Guangzhou gives foreigners the 'citizen treatment'
Internationalisation can mean different things in different mainland cities, but for Guangzhou's government it should mean correcting the translation errors and typos in the English version of its website.
The New Express, an outspoken Guangzhou-based newspaper, ran a long article this month accusing the city government of failing to properly manage its English site, Guangzhou International.
It warned that the errors were hurting Guangzhou's image as an international city.
The newspaper added that few of its target audience - foreigners living in the city - knew about the site, which was launched in 2006 to provide information in English about visas, transport and other necessities.
Reporters interviewed 16 foreigners, none of whom had ever heard of the site.
Not throwing stones in glass houses is a time-honoured journalistic principle, but one example of the spelling mistakes and typos illustrates the website's woes. An article on the site reads: 'Some attendees ... before landing on the airport and some citizens, and some citizens have complained the noise issue caused by aircrafts (sic).'
That and other errors prompted the New Express to ask whether the company that is paid around 370,000 yuan (HK$455,000) a year to translate the articles was doing its job properly.
The problems facing Guangzhou's English website are common on the mainland. The New Express reported that some 272 local governments had launched English sites, but many of them lacked up-to-date news or basic information about tourist highlights, transport and public services.
However, Guangzhou, one of the first mainland cities to open up to the world in the late '70s and early '80s, has been dealing with foreign investors for a long time. And that makes it hard to comprehend why the city could run a small website so poorly.
The New Express report, and many online commentators, concluded that there were grave doubts about Guangzhou's determination to 'be truly international'.
Those doubts appeared to be backed up by the English site's management team, who lamented that they did not receive enough support from other government departments.
Lin Feng, the head of Guangzhou International's information department, said the management team had hoped the site would be marketed to the thousands of foreign buyers who visit the city every spring and autumn for its trade fairs.
'But many departments have been too conservative to promote the site to foreigners,' Lin told the New Express.
However, he did not touch on another reason for the site's failings - that Guangzhou's leaders do not really care about the foreign users of Guangzhou International.
Why else could the city that hosted the Asian Games less than two years ago be so reluctant to promote itself to foreigners?
Not all foreigners, mind you, just those who are not big foreign investors.
Whenever big foreign investors come to town, the government rolls out the red carpet, arranging the best hotel rooms, the tastiest food and most enticing itineraries. Carefully prepared information is sent to them well in advance of their arrival.
Obviously they are not Guangzhou International's target audience.
From the perspective of the city's officials, the benefits brought by individual visitors and small traders do not match those offered by multinational giants, so why bother paying too much attention to such small potatoes?
No officials will ever admit that they care more about multinational giants, but it's easy to draw such a conclusion after looking at Guangzhou International.
It has long been said that the needs of Chinese individuals are ignored by their officials.
Now, thanks to China's rising power and influence, more and more foreign small potatoes will have the opportunity to experience the 'citizen treatment' their Chinese peers have been enduring for centuries.