Xi Jinping And The Collars And Sleeves
Here’s a China titbit from the current Economist.
Except for “Debrett’s Peerage”, no institution pays as much attention to titles as China’s Communist Party. It has already conferred a lot of them on its leader, Xi Jinping. Recently it has topped them off with a description hitherto mainly applied to Mao: lingxiu. It means leader, but conveys far more reverence than the usual word, lingdao. Last month two of the country’s most authoritative newspapers described Mr Xi as lingxiu. Now comes the video. On February 9th state media released a five-minute film called “The People’s Lingxiu” on WeChat, a social-media platform. It shows a portly Mr Xi greeting admirers (some are pictured), eating dumplings and inspecting a toilet. [Xi Jinping is no longer any old leader; The Economist, February 17th 2018.]
I only post this because lingxiu is one of my favorite metonymies. The literal meaning is “collar(s) and sleeves”: 領 ling = “collar,” 袖 xiu = “sleeve.” In imperial times the high-level mandarins dressed with fancy collars and voluminous sleeves.
Many a time, toiling away in the code shop of some corporation or other, I’ve had my attention drawn to some bombastic company-wide memo from the Board of Directors, telling us what a great job they were doing on behalf of all us peons. While trying to look suitably grateful, I’d be thinking to myself: “There they go again, the collars and sleeves.”
(I’ve been a bit free with the etymology there. “Collar” and “sleeve” are indeed the primary meanings of ling and xiu. However, ling seems to have had the secondary meaning since ancient times of “to lead, to guide,” because the collar of an animal — horse, ox — is what you lead it by. I don’t care; I like my metonymy; to me, pompous officials or boss types will always be “collars and sleeves.”)