FLAT EARTH

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Tour de force

WHAT'S the best way to tour China free of charge? Be a little over-patriotic, it seems. Some Peking residents found themselves a long way from home, at government urging and expense - and all because they took the latest propaganda campaign at face value.

The problem is that since nobody believes in Communism any more, Peking has taken refuge in nationalism instead, with particular reference to past slights against China. Its closest and most popular target has been Japan, with which it is rowing over some islands, and the approaching 65th anniversary of Japan's invasion of Manchuria seemed another useful rallying-point.

But when opportunities for displays of public feeling are so restricted, things can get out of hand: Tiananmen Square seven years ago showed that. The authorities did not want anti-Japanese demos which might turn into a protest against iniquities closer to home, but the normal solution adopted for sensitive anniversaries such as that of the Tiananmen massacre - rounding up and jailing dissidents - risked turning nationalist ire inwards.

The answer was to banish the ringleaders to the outer realms of the Chinese state. Tong Zeng, the most vocal campaigner for war reparations from Japan, found himself in the far north-western province of Gansu after police "encouraged" him to leave town. His associate, Li Dingguo, was despatched to the far north-eastern city of Harbin. And the editors of Worker's Daily found the ideal way to keep Chen Zongshun, one of their journalists, out of mischief for the next few weeks. They sent him on a 1,600-mile rail trip to Shenzhen, bordering Hong Kong, with orders to file a report from each station. "I am not sure how long I will be away," he said before leaving.

Magic word

SOME of those labels which sound so handy in English pose difficulties for our foreign brethren: "Stealth bomber" is a topical example. There is no precise equivalent for "stealth" in French, so the Gallic press have dubbed it, rather charmingly, Bombardier Furtif, even though this carries a somewhat underhand connotation not present in English.

The Italians have the same problem, but the newspapers there have settled, in disappointingly literal-minded fashion, for Aereo Invisibile. The Spanish, similarly, use Bombardero Invisible. The Germans are far more romantic: they call it the Tarnkappebomber. A Tarnkappe is a magic cloak, like the one Siegfried wore to make himself change into anything he liked. It sounds like something out of Tolkien - Bilbo Baggins and his Stealth bomber, anyone?

I don't know what the Iraqis call it - after all, if the thing is doing its job, they've never actually seen one - but since you ask, the Hungarian for "Stealth bomber" is lopakodo bombazo.

No turning back

RUSSIAN drivers are somewhat mystified by the sudden appearance of signs everywhere which proclaim "250 Years of Russian Roads". Even without the accompanying fairy lights, motorists need little reminder that nothing much has been done about the highways since the time of Catherine the Great.

Futile to suggest that the money could more profitably have been spent on the roads themselves - like the other cute signs which recently informed Russians that the traffic police had been in existence (and collecting bribes) for 60 years, it simply confirms that the tradition of "Potemkin villages" is still alive. Potemkin, you recall, went ahead of Catherine to build fake settlements of illusory prosperity, keeping the monarch happy. Shadow rather than substance, you see. (Rather like a Stealth bomber, come to think of it.)

Comments