MACLEAN’S REPORTS

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

Blair Fraser April 17 1965
MACLEAN’S REPORTS

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

Blair Fraser April 17 1965

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

Blair Fraser

Mr. Pu and Mr. Yao: two Orientals who wish they weren't so inscrutable

THE FOUR LONELIEST people in Canada must surely be the two representatives of the Chinese news agency, Peking, and their wives, who share a modest apartment in downtown Ottawa.

Not that they complain of any unfriendly treatment by Canadians — quite the contrary. Both men insist that they have been welcomed “very warmly” by the people they have met in their new assignment. Their trouble is that they can’t find anybody to talk to.

Pu Chao-min, the correspondent, is a man in his forties who has traveled in many countries of Central and South America, and who in 1961-62 spent seven months covering the Geneva Conference on Laos, but who virtually speaks no language but Chinese. Young Yao Jen-liu, his interpreter, speaks adequate though rather labored English, but he had never been outside of mainland China in his life until he arrived in Canada two months ago. Born in Shanghai and educated in Peking, he learned his English in school and university. The two wives speak only enough English to answer the telephone rather nervously and to do rudimentary shopping.

What about the 120,000 Chinese Canadians? Why can’t the newcomers talk to them?

“We find it easier to talk to our Canadian friends,” Yao Jen-liu explained. “Chinese Canadians speak Cantonese. Mr. Pu and I speak only Mandarin. When we are with Chinese Canadians we have to talk to them in English.”

Hadn’t they been able to find any Mandarin - speaking Chinese in Canada?

“Only one — and he is in Toronto.”

There are of course lots of Chinese in Canada who speak Mandarin, and

quite a few of them are in Ottawa, but they are devoted adherents of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and will have nothing to do with the communist journalists. Also for ideological reasons, the other communist missions in Canada give them the cold shoulder — they all belong to the Soviet camp, and regard the Chinese heretics as even worse than the capitalist heathen. When the Soviet press attaché had a reception for Ottawa reporters, the two Chinese were not invited. When I asked them whether they got any help from the Tass correspondent, they replied politely, “We met him once, in the press gallery.”

Pu Chao-min first arrived in Ottawa last July, with a different interpreter. It soon became apparent that his own rudimentary English was at least as good as his interpreter’s, if not better. This led sonic Ottawans to conclude that the so-called interpreter was really a secret agent of some kind, like the chauffeurs and doormen at the Soviet Embassy whom Igor Gouzenko identified as agents of the NKVD.

But Far Eastern experts in the Canadian department of external affairs say this is nonsense. China’s sudden expansion of all her diplomatic activities, they say, has put an intolerable strain on her supply of English-speaking personnel — at least those who are indoctrinated in communism thoroughly enough to be safely sent abroad.

In any event, Pu Chao-min and his former interpreter left Ottawa last autumn for a protracted “home leave” in Peking, after staying in Canada only about three months; and when Mr. Pu reappeared in February the first interpreter had been replaced by Yao Jen-liu, a slender, gently spoken young man not long out of Peking University. His English is quite adequate to the demands of ordinary conversation, and both he and Pu can read enough English to scan the newspapers daily, but they often find that it isn’t enough to know the dictionary meaning of the words.

“Please explain, what is all this about Mr. Diefenbaker?” they asked rather pathetically, during the week when Diefenbaker was playing buttonbutton with the Conservative leadership. When 1 asked whether they were sending any reports to China about the Diefenbaker crisis, they answered, “No — Chinese readers are not interested to know only what happened, they want also to know why it happened.” I could see how inhibiting this requirement would be in the handling of that particular story.

Ordinarily, they send about fifteen hundred words a week from Ottawa. They send their reports in English, for a peculiar reason — it saves the Chinese government large amounts of money, which are paid by Commonwealth taxpayers instead. All news dispatches within the Commonwealth can be sent at a subsidized “Imperial press rate” of a penny a word, with the various Commonwealth governments dividing up the deficit at the end of

each year. When Pu cables directly to Peking it costs him fifteen and a third cents a word, so he normally reports via Hong Kong, in English, or sometimes via London.

What to put in the dispatches is a more difficult problem. When I asked them what was their biggest difficulty in adjusting to life in Canada, they answered without hesitation: “Finding news.” The recent student demonstrations must have been a godsend to them; the young people sitting on the sidewalks of Toronto and Ottawa became “Canadian masses protesting American brutality,” a good standard story that made the front page all over China.

There is also a problem of ordinary living: finding food their wives can cook in the familiar way. What about the so-called Chinese food, served in Ottawa’s Chinese restaurants?

When I asked that question, Pu didn’t wait for the translation. “I suppose,” he said bitterly, “one must call it Chinese food.” It was his only lapse from otherwise impeccable politeness.