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The Chinese search for money leaves too many 'monks holding umbrellas'

Of Mao Zedong's many pithy quotes, one impresses me the most: “I'm a monk holding an umbrella” (我是和尚打傘). Those were the words he told Edgar Snow four decades ago at the height of the Great Cultural Revolution, but the late American journalist and author of “Red Star Over China” did not get it and interpreted these cryptic words as “a lonely old monk walking on a gloomy rainy day.” What Mao really meant was a pun understood by even Chinese school kids: “I fear neither law nor heaven” (wufa wutian 無法無天).

But don't blame Snow for having been victimized by the tricky Chinese language, which is full of pitfalls for foreigners. When I worked in Ottawa in the 1980s, I read a dispatch from Beijing in the Globe and Mail about the new leadership of Hu Yaobang, the outspoken party boss, and Zhao Ziyang, the gung-ho prime minister. The story quoted a catchword in Beijing: “Hu talks (胡說 ), Zhao gets jobs done (趙辦).” The translation seemed flawless at first glance, but the saying was actually intended as a joke, meaning “Hu shoots the bull, Zhao follows accordingly.” (胡說,照辦)

Let's not digress too far from the main topic, which is too serious to ignore. This week marks the 46th anniversary of the Great Cultural Revolution, arguably the greatest cultural, political and social disaster in Chinese history. It was launched on May 16, 1966 by Mao Zedong, the tyrant of tyrants who makes Hitler look like Jimmy Carter. Now, nearly half a century later, the wounds inflicted by Mao have barely been healed, because Mao's legacy of lawlessness and reign of terror have proved enduring. There is neither rule of law in China, nor reverence for traditional values and ethics. The madness of Mao's cultural revolution has taken a new form -- the pursuit of money and wealth at any cost.

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