A longtime international correspondent became the buzz of Chinese social media after asking one question in a press conference earlier this month.
Apparently, Weibo netizens were amused when Anthony Kuhn raised his query to authorities of China’s National Development and Reform Commission in fluent Mandarin before translating it into English himself. The NPR correspondent, who began learning Chinese in 1982, described the context of his inquiry:
“I had just interviewed merchants who are being relocated outside the city as part of the megaregion policy, and a farmer living in abject poverty just 3 miles outside Beijing’s city limits, whose situation the policy is meant to improve.
“I asked the officials about these two types of people, and how they planned to help them.”
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Kuhn said he translated his own question so that he can put it in his “own words” and not because he did not trust the government translator.
Impressed by his Mandarin skills, He Lifeng, director of the commission, praised him shortly.
Kuhn is convinced that his moment went viral not only because people found it entertaining, but he said it had something to do with the locals’ expectations of foreigners; one who speaks unaccented Chinese is simply rare.
“Chinese are often so curious about foreigners who speak their native tongue that they sometimes appear to pay more attention to the language than the content of their speech. For once in my life, this seemed not to be the case, at least not entirely, and I felt rather relieved and gratified,” Kuhn wrote.
While many appreciated his inquiry’s glaring concern for the ordinary Chinese, there are those who questioned why an American like him cares about China when the U.S. has its own problems to deal with. To this, he responded:
“I tell them that it is normal for people to learn about and discuss things that happen in countries other than their own, and that China, its government coffers full of cash, has lately been sending plenty of state media correspondents abroad itself.”
Watch the clip below: