I rarely quarrel with other people online, but two days ago, I had some disagreements with young friends online over a weibo message – mostly criticisms or even abuse from college students, which brought some sadness to my heart.
It all started from a professional message sent by a student at a prestigious School of Communications. This young women @’ed the famous actor Yao Chen on weibo, saying to her Yao: “Hi Yao Chen, I’m a student from the 2011 class in such and such university. Our iteacher asked us to do one interview with a celebrity. I really admire you, and would like to have a half hour interview with you.” Yao Chen agreed to this request. But I sent a message saying that this way of doing was wrong, that at the very least, when sending the first interview request, you should address the other person with the polite form and not the familiar form; and use the proper words to mark respect 其次一位晚辈对年长者说“欣赏”太不合适，而应当是“敬佩”、“钦佩”或“敬仰”，哪怕是说“喜欢”，“欣赏”多用于长辈对晚辈，上司对下属。
Who would have thought that sending this message on weibo would be like poking a hornet’s nest? Many young internet users started arguing with me, calling me “pedantic” and “conservative” – and these were among the most polite words I received; some people said I “didn’t know how serious my state was”, that I was playing ‘know it all’ 好为人师, that I “fought in defense of past hierarchy”, etc.
To be honest, I did not expect a kindly reminder to attract such opposition, so I tried to have an exchange with these objectors. I discover that most of them did not deliberately disregard interpersonal courtesy, but didn’t even know what courtesy is. Some argued with me that interviewee and interviewer are equal, that the interviewer does not need to act inferior, etc. I told them, if you want other people to do something for you, showing respect is basic common sense, it has nothing to do with status and hierarchy. Other people, for instance, mentioned the early days of Ji Xianlin at Beijing University, and how he asked Freshmen to take care of his bags. I said this is the same thing as the interview with Yao Chen, it’s about showing due respect for your elders, but the younger generation can’t give reasons why you shoulnd’t respect the rules of courtesy. Some even said that Yao Chen is an entertainment celebrity, and so doesn’t need to be addressed with particular respect. I replied that this mode of address is only a way of showing modesty and humility, when you interview someone, even a tramp on the street, the interviewer should show respect to them. Some people also said that, as long as you said things clearly, that was enough, and what’s the point of so much attention to bureaucratic details? I replied, clothes are mostly used to keep warm and protect ourselves, so why so much attention to colour and style? Language and clothes are similar, you should pay attention to beauty and elegance.
This might seem like a trivial matter, but it reflect a great problem in our current education system, that is, beyond the lack of expertise in the academic specialty proper, that it also fails to train students in basic interpersonal skills – skills which used to be completely developed within families and in kindergarten. For example, professional media departments train students in technical post production skills, but they neglect to teach students how to write a request for an interview or draft a letter. 这些年来，不 少媒体的编辑向我约稿，收到的约稿信中许多如那位请求采访姚晨的女同学那样，干巴巴如布置作业那样，希望我给他供稿。虽然我知道这是缺乏相关方面的教育所 致，不以为忤。如果偶尔接到一封雅驯而有礼的约稿信函，如“钦佩先生道德文章，恳请先生拨冗赐稿”之类，心里很舒服——当然知道这是戴高帽。但因此更乐意 为之写稿，并往往与编辑能建立起友好的个人关系。
I think everybody feels the same, and with reasonable ground, most people hope to be treated with respect when dealing with others, so you but learn how to respect others. Of course, in regards to marks of respect, different nations and different eras will have different standards, but when it comes to communicating, especially work letters, using the proper codes of politeness 敬谦词 is a minimum requirement. Not just in East Asian countries, Japan, Korea, but even in Western Countries that emphasize equalities and where children call their parents by their first name to show intimacy, in social interactions, they pay great attention to using appropriate language to show respect when dealing with strangers. The old customs and ceremonies of China, and the complex words of address and politeness codes, are all completely outdated today. But college-educated people should at least master basic politeness codes, otherwise, they might bring a few laughs when they call their father ‘daddy-o’ or their wife ‘the old lady’.
If I was a journalism and media professor, before teaching any specific professional skills, I would first teach my students how to write a good professional letters, using the proper politeness codes. This seemingly insignificant piece of knowledge will be very useful in their future work.