Editing Work, Thoughts on Writing

Matthew Cheung is also an incompetent in another area: English writing

I know we have long given up on expecting members of our puppet government to walk their talk, but they aren’t exactly of zero value either, because when they face an international audience and can’t talk their talk in English properly, they can at least provide practical demonstrations of how not to use the language.

Take for example Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung‘s (張建宗) recent letter to The Washington Post defending the government’s move to arrest 53 pro-democracy figures. Here is a paragraph from Cheung’s text:

“Those arrested on Jan. 6 are suspected to have committed the offense of subversion. They were suspected to have conspired to obtain 35 or more seats in the Legislative Council through their “35-plus” and “10-step mutual destruction plan,” and conducting “primaries” among themselves in July, with a view to recklessly and blindly vetoing the government budget and public funding applications, forcing the resignation of the chief executive. The plan aimed to paralyze the government and, coupled with massive riots and other measures, bring society to a complete standstill.”

The second sentence – an interminable 53 words in length – is incoherent and ungrammatical. For one thing, Cheung can’t simply expect non-Hong Kong readers to have the necessary background knowledge to understand “35-plus” and the “10-step mutual destruction plan.” To western ears, Cheung’s clumsy translation of 攬抄 may sound like an elaborate scheme to get hold of, say, China’s nuclear weapons!

I would have re-written the paragraph as follows:

“Those arrested on Jan. 6 on subversion charges are suspected to have conspired to seize a majority in the Legislative Council through illegal means, with a view to paralyzing the government and bringing about the resignation of the chief executive. Should their scheme succeed, they would also in effect take control of the government’s purse strings, which would enable them to use taxpayer money to stage city-wide protests and other nefarious activities that would bring society to a standstill.”

My version is much more reader-friendly because instead of referring to “35-plus” and the “10-step mutual destruction plan,” I simply presented the substance of these tactics in plain English. I also re-arranged the order in which the material is presented, so that the reader gets introduced to the content in a logical manner.

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