At a team building event in a big organisation the facilitator organised a game of “Chinese whispers”. I don’t know what the point was, but my friend Meili was even more confused. “What’s Chinese whispers?” She asked. She’d never heard of it growing up in China. It hadn’t been part of her experience since she migrated to Australia. “What’s Chinese about this game?”
Turns out that the name “Chinese whispers” reflects “Europeans’ inability to understand China’s culture and worldview. Using the phrase “Chinese whispers” suggested a belief that the Chinese language itself is not understandable (Wikipedia).” In other words, it’s a hangover from colonialism.
In our multicultural context the team building exercise would have been made more effective by just calling the exercise “grapevine” or “the messenger game”, as it is in other places. But this awkward moment was a helpful reminder of how resilient colonialism is.