Petty controversy: Is Jon Huntsman really fluent in Chinese?

According to his resume, the Beijing-ambassador-turned-presidential-hopeful speaks perfect Mandarin. According to Chinese speakers, not so much

For shame: The Mandarin the presidential hopeful speaks is a bastardized version according to native speakers.
(Image credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The controversy: It's no secret that struggling GOP presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman served as President Obama's ambassador to China, and that he speaks Mandarin. "But is Jon Huntsman really fluent in Chinese?" asks Geoffrey Sant at Slate. "The answer seems to be no." When Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert asked Huntsman to show off his linguistic abilities on The Colbert Report, Huntsman rattled off a sentence to the audience's delight. His translation: "I just said you ought to consider being my running mate for vice president." But other Mandarin speakers say Huntsman mangled the language, saying something closer to, "I really want you to do my vice-America president."

The reaction: Give the man a break, says Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy. "He might be exaggerating his abilities a bit," but it sounds like he can at least make himself understood. Even if he spoke perfectly, it's not like "Xi Jinping would be so impressed he'd forgive America's debts and let the yuan float on the spot." This wasn't Huntsman's only mistake, though, says Joel Herrick at Shanghaist. On CNN, Huntsman absurdly referred to himself in Mandarin as "Mr. Jon Huntsman," which, as Sant points out, sounds to a Chinese speaker like "the esteemed Mr. Huntsman" sounds to us. Some say "any publicity is good publicity," says James Crugnale at Mediaite. But somehow I doubt that this revelation will lift the former Utah governor's "0 percent national polling."

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