Uncreative CNN

John over at Zero Dispance recently linked to a CNN story about the likely decline of the global importance of English and ascendancy of local languages. One language highlighted was Mandarin Chinese.

None of this really surprises me. Aside from just loving the language, practical matters such as future importance in the world market also motivated my academic pursuit of Chinese. So the message of the article doesn’t come as a shock to me.

CNN.com graphic

What did catch my attention was the ugly graphic included in the story. I mean, come on! It’s just dumb. A red box with han zi (“Chinese characters”) written in it. A black background with a fuzzy character tree, clearly taken from zhongwen.com (they call their tree system 字普 — zipu). Random characters reading “speak Chinese” and “individual character,” and a generous helping of just the word CHINESE in English slopped about, along with a “stylish” gray transparent stripe. Weak. What’s most disappointing, though, is that if you click on FAQ at the top of the zhongwen.com homepage, you’re already at the page where everything for the graphic was lifted from. Look at the entry for 字 and the zi pu. It’s all there.

Western media, devoid of imagination, indirectly stealing from Chinese in its news. How ironic.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. This is not the first time I have noticed that CNN has directly stolen pictures and graphics off of other websites. They stole a picture from Zhejiang Online (www.zjol.com.cn) in an article discussing new China Airlines routes into Hangzhou and used it in an unrelated article concerning a Chinese Boeing order. Extremely lazy and journalistically immoral and to top it all off, a picture of a China Airlines 747 has NOTHING to do with Mainland Chinese aviation since it is a Taiwanese carrier. Morons.

    Yeah, I am a dork.

  2. okay.

    first of all, when you write: “Western media, devoid of imagination, indirectly stealing from Chinese in its news. How ironic,” i simply don’t understand what you are saying at all.

    are you talking about Socratic irony?
    i don’t get it.

    insofar as your opinions about this CNN graphic, and the above listed post, I LOVE IT!

    you guys are right on the money.
    i would just like to add that i think that said laziness ultimately reflects how the journalists and webmasters — or whoever is in charge of putting the article together — regard the importance of the story. and, by extension, their false prediction that their readers will not find the story significant.

    not only laziness.
    not only unoriginality.
    not only immorality.
    but… smug condescension, too!
    they don’t care.
    and neither should you.

    perhaps the graphic accomplishes a lot.
    and THAT, my lovely JTP, is ironic.

    the end.
    for real.

  3. FreeJack Says: March 1, 2004 at 10:00 am

    At least they actually took the time to include REAL Chinese words in the graphic. You have no idea how many times I’ve noticed nonsense combinations of random Chinese characters in magazine layouts or TV shows here in America (not to mention the presentation of “gibberish” as spoken Chinese) since I started studying the language. The assumption, of course, is that nobody here knows Chinese anyway…so why try to be accurate?

    Although admittedly, the percentage of the population who are actually bothered by this is…pretty small.

  4. Illy,

    Many Chinese news websites habitually plagiarize. Stories, photos, entire site layouts. No credit given. Danwei.org has documented it rather well in the past.

  5. Freejack,

    Yes, you’re right. I guess I’m expecting too much of CNN, given its audience. But creativity, at least, doesn’t seem like an unreasonable epectation of a graphic designer.

  6. “You have no idea how many times I’ve noticed nonsense combinations of random Chinese characters in magazine layouts or TV shows here in America”

    I’d have to look at the actual scene in the movie again to verify the characters, but my favourite part in Big Trouble in Little China (other than when Jack has a plastic “stunt” knife in his mouth) is when Jack and Wang come up to the elevator with Chinese written on the door:

    Jack: What does that say?
    Wang: Hell of Boiling Oil.
    Jack: You’re kidding.
    Wang: Yeah, I am. It says Keep Out.

  7. Okay, this is REALLY funny ….

    I saw that article, and saw the cheesy graphic but didn’t realize that it was a CNN graphic. I thought it was advert for Zhongwen.com.


  8. FreeJack Says: March 3, 2004 at 11:39 am

    Richard, that is probably one of my top five favorite movies of all time. In fact, my e-mail signature is a Jack Burton “Pork Chop Express” quote. 🙂

    Eddie: “And anybody that showed up was gonna join Lem Li in the hell of Being Cut To Pieces.”

    Jack: “The what?”

    Eddie: “The Chinese have a lot of hells…”

  9. You know, the guy who designed that graphic probably had all of a few hours to do it. Dozens of those things have to be churned out daily, after a while even the most creative person gets to be a bit jaded (I’m speaking here as a former designer myself).

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