The power of simple language

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 December, 2013, 5:06am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 December, 2013, 5:06am

Responsible governments are open and accessible. They can demonstrate this by informing citizens in a manner that is understandable and uses clear, simple and objective language. President Xi Jinping recognises this and has made an effort to replace the cliché-laden announcements of the past with short, punchy statements and a more informal style. But buzzwords and jargon are not easy to banish after having become so firmly entrenched, so persistent efforts have to be made to eliminate them.

Jargon is commonplace among officials the world over. Its use leads to a decline in trust and a lack of understanding of policies, programmes and services. When the language is plain, though, the message comes across clearly, leaving less room for misunderstanding and misinterpretation. That is exactly what China needs at a time of tension with the US and neighbours.

Former president Hu Jintao's government was awash with expressions and slogans that were laden with references to Marxist ideology. What was being said was often incomprehensible to ordinary people and foreigners. His pet theory, the Scientific Outlook on Development, was not well defined or explained.

Xi signalled a change at his first press conference after taking over as Communist Party general secretary 13 months ago. He referred to his fellow Standing Committee members as "my colleagues" rather than the traditional "comrades" and he has since implemented a policy of simple language and a down-to-earth style. But international relations experts at a recent forum in Hong Kong believe even greater effort is necessary to avoid old ways creeping back. One speaker worried that Xi's "Chinese dream" slogan needed better defining if it was to help sell China internationally.

Slogans are a way of conjuring up imagery and expressing an idea. The central government has to be constantly on guard to ensure its statements and messages are clearly understood. This has to be especially so if they are to be used internationally.

Mao Zedong recognised this long before the founding of the People's Republic, adopting simple language in his writings that was expressed in the vernacular. His strategy was so effective that many of his sayings are still in use. Xi has taken a leaf from Mao's book, but should make greater efforts than already taken to ensure the government communicates to the nation and world as effectively as possible.