Wed, Aug 29, 2012 - Page 12 News List

Scare quotes blot out Taiwan

China’s Orwellian use of the device is meant to control its population through propaganda and mind control, but savvy netizens aren’t being fooled

By Dan Bloom  /  Contributing reporter

Nick Cohen, a British reporter and blogger for the Guardian in London, told the Taipei Times via Twitter: “[Writers] can use scare quotes to indicate satirical disapproval or disagreement. But you shouldn’t throw them around.”

Taiwan, China and Japan, among other nations in Asia, do not have a word for “scare quotes” in either Chinese or Japanese. They are just called “quotes’’ [引號, yinhao] in Taiwan.

When asked, Sveta Lin (林素純), a doctoral student in philosophy at Chiayi’s National Chung Cheng University, said she had never heard of the Western term before. Is there a word for it in Chinese? “I had never heard of the term ‘scare quotes’ until you asked me. But after checking a dictionary, I now understand its meaning. Here in Taiwan, there is no special Chinese word for scare quotes. We just call such writing tools yinhao [quotes] to mean a general quotation or what you in the West now call a scare quote.”

In English-speaking nations, scare quotes are used by those on the right and those on the left to denigrate and criticize ideas and people on the other side of the political aisle. US President Barack Obama’s election campaign team, for example, uses scare quotes to mock Republican opponent Mitt Romney’s ideas and policies. Romney’s team, for its part, uses scare quotes to criticize and denigrate Obama’s policies, putting words like “Obamacare” and “gay marriage” in scare quotes.

To see how China is now using its own version of scare quotes to denigrate the status of the nation and elected leaders of Taiwan, as evidenced by the Sina Weibo post above about using double bracket quotes when referring to Taiwan or President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) or the legislature, is both shocking and revealing.

It’s shocking because it shows just how low China is willing to go to debase its own humanity through arrogance and hubris. And it’s revealing because it shows how scare quotes are now being used in an Asian dictatorship as another Orwellian device to control its population through propaganda and mind control.

“PS’’ (scare quotes intended): It won’t work, Beijing. Even your own citizens see the games you play with double brackets.

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