbers as their own, rather than consider them to be a foreign concept.
On the other hand, Chinese do consider the English (or Latin) alphabet to be a foreign construct. Most Chinese do not learn the alphabet until a later age, and are often uncomfortable with its use.
To give a personal example, I used to use the email address firstname.lastname@example.org, but I found that many Chinese did not understand the English word “mail” and even had difficulty understanding when I spelt it out letter-by-letter. After I converted “mail” to the number of my physical (snail-mail) mailbox, 9127, noboby seemed to have any problem understanding. email@example.com was very easy for any Chinese to remember. (I have since changed the address — no spam, please.)
To conclude, these Hindu-Arabic numbers, which are now universal, are much easier for Chinese Internet users to understand than the English alphabet, which is studied as a foreign language. It’s as simple as that.
I have to be fair and say that after reading more of his answers, it seems he doesn’t always write this way, but as I read that answer, many questions flashed through my mind. Did he learn English essay-writing in a class in China? Has he simply read so many Chinese college English essays that it has influenced him that much? Does he read so much Chinese that his English essay-reading has been severely limited? Is it because he came to China when he was so young?
The structure — each paragraph crassly labeled with formulaic introductory phrases — is the norm in China. Any foreign teacher who has spent any amount of time teaching writing in Chinese colleges has been showered with this. It’s rare to find Chinese college students writing anything better.
I highlighted “I think Joe Yang comes closest to the truth” in a lighter color because, while using other people’s material instead of introducing anything substantially new is also the norm in creativity-barren Chinese classrooms, Mark’s writing here is genuinely part of a discussion, commenting on and supporting someone else’s point. It wasn’t meant to be something original. It just coincidentally completes the picture of a perfect Chinese college English essay.