Kaiser Kuo has written a brilliant Guide for Visiting Journalists, to avoid the awkward Bylines-At-Customs type of writing so scathingly described by Huo Lei Feng, and to avoid the shallow cliches that make us cringe. Here’s an excerpt:
Topping the list of forbidden clichés is the phrase “coming out party.” As apt as it may have been when first used with reference to the Games shortly after they were awarded to Beijing back in 2001, after appearing in 75.4% of stories about the 2008 Olympics in the seven intervening years, it now incites English-speaking expats to an ugly, violent rage. Use it at your own peril; you have been warned.
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.” Not that it isn’t a city of, um, rather pronounced differences; it’s just too damned lazy an observation to make. A special enjoinder to photographers: please resist the temptation to position yourself in a hutong with a decrepit but charming tile-roofed courtyard home in the foreground and a shiny, hyper-modern steel-and-glass skyscraper rising behind. No using Blade Runner comparisons for Beijing. You’ll want to save those for Shanghai, believe me.
The bureaus of reputable western papers here in China have a rule against quoting taxi drivers. But since Beijing’s cabbies are so fabulously colorful, you will be permitted one exception. Make it a good one. Helpful hint: That story about efforts by our city’s cabbies to learn English phrases? That one’s been written several thousand times so please, anything but that one.
Dead on, Kaiser Kuo! (But it’s still ok to try to work “as if by an occult hand” into your stories.)