Mo Yan and the Hazards of Hollow Words

In Chinese, there are an impressive number of ways to describe saying nothing at all. When a person is determined to speak at length but not in depth, he can embark on a long jog of feihua—literally, wasted words—or perhaps pass the time at the podium by slathering honored guests in polite ketaohua. When those run dry, the experienced speaker will seek refuge in the damp, wooly depths of guanhua—the bureaucratic jargon of numbered clauses, of theories firmly upheld and banners held high. But the most effective and subtle variety may be the xuci’er—the hollow words—those grand placeholders of meaning that, over time, reveal themselves to contain nothing at all.

Arts, Politics