Chinese citizens are getting used to Western movie stars and CEOs alike trying to win their admiration by uttering phrases in Chinese at press conferences—after all, attracting viewers in China is the key to global growth in the entertainment industry.
But US network NBC’s premiere this week of upcoming drama Blindspot has attracted a particularly high level of attention in China. The reason? The story’s protagonist—played by Jamie Alexander—speaks fluent Chinese. And, as if that’s not enough, Alexander’s character isn’t speaking the standard Mandarin Chinese that most non-natives learn, but Wenzhouhua, a famously tricky dialect from the southeast (link in Chinese).
In the trailer, Alexander’s character is discovered in a duffel bag in New York’s Times Square with no memory of her previous life, or knowledge of who she is now. She is covered in fresh tattoos that she knows nothing about, but she can read Chinese characters and can speak Wenzhouhua. Oh, and she knows kung fu:
The dialect, from in and around the city of Wenzhou, is known even among native Chinese speakers as one of the most difficult to understand; it is said to be so unintelligible to other speakers of Chinese that it was even used as the basis for military code during the Second World War (link in Chinese).
Chinese media and its netizens have been quick to notice the NBC drama’s use of such an eccentric dialect. The China Daily posted to its Weibo account: “Ultimately, how hard is Wenzhouhua? In Blindspot‘s pilot, it even manages to baffle the FBI!”
“Wenzhouhua has rushed out from Asia, is destined for the world, and has already baffled the FBI!,” the Shanghai Information Service posted on Weibo. User Huangyuanlu wrote: “Blindspot‘s tattooed girl can speak Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, and can even understand Wenzhouhua—[her Chinese is] a lot better than mine.”
This, of course is all great promotion for the pilot in China, where online TV audiences are a substantial market. Whether Alexander, the actress, has learned Wenzhouhua for real or is being dubbed may become apparent later.
But Chinese viewers may go from fascinated to insulted. Alexander’s character appears from the pilot to have been manipulated by some baddies, and they appear to be Chinese.