CHINA HERITAGE QUARTERLY China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISSN 1833-8461
Nos. 30/31, June/September 2012


The Man with the Key is Not Here | China Heritage Quarterly

The Man with the Key is Not Here
Chapter 2: BU ZAI (不在) Not Present/To Be Out

In 1990, writing under the names Xiao Mao and Nan-tzu, Karen Malmstrom and Nancy Nash published a booklet that, the authors remarked, provided 'a key to what they really mean in China'. A comic dictionary of basic Chinese expressions, with a variety of glosses based on long years of observation, interaction and frustration, The Man with the Key is Not Here provides humorous evidence that certain elements of New China Newspeak logorrhoea, a subject introduced in the March 2011 issue of China Heritage Quarterly, are rooted in far more laconic speech acts. Here we offer Chapter 2 of that slender volume to illustrate further our argument.

Chapter 2

BU ZAI (不在) Not Present/To Be Out

  • The person you wish to speak to is not here.
  • I'm here, but I don't want to talk to you so I'm not going to identify myself.
  • The person you want to speak to is here, however is not prepared to see you yet.
  • The person you want does not exist, you have dialed the wrong number/opened the wrong door.
  • You've dialed the correct number, but the person you're asking for has been transferred to another unit.
  • I'm sorry I don't know where he/she is; if you think to ask me, I will tell you.
  • The man with the key is not here, and I don't know when he's coming back.
  • Source: Xiao Mao and Nan-tzu, The Man with the Key is Not Here 管钥匙的人不在, A Key to What they Really Mean in China, Dallas, TX: Pacific Venture Press, 1990.