Ill-Informed US Newsmen
The other day, an editor of The New York Times called me to inquire about “the Yan’an caves”, a phrase he had come across in one of my articles. It struck me immediately, for the young American editor with his ignorance of current affairs and historical events was a reflection of my own old age.
《纽约时报》一位编辑日前来了电话，叫我将一篇文章中的“延安窑洞”（The Yanan caves）一词解释一下。这个电话立时引起我一阵感慨：美国编辑的年轻（及其对时事历史知识的简陋）反映了我自己的老年。
The article I had written was about a recently published biography of Edgar Snow. I pointed out therein that Snow’s Red Star over China, published in 1938, served to spur innumerable aspiring young Chinese intellectuals to make pilgrimages to the Yan’an caves, thus contributing to the success of the Chinese revolution.
我的文中所讨论的是市上一本新出版的埃德加·斯诺传记。我曾指出，斯诺的《西行漫记》在1938年出版时，曾驱动了无数理想主义的知识青年前往“延安窑洞朝圣”（Make pilgrimages to the Yanan caves），帮助了毛泽东革命的成功。
The young American editor’s failure to understand the said phrase made me lament the fading out of elderly senior members on the editorial staff of the renowned newspaper.
That the new generation of American newsmen are unfamiliar with modern Chinese history is by no means something new.
Ten years ago, after I sent in an article for the OP-ED page of The New York Times recounting my first experiences of my first visit to my motherland, the editor phoned me to ask about the meaning of “the French Concession”. My explanation, however, failed bring him round. He said readers had difficulty understanding it and therefore suggested, for safety’s sake, “the French Quarter” as a substitute for “the French Confession”. I agreed, but with reluctance.
十年之前，我替该报专论版（OP-ED page）写了一篇有关我初返祖国的经历。编辑打电话来问我文中“法租界”（French Concession）一词是什么意思。我的解释不能说服他的犹疑。他说读者不会了解，为了安全起见，他要把“法租界”改成“法侨区”（French Quarter），我勉强的同意。
Another time, in the newspaper’s weekly book review, an article on Helen Foster Snow’s My China Years addressed Zhang Xueliang as “Communist Young Marshal”. How could he be a Communist?
又有一次，该报书评周刊一篇讨论海伦·福斯特·斯诺的《我在中国的年头》的书评中把张学良称呼为“共党少帅”（The Communist Young Marshal）。张学良怎是共产党？
So I wrote them to rectify the mistake and they had my letter published. The New York Times is world-famous for its conscientiousness, but a lack of general knowledge on the part of its editors is nevertheless unpardonable.
Those in charge of the American press are often found ignorant of things in China although the country is said to abound in “China hands”. For instance, they often don’t know how to put Chinese surnames and given names in the right order. TV news broadcasters are even more ill-informed about the current affairs. I’ve more than once found them mix up “the People’s Republic of China” with “the Republic of China”.
US editors born after 1949, the year when the People’s Republic of China was founded, are now in their forties. Some of them have little knowledge of what Shanghai was like in China’s pre-liberation days.
One American editor got into a heated argument with me about the English equivalent of Waitan in Shanghai. He wondered why I should insist on using the word “Bund”, saying that as far as he knew, it referred exclusively to a pro-Nazi organization in the pre-war US. He didn’t know that the word, first used by British merchant in India during its colonial days to mean “an embarked road along a waterfront”, was later also used to refer to Waitan in Shanghai.
He finally choose “the Waterfront” in preference to “the Bund”, which was a misrepresentation giving the picture of a desolate and messy dock instead of the erstwhile thriving Shanghai Bund as I had intended to describe.
Evidently the young have replaced the old to play a leading role in the US press, and ageing newspaper contributors like me seem to have lost, much to our regret, our understanding friends.