Beware the Cliché

When dealing with the unknown one is tempted to reach for the familiar. That is why the cliché, deplored as it may be, can be a writer’s security blanket.

And so, as the foreign press travels far, far away from home to Beijing, here are two sources of advice on avoiding common tropes about China.

“Please do not write ‘Beijing is a city of stark contrasts” and refrain from using any variation thereof — “a city of startling juxtapositions,” or (needless to say) “a city of yin and yang,’” pleads an article from the Beijinger magazine.

And my favorite is the jam-packed: “The elephant in the room is that China has yet to make the transition to a sustainable democratic system. This is the 800lb gorilla that threatens to throw a monkey-wrench into the Chinese system. The Chinese leadership is still capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory,” from the Financial Times

And in April, Aaron Hotfelder of the Gadling blog wondered what would happen if Olympic broadcasters decided to forswear Olympic clichés. The results were dire:

Chinese president Hu Jintao was visibly shaken when he first received news of the proposed boycott yesterday afternoon. The president reportedly said through an interpreter: “I simply must hear Mr. Costas declare that a person has ‘overcome a lot of adversity’ and is ‘on top of the world.’”

The Chinese president was then reportedly overheard telling a top aide, “Set up talks with Tibet immediately.”

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Katia Bachko is on staff at The New Yorker.