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Mandarin suffers Covid collateral damage

Daryl Guppy
Daryl Guppy • 5 min read
Mandarin suffers Covid collateral damage
Year of the Rabbit decorations at a Beijing shopping mall. Europeans returning to business meetings in China will need to take greater care to ensure that their words are translated correctly. Photo: Bloomberg
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As President of a Confucius Institute Advisory Board, I attended a Lunar New Year reunion dinner with colleagues and staff. Not surprisingly, the staff were all from Mainland China with the result that almost all the conversation was in Mandarin with polite asides for English translation.

What was surprising was the degree to which my understanding of conversational Mandarin had dropped. This is going to present a significant problem for Europeans returning to China in the coming months. And it is not just a problem for Westerners. Combined, these problems are going to make the resumption of business a little more difficult than expected.

In Singapore, we are accustomed to hearing Mandarin spoken in a variety of situations, but that is not the same as the China experience. The Mandarin spoken by Singaporeans carries with it many different influences. It incorporates some concessions to both English and Malay and includes the formality of taught Mandarin. In a conversation, there is always an easy escape route with people reverting to English.

This is a particular problem for Europeans going to China and participating in business meetings. Without regular exposure to the Mandarin spoken on the Mainland, it becomes more difficult to follow the flow of conversation.

Before Covid, many European visitors developed the skills of listening with a reasonable level of general comprehension. No travel during Covid meant those skills have atrophied. We may be adjusted to the cadences of Mandarin in Singapore, but that does not transfer easily to an all-pervasive Mandarin-speaking environment in Beijing.

Who cares? We have translators and interpreters to assist us. This seems, at first glance, to be a valid response. However, it is a flawed response for similar reasons that apply in Singapore.

See also: Collateral damage for China investors

The ability to engage in consecutive or simultaneous translation requires more than just advanced skills. It requires constant practice on the “use it or lose it” principle.

I have a small group of China-based translators that we regularly use for conferences and business work. They are translators I use with Government trade delegations. I use a group of translators because pre-Covid they were so busy that it was not always possible to guarantee any one of them would be available when we needed them.

During Covid, demand for their translation work collapsed to become a small fraction of what it was previously. Like their colleagues in the industry, they often went weeks without a translation job. Zoom meetings were a poor substitute and work was scarce.

See also: Politics complicating China businesses, investments

The demand for on-the-ground translation work is growing with the opening of borders but it is unwise to expect a return to the same level of proficiency that prevailed preCovid. Put simply, these translators are now out of practice. To be sure, those that remained in the industry will return to full proficiency quickly. The new crop of translators will take much longer to gain high proficiency and accuracy.

Europeans returning to business meetings in Shanghai, Beijing and elsewhere will need to take greater care to ensure that their words are translated correctly and that the comments of their counterparts from across the table are also interpreted correctly.

Technical outlook for the Shanghai market

The Shanghai index has broken above the first resistance target near 3,220. This is a continuation of the strong index rebound from two support features. The move above the second resistance level near 3,280 has failed, but this is most probably temporary. There is a high probability of a consolidation period between 3,220 and 3,280 developing before the uptrend resumes. The upside target is near 3,415.

The 3,220 level first target is the lower edge of a narrow resistance band. The upper edge of the band is near 3,280. The best bullish development was a continuation of the move towards 3,280 followed by consolidation within the resistance band. This is currently developing.

The index chart has two features that confirm the uptrend breakout activity will continue to develop into a new longer-term uptrend after the Spring Festival holidays.

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The first feature is that the index activity is part of a long-term trend reversal double-bottom rebound pattern. The depth of the pattern is measured, and then this value is projected upwards. The first target for the pattern is the top of the previous pattern peak near 3,415. The strong trend to achieve this price target is developing. However, caution is needed as this has the characteristic of a rally. A consolidation pullback and then a new rebound will confirm a more stable uptrend development.

The second feature is the way the rebound action continues to be defined by a fan pattern. The fan pattern signals a long-term trend change. The fan starts from a single point, shown as Point 1. It consists of a series of trend lines, shown as lines A, B, C and D. The fan pattern is often associated with very long-term breakout patterns that develop over many months. The current index activity confirms this development.

The behaviour of the Guppy Multiple Moving Average (GMMA) indicator shows that investors are increasingly bullish. The long-term GMMA has compressed and now is moving up. This is beginning to expand. This shows buying by increasingly bullish investors. It shows that investors have stopped selling and have begun buying as they join the expected uptrend development. The short-term group of averages have moved completely above the long-term group and did not compress significantly in the recent pullback. This shows trader support for the breakout trend is strong.

The index has used two support features as a base for the continued development of an uptrend and a strong jump into the Year of the Rabbit.

Daryl Guppy is an international financial technical analysis expert. He has provided weekly Shanghai Index analysis for Mainland Chinese media for two decades. Guppy appears regularly on CNBC Asia and is known as “The Chart Man”. He is a national board member of the Australia China Business Council

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