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Can you say ‘Hillary’ in Mandarin?

Reporters on the Job: When the Chinese foreign minister welcomed Hillary Clinton to China this weekend (read the Monitor's story here), I noticed that he referred to her as “Madame Secretary.”

But he is about the only person in the country to do so. All the newspapers (including the Communist Party official organ), and all ordinary Chinese, refer to her as “xi la li” which is as close as Mandarin comes to “Hillary.”

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This is not considered condescending or sexist or unduly informal, however. As far as the Chinese are concerned there is only one “ke lin dun” (Clinton) and that is Bill. You could call the new US secretary of State “xi la li ke lin dun” but that sounds absurdly clumsy in Chinese, since Chinese names have only two or three syllables.

Mrs. Clinton will just have to take it as a sign of friendship.


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