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“Beautiful” in the Constitution of the Chinese Communist Party (upenn.edu)
46 points by mcenedella 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 50 comments

As a native Chinese speaker and a Chinese citizen, I found nothing interesting in this article except the author's dislike towards CCP.

It looks like the author wanted to understand the meaning of 美丽 in this context but failed so instead he/she just dumped all his raw research and personal opinions without justifications and deeper analysis.

> Note that, as a rhetorical progression, the five modifiers from "rich and powerful" to "beautiful" become increasingly abstract, with "beautiful" amounting to an unassailable purified truth.

This sentence is not really making sense to me. The 5 adjectives are all abstract, and 美丽 is the less abstract one among them because you normally use it to refer to physically objects.

Also, the discussion on single character vs two characters are pretty much irrelevant to the contextual meaning of the word 美丽 here, because the two character word is used just to make all 5 adjectives have two characters uniformly (more beautiful). If the other 4 adjectives were single character, this word would also be single character. In Chinese, the usage of single vs multiple characters is mostly purely for aesthetics of the written sentence. For example:

真,善,美 (all single characters, looks and sounds nice)


美丽的上海 (adjective and subject are both two characters, looks and sounds nice)

> In conclusion, the newly added měilì 美丽 ("beautiful") in the Party constitution is completely unrelated to the abstract ideal of "beauty" of the Platonic or Aristotelian sort.

This is a pretty interesting remark, in the eyes of a westerner. Care to comment on it?

Like I said in the edited comment in parent, 美丽 is mostly used to describe physical objects. So it is going to be interpreted as beautiful towns, cities and houses by the general public. And the officials will maybe prioritize some gentrification, renovation projects in alignment to this. I don't know why the author thought so deeply about it. It should be pretty straightforward.

While I don't agree with that '美丽' does not have anything to do with abstract ideal, I don't agree with you, neither.

While 美丽 can be used to describe physical objects, 美丽 in the Constitution does convey a sense of abstract ideal. Because when someone says 'something is 美丽', the statement is already abstract. The statement says nothing about the physical property of the subject, it simply conveys an ideal that may be interpreted differently by each individual.

But certainly this ideal won't be of the Platonic or Aristotelian sort. In this context, it simply means a country that 'everyone finds enjoyable living in', which is indeed an ideal.

edit: grammar

Since you mentioned "ideal", let me give you an example of "ideal". "中国梦", literally translated as "the Chinese dream" and a phrase coined by CCP, describes an "ideal" that fits your description.

But no, "beautiful" in this context just means prettier physical outlook of buildings. You can't over-interpret it (at least in Chinese).

I think you only understood part of what it tries to convey.

Good aesthetics, yes, part of '美丽'. But I won't say '美丽' stops short at simply say 'we will build our cities to look pleasing', at least I won't expect the Constitution to be so pragmatic, because it serves as an guide on the ideology (sort of).

'美丽' is used to describe 'ecological civilization', not to describe beautiful cities. It is used against the backdrop that pollution (of water, air, soil, etc.) is very serious across China, and there are many complaints from ordinary people.

You can see the meaning of '美丽' from this sentence '生态环境根本好转,美丽中国目标基本实现' (the ecological environment has fundamentally improved, and the goal of a beautiful China has basically been achieved).

Yes. This is a more accurate explanation, thanks for posting.

But that sentence does not appear in the Constitution. Or maybe I'm looking at a wrong version?


This is the speech Xi delivered at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. It contains this sentence. If you skim the speech, you will find multiple mentions of '美丽', all of them environment related.

The other four words are related to other aspects of policies of China.

富强(prosperous) is related to economy.

民主(democratic) is related to politics.

文明(culturally advanced) is related to culture.

和谐(harmonious) which was added to the constitution by Xi's predecessor Hu Jintao, is related to society.

And 美丽(beautiful) is related to ecology or environment.


富强, 民主, 文明 and 和谐 are the first words of the 'core socialist values' which contain 12 such words and which were laid out at the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, when Hu stepped down and Xi become the paramount leader of Communist Party of China.

'Core socialist values' are taught to students from kindergarten to college. And these words of 'core socialist values' are plastered over walls, buildings and flyovers at every cities in China.

I think I get what you mean: Because it is the constitution, it must be abstract and serve as guiding principle.

However, I beg to differ. Here is the full latest constitution:

Chinese: http://www.12371.cn/special/zggcdzc/zggcdzcqw/

English: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/download/Constitution_of_t...

As you can see, the paragraph on "beautiful" is just a tiny part of the constitution and the word "beautiful" only appears once throughout the entire constitution. So it is probably not something very "guiding" and "central".

Also, the constitution touches on a lot of aspects of the society, so I wouldn't be surprised if it is amended to include a small mention of the "look" of the physical landscape.

I would say that the word is added just to make sure that the party keep environmental concerns and "good outlook" in mind while working on all the other tasks.

If the entire Constitution is about concrete matters comparable to 'building good-looking cities', and 'building good-looking cities' is certainly one such matter because it is emphasized in the concluding remark, then why would the word appear only once?

I don't believe abruptly inserting a term that's never mentioned is good writing style.

A plausible way to understand it is that, the concluding remark is a summarizing call-to-action, laying out the spiritual and ideological framework for the rest to act upon. It certainly needs to be abstract, just as the four words preceding 美丽.

Its a western tendency to look for alternate interpretations of speech ("what is this really saying?") contrasted with Chinese style of writing which is typically very literal.

> I don't know why the author thought so deep about it.

Because “beautiful” is a pretty abstract word. It kinda invites to a debate. Don’t you think?

In both Chinese and English, I feel "beautiful" is as abstract as "rich", and less abstract than "powerful" and "democratic". Maybe you feel differently but that's how I feel.

Please post a deeper analysis so we can compare them :-) Language Log is pretty open to debate so I guess they would even republish there if it is a good one!

I feel that if you are presented with a text to analyze, and you chose to research the history and origin of each individual word, you're probably not going to end up at a meaningful conclusion any time soon...

I cannot claim to speak a Chinese language yet (It's on my to-do list, but I'm allergic to effort, and my wife of course has to speak three Chinese languages natively), but I very much agree. It's just a bunch of pointless research, linguistic show-off and opinions on the Communist party (which regardless of their content is entirely out of scope for the analysis). The author should have just scrapped it when they failed to find a conclusion...

I was also disappointed by the interjection of simplistic judgments in the middle. It didn't fit with the language analysis at all.

How prevalent is the use of "sprachgefühl" in English? Whenever I read such a German word where there would be a "more native" english alternative ("feel for language" here), I wonder what the motivation of the author was to use the German variant.

Sometimes, there are subtle differences in usage and meaning, but sometimes, I have the impression the author is just showing off their vocabulary.

English linguistics jargon abounds with German words (Sprachbund, Wanderwort, Aktionsart...) The author isn’t showing off – this is a blog written by linguists mainly for linguists, so it wouldn’t impress anyone. He’s just using the lingo that people come to use as they immerse themselves in this field.

Has been mentioned a few times in passing on HN: 6 years ago here: “Ruby and The Principle of Unwelcome Surprise” https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3087823#3087918 and 5 years ago here: “The Pronunciation of Django” https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4976551#4976962 and here: “Nomadic programming” https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4821753#4822701

As someone says on Wordnik: https://www.wordnik.com/words/Sprachgefühl “ Sprachgefühl has arguably been brought to light by David Foster Wallace's "snoot" acronym, which stands for either "Sprachgefühl Necessitates Our Ongoing Tendance" or "Syntax Nudniks of Our Time." ”

It's relatively uncommon/obscure linguistic jargon that has seen its currency appreciate in recent years owing to DFW worship.

It's not common in ordinary English, but perhaps it is common jargon among linguists?

I don't know how common it is but yeah I first heard of that at university. I'm a linguist (in Brazil).

An article such as this strikes me as an appropriate place to show off an author's vocabulary.

Instead of thinking that the author is "showing off" perhaps one should take it as an opportunity to learn something new. If one always encounters words/concepts one already knows, how does one learn anything new?

Well, German is my first language, so I obviously understood what it means. But it feels out of place in English. More common words like kindergarten or schadenfreude make much more sense to me, that's why I was asking.

"style and preference" seems so much more natural than "style and sprachgefühl".

I like German as a language, but using German in English always seems so awkward, especially due to drastic, almost comical pronunciation differences. After all, various German words have turned into internet meme's of their own entirely due to how awkward and fun it sounds when said in English contexts ("FLAMMENWERFER. IT WERFS FLAMMEN.").

Interestingly, the use of English in German (the opposite) is not nearly as awkward, and often comes off as quite intelligent and resourceful on the part of the speaker.

I think there is a cultural bias behind this, however. The English are not as inclined to learn other languages as is the case in the German-speaking world, and I think this really works in the German-speaking favor. For example, it is very difficult for an English-speaking native to come to Germany and start speaking German - everyone else would rather practice their English instead, meaning that .. the English learn German much slower than the Germans learn English.

So actually, it could be claimed that Sprachgefühl is one of those words that just should come into the English lexicon, and we ought to bloody get on with having a bit more of it, in our English-biased cultures, because it really does increase ones awareness of the world.

There's a lot of pseudo-English in German, though. The common German word for a cellphone is "Handy" and particularly in the former GDR, chicken meat is often called "Broiler". Both are obviously English words, but they aren't used that way in English.

That used to annoy me a bit (as a German), but it's actually quite resourceful from a linguistic point of view.

'Smoking' is another interesting pseudo-English German word.

Ahem, hand is a cognate of old German and Dutch ..

Also, the '-ing' part comes from the continent, as well. :)

Sure, there are lots of cognates. Some of the hardest to translate words are actually cognates.

For example it's almost impossible to properly translate the German word 'Brot' into English. It's a cognate of 'bread', but Germans mean something very different by 'Brot' than the British mean by 'bread'.

Loaning a word ad-hoc is much easier by comparison. Eg Bundeskanzler means exactly the same in English as it does in German. As does Prime Minister.

In defense of English speakers, one can use Spanish words relatively freely without seeming awkward: gracias, siesta, amigo, macho, etc.

It's worth pointing out that these are all practical day-to-day words. Perhaps the difference is there, also. Contrast cul-de-sac and ennui.

I think there is a certain stigma to English people using German words, on account of the fact that the nations have a long history of rivalry and open warfare against each other .. perhaps a linguist can pipe in and tell us if there was ever a period where Spanish words had a similar degree of stigma, after wars and so on ..

The Brits and the Germans historically got along like a house on fire during the vast majority of the last few hundred years. If anything, the stigma you talk about should exist between English and French.

Yes, I'm aware of that, I mean in the context of the last 100 years, apropos German-English, English-English, American-English, and so on. I think a bit of American vernacular has a German'ification phase, the languages seem to be intertwined, but this is just an opinion based on observation through personal life experience not some kind of academic point of view. I'd love to know the linguistics basis behind such intermingling.

I've seen some of what looked like Germanification of idioms. Eg 'couple' in British English seems to mean exactly two. In German 'paar' (lower cased!) is basically synonymous with 'a few', and the Americans seem to be using 'a couple' also in that wider sense?

That's easily complicated by the fact that the roots of the rivalry between France and England was in large part stoked by French-speaking Norman conquerors. Few native English speakers will read this paragraph and identify all these French-derived words as being 'French', since they have become such a plainly integral part of English:

complicate, fact, rivalry, part, conqueror, native, paragraph, identify, derive

TL;DR can't speak English without also speaking a bunch of French in the process, especially since French words represent all the elite, cultured words (e.g. 'cow' vs. 'beef')

It seems that "fact" doesn't belong in that list but rather it comes directly from medieval Latin



The Norman conquest was way back, and wasn't even the latest invasion. (The Dutch conquered Britain in the meantime.)

The Norman conquest played a role, especially in language, but the later major power / colonial empire rivalry would have developed regardless of history, just dictated by geography and clashing interests.

Your "preference" is a simplistic translation of the term, specially due to ignoring the whole "sprach" of it. I think given the context of the article the usage of that german word is justified. Let's learn something new.

The topic of language is carried by the context and topic of the entire post. Explicit emphasis is redundant.

Now, sprachgefühl is more abstract (after all, it refers to the "feeling", which while similar is not strictly the same as "preference"), but I'd argue that "preference" is a decent replacement conveying everything that was intended, and the best fit given the English vocabulary. If you find a need to be more explicit, try something along the lines of "opinions on language aesthetics".

"Sprachgefühl" is not a widely accepted loanword (it appears reserved for those that pick their own loanwords to show off their diverse linguistic skills—smartasses, so to speak), and it looks awfully out of place for those of us that understand German.

> (it appears reserved for those that pick their own loanwords to show off their diverse linguistic skills—smartasses, so to speak)

As I mentioned elsewhere in this thread, this is not the case. The word is an accepted loanword in linguistics jargon, and the linked article was written by a linguist mainly for other linguists. This German word was not picked to "show off" anything. Rather, since linguistics in the 20th century involved having to read material in, besides English, at least French and German as well, lots of German loanwords just naturally passed into the jargon of linguists because they seemed apt, not because anyone wanted to impress their peers (for it would hardly seem impressive, one’s peers being able to read German just as well).

It might feel a bit weird to a German speaker, but English is their language and if they want to add to it, let them pick whatever source of inspiration they want.

A bigger bug bear for me is the English pronunciation of French loanwords like accessoire. (And I do wonder how English speakers actually pronounce Sprachgefuhl. They probably mangle beyond recognition.)

Heh, loan words tend to fall into 3 categories:

1. Original pronunciation, but entirely different meaning 2. Original meaning, but entirely different pronunciation 3. Neither pronunciation nor meaning has anything to do with the original, but it's still spelled the same.

I like Japanese. They do #2 out of strict necessity due to their very limited sounds, and shorten the result so that we can't easily recognize it (e.g., personal computer -> pasonaru konnputaa -> pasokon).

As for sprachgefühle—I really don't think there is any need for that word. It's doesn't seem to fill a gap, other than an emerging love for German compounds.

Even if it doesn't fill any gap at the moment, words that start out as synonyms have a habit of diverging in meaning to fill different gaps.

These five words in the constitution of the CCP describe the five aspects of policies in China: economy(富强), politics(民主), culture(文明), society(和谐), and ecological civilization(美丽).

美丽 is used to describe a China that has clear water, clear sky, green fields ...

It is not that abstract as described in the article.

> Communism and Democracy are antithetical

Not to derail the train, but it is hard to take anyone serious on the subject of Communism with statements like that. Communism is democracy taken to the extreme with no bosses at work and no classes in society. Historical implements of Communism of course another conversation, but looking at definitions the author is exactly wrong.

That's according to your definition of democracy and communism.

To give another example: the Athenians had very different definitions of democracy.

They would probably call our democratic systems of today oligarchies. For them a big part of democracy was given out official positions by lot. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athenian_democracy#Selection_b...)

That's absolutely correct, of course. Socialism, the common ownership of the means of production, must necessarily be democratic.

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