Zhou and the French Revolution- Mistranslation!

Posted on June 22nd, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. No Comments

A few days ago I wrote how Zhou Enlai’s famous saying about the French Revolution- that it was too early to say what its effects are- has been commonly cited as evidence of the Chinese skill in long-term thinking. Now, via the Financial Times (registration required), it turns out that Zhou likely was misquoted:

The trouble is that Zhou was not referring to the 1789 storming of the Bastille in a discussion with Richard Nixon during the late US president’s pioneering China visit. Zhou’s answer related to events only three years earlier – the 1968 students’ riots in Paris, according to Nixon’s interpreter at the time.

At a seminar in Washington to mark the publication of Henry Kissinger’s book, On China, Chas Freeman, a retired foreign service officer, sought to correct the long-standing error.

“I distinctly remember the exchange. There was a mis­understanding that was too delicious to invite correction,” said Mr Freeman.

The article goes on to say that Deng Xiaoping never actually uttered “to get rich is glorious” and the ancient Chinese curse- “may you live in interesting times”- doesn’t actually exist in China.

I wonder how many famous quotes are actually apocryphal?



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