Chinese Philology Meets Canadian Politics

This is not history-related per se, nor indeed more than a triviality, but I am spending a few weeks in Vancouver (now in the midst of the Canadian election) and was interested to see that the proper interpretation of a Chinese expression has become a minor election issue. To summarize, a candidate for the governing Liberal Party described the leader of the New Democratic Party as having a “boiled dog’s head smile” (煮熟狗頭般齜牙咧嘴). What exactly this means, and the degree to which it should be construed as offensive, have both become points of debate (see English-language coverage in the Globe & Mail [] and Chinese language coverage in the World Journal, a Taiwanese newspaper chain with a local BC branch [;]). It is interesting to note that neither the man who proferred this expression nor his target are Chinese, and so both had to invoke different (conflicting) Chinese authorities to defend their positions. As an additional tie-in, this comment was first reported on a blog, a fact that has not escaped Canadian election-related bloggers ( The larger issues – if there are any – can be debated by the readers of this blog, but I dare say this is one of the few times an expert could pontificate about the subtleties of Cantonese folk-sayings on a current events show. I will leave you with the thought of politico concerned, David Emerson:
“I really value many Chinese expressions because they’re very creative ways of articulating things.”

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