A Chinese Novel about Chinese Fighter Pilots; Three Observations (1)

Jul 07, 2011 at 01:12 | Posted in Chinese Culture 中华文化, English 英语 | Leave a comment
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Amazing English Usage among Chinese Pilots
July 7, 2011
By Song White

The Chinese J-20 stealth fighter received quite an attention in the past few months around the time when the President of China, Mr. Hu Jingtao, visited the White House, and Robert Gates, the United States Secretary of Defense visited China in January 2011. I was reading a Chinese novel around that time, a novel written by my friend, Mr. Weigan Ma; it’s about the life of a group of Chinese fighter pilots.

The book features the previous generation of the Chinese fighter jet, J-10. The jet was a dream jet that every Chinese pilot has competed to be the first to fly. Mr. Weigan Ma named the book Flying with You. Its main line is a love story: a young female physician Yun and a lead pilot Hao fall in love with each other. Hao, the hero in the book, wins the competition over the other pilots to fly the then-new J-10 jet. His private life seems to fall apart but eventually comes together with Yun. They have their wedding in the air when they are traveling in a commercial jet. The story lines are clear and tense, and the language is witty and funny. I share here my three observations of my reading.

The first observation: Chinese pilots speak English well.

Reading Chinese to me is natural; reading English embedded in Chinese isn’t. In Flying with You, English pops up in the witting conversations among the pilots and their friends quite often. This English can be as short as one letter—U for you, or as lengthy as a complete sentence from Shakespeare—“To be, or not to be—that is the question.” Other examples are:
        No way!
        Ladies first.
        Cheers!
        No!
        Is it you?
        Yes sir!
        Top Gun [The movie, starred by Tom Cruise.]
        OK.

One-word English is more frequent, such as RAP, byebye (as spelled in the book), pose, house, and money. There is also creativity in words that combine Chinese verbs with English tense ~ing, for example, 郁闷ing (being gloomy). This is rare as it does not comply with Chinese grammar, but the expression, with some English skill, is very clear. I wonder though how the Chinese readers with little English knowledge will take them.

I thought of the language skills of the US fighter pilots. I haven’t managed to find out their Chinese language skills. I would assume Chinese words popping up in their talk here and there would be a rare thing. However, words like toufu or chow mein would be the possible ones at a Chinese restaurant; or, characters like love (爱) or courage (勇) would be the other possible ones that show in a tattoo.

I am impressed by the English usages among the Chinese pilots in “Flying with You”. This is my first observation. The next observation is about the controlling body in the military.

The cover of the novel, Flying with You《和你一起飞》(HENIYIQIFEI) by Weigan Ma, a story about the Chines fighter pilots’ life in the early 2000’s.

The cover of the novel, Flying with You《和你一起飞》(HENIYIQIFEI) by Weigan Ma, a story about the Chines fighter pilots’ life in the early 2000’s.

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Keywords: 关键词
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J-20 stealth fighter: 歼20隐形战斗机
President of China: 中国国家主席
Hu Jingtao: 胡锦涛
White House: 白宫
United States Secretary of Defense: 美国国防部长
Robert Gates: 罗伯特•盖茨
Flying with You: 《和你一起飞》(HENIYIQIFEI)
Top Gun: 《壮志凌云》
Tom Cruise: 汤姆•克鲁斯
Weigan Ma: 马维干
Toufu: 豆腐
Chow Mein: 炒面
Love: 爱
Courage: 勇
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(This page’s link is https://songwhite.wordpress.com/2011/07/07/a-chinese-novel-about-chinese-fighter-pilots-three-observations-1-of-3/)
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Copyright 2011 Song White
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