These excerpts are from the first chapter of Handbook for Polite Language published in 1982 in China. The translation is by Matt Wills, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, San Diego.

Teacher: Are there any parts of this section you don’t understand? (Yin Hong raises her hand, and stands after receiving permission to do so)

Yin Hong: Teacher, I don’t understand the meaning of “十则围之,五则攻之”.[1]

Teacher: Okay, I will go over it again. This sentence means…..


Chairman of the assembly: Next, I would like to invite Yu Jiang, the representative of our top students, to say a few words. (The students applaud. Yu Jiang mounts the stage and acknowledges them. At the end of the talk, Yu acknowledges the audience and they applaud).[2]


When a student and a teacher are talking, the student should proactively give up their seat for the teacher. If the teacher does not sit, the student should ideally also stand. During conversation, the student should face the teacher and listen intently.[3]


Chairman of the assembly: (summarizes the meeting and announces it is over.)

(The students wait for the leaders, teachers and guests to leave, at which point they exit in an orderly fashion).[4]

[1] This is a quote from “The Art of War.” It translates to if you have ten, surround your enemy and cut off their water and only attack once there are only five of them. Essentially it speaks to the tactical wisdom of placing the enemy under siege until one has an advantage both tactically and in terms of manpower.

[2] All of the names used in the manual seem to be common and fictional. Any purely resemblances to actual people is most likely purely coincidental.

[3] Respect for elders is a continuing theme here. This is in stark contrast to the Red Guards’ actions in the late 1960’s. Only about fifteen years after the Cultural Revolution authority figures went from being seen as capitalists or rightists who needed to be removed, to being seen as elders who needed to be respected.

[4] This emphasis on leaving in an orderly fashion after the “leaders, speakers and guests,” foreshadows the later tragedy of the Karamay fire which occurred in the Xinjiang region (northwest China) on December 8, 1994 where 323 people including 288 children were killed in a theater because they let the communist officials leave first after a fire broke out. Poor organization and safety standards, and locked exits played a role in the tragedy as well.

Chen Yaowen. “Kids seated as fire raged: report: [Final Edition].” Montreal Gazette, May 9,   2007. Accessed October 16, 2015.

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