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Valency of 上报; verbs needing passive in English (but not Chinese)

3 December 2015 (last updated Feb 2018)

This page is about the curious valence of the Chinese verb 上报 shàngbào 'submit (a document) to a higher authority'. In trying to come to grips with usage and examples, I found the discussion expanding into a brief excursus on the behaviour of Chinese verbs in general. The translation of 逐级上报 zhújí shàngbào 'submit to the next level of authority' in legal contexts is discussed at Proz: 逐级上报.

The (now defunct) 京华时报 jīnghuá shíbào (Beijing Times) of 24 November 2015 carried an article with the title:

gèrén suǒdéshuì gǎigé fāng'àn zuì kuài niándǐ shàngbào
'Personal income tax reform proposal submitted by year end at earliest'

Of particular interest is the grammar of the word 上报 shàngbào, which means 'to submit a report to a higher authority'.

Each section below looks at a different aspect of the grammar of 上报 shàngbào.

1. Argument structure of 上报 shàngbào
2. Alternative argument structure (from the Web)
3. Simplified argument structures (from the Web)
4. Topicalised structure in the headline
5. Example in attributive clause (modifying a noun)
6. 上報 shàngbao in serial verb constructions (from the Web)
7. Verbs that require the passive in English

1. Argument structure of 上报 shàngbào

Weblio analyses the argument structure of 上报 shàngbào as follows:

This is a ditransitive construction with two objects:

We can represent this graphically as follows:

Subject Object 1VerbObject 2
+ 上报

This structure, with a full set of arguments (theta roles), is found within the text of the article:

jìnqī cáizhèng bù shuì zhèngsī duō cì zǔzhī zhuānjiā kāihuì yántǎo, gèshuì gǎigé fāng'àn yǐ chūjù chúxíng, cáizhèng bù zuì kuài jīnnián niándǐ huò míngnián niánchū kěnéng jiāng gǎigé cǎo'àn shàngbào zhōngyāng hé guówùyuàn.

'Recently the Ministry of Finance Tax Policy Department has organized experts to hold meetings and discuss [the issue], giving shape to a preliminary tax reform program. The Ministry of Finance may submit the reform proposal to the central government and the State Council by the end of this year or early next year.'

Extracting the relevant structure:

* The subject of 上报 shàngbào is 财政部 cáizhèng bù 'Ministry of Finance'.

* Object 1 of 上报 shàngbào is 改革草案 gǎigé cǎo'àn 'reform proposal'. This is marked with jiāng, indicating that it is a tax reform proposal that is to be submitted. The proposal is the patient.

* Object 2 of 上报 shàngbào is 中央和国务院 zhōngyāng hé guówùyuàn 'central government and State Council'. This direct object is the recipient.

This fills all slots -- subject, object 1, and object 2 -- and follows the full argument structure of the verb 上报 shàngbào.

Subject Object 1VerbObject 2
财政部 +改革草案 上报 中央和国务院

The ditransitive construction looks strange, in particular the use of the unmarked direct object for the recipient (the institution). It is so strange that examples can be found on the Internet that don't follow the correct argument structure.

2. Alternative argument structure (from the Web)

Given the peculiar argument structure of 上报 shàngbào, it is not surprising that alternative structures are sometimes encountered. For instance, this sporting article uses gěi 'to give' to spell out the recipient more clearly:

jùlèbù...zài shōují cáiliào, zhǔnbèi jiāng cǐ shì shàngbào gěi zhōngguó lán xié
'the Club...is collecting material and will submit this matter to the China Basketball Association'

gěi clearly indicates the recipient of the submission, bringing the structure more in line with other verbs in Chinese. It can be represented as:

Subject Object 1Verb Object 2 (indirect obj)

3. Simplified argument structures (from the Web)

Interesting things happen when we start dropping arguments. The following are some examples illustrating what can happen when the report submitted (Object 1) and the receiving institution (Object 2) are omitted.

1) Object 1 (the report submitted) omitted:

Wàilái rényuán yīlǜ xièjué rùnèi, fāxiàn mòshēng hé kěyí rényuán, lìjí shàngbào yǒuguān-bùmén

'No outside personnel are to be permitted entry, [if] an unknown or suspicious person is found, immediately report it to the relevant authority

In this case the information to be reported is '(the discovery of) an unknown or suspicious person' (陌生和可疑人员 mòshēng hé kěyí rényuán). This is mentioned in the earlier part of the sentence and omitted as understood in the latter part.

Since the verb is in the imperative, the subject (the person who is supposed to report) is also omitted.

As a result, the sentence has a single explicit argument: Object 2, that is, 有关部门 yǒuguān-bùmén 'the relevant authority'.

The superficial argument structure of the sentence becomes:

Subject (understood)(Object 1)VerbObject 2
--- (陌生和可疑人员) 上报 有关部门

2) Object 2 (the recipient, i.e., the higher authority) omitted.

From the Internet:

Shǒuxiān, shàngbào zhèxiē xìnxī de bìng fēi shì wǒmen gèrén, ér shì fākǎ yínháng.

'First of all, the one who reports this information is not us as individuals, but the issuing bank.'

With the recipient omitted, jiāng is dropped from the patient (这些信息 zhèxiē xìnxī 'this information'). The patient becomes the simple direct object. The structure can be represented as follows (subject is 发卡银行 fākǎ yínháng 'issuing bank'):

SubjectVerbObject 1
发卡银行 上报 这些信息

4. Topicalised structure in the headline

Returning to our passage, there is also a simplified argument structure in the headline. The headline explicitly mentions only one argument:

gèrén suǒdéshuì gǎigé fāng'àn zuì kuài niándǐ shàngbào
'Personal income tax reform proposal submitted by year end at earliest'

In this sentence, 个人所得税改革方案 gèrén suǒdéshuì gǎigé fāng'àn 'personal income tax reform proposal' is semantically the patient (Object 1).

In the headline, Object 2 (the recipient) is omitted and jiāng is dropped from Object 1. At the same time, however, Object 1 has been made the topic (or, according to some linguists, the subject) and placed at the start of the sentence. This further obscures the underlying argument structure.

The topicalised argument structure can be represented as:

Topic (Object 1)Verb

An equivalent English sentence would not allow this kind of topicalisation. English requires the argument structure to be strictly maintained. That is, 'submit' is a transitive verb and 'proposal' its object. Putting 'proposal' into subject position requires the passive voice ('be submitted').

SubjectVerb (passive)
personal income tax reform proposalwas + submitted

5. Example in attributive clause (modifying a noun)

The only other use of 上报 shàngbào in the article is:

Zài jíjiāng shàngbào de gèshuì gǎigé fāng'àn zhōng, shǒuxiān yào jiějué de wèntí jiùshì nǎxiē gèrén shōurù jìxù fēnlèi zhēngshōu gèshuì, nǎxiē shōurù nàrù zònghé zhēngshōu fànwéi.

'In the soon-to-submit tax reform program, the first problem to be solved is which personal income should continue to be taxed as personal income, and which should be included in the scope of comprehensive collection of revenue'

即将上报 jíjiāng shàngbào 'will soon submit' is an adnominal clause modifying 个人所得税改革方案 gèrén suǒdéshuì gǎigé fāng'àn 'personal income tax reform proposal'. The clause itself does not clearly identify whether the personal income tax proposal is the subject or object of 上报 shàngbào. Note that Chinese does not use a passive in this clause.

From real world knowledge, we know that the reform proposal is the patient (the item to be submitted).

VerbAdnominal markerSubject of the whole sentence

Again, English would normally require passive voice here since 'submit' has clearly defined theta roles: a subject (the agent), which is not spelt out), and an object (the patient). Since the personal income tax reform proposal is the object of 'submit', the verb in the relative clause must be made passive ('that is soon to be submitted').

Subject of the whole sentenceRelativiserVerb (passive)
personal income tax reform proposalthatis soon to be submitted

6. 上報 shàngbao in serial verb constructions (from the Web)

Now I would like to look at a couple of very interesting examples where two verbs are concatenated in a sentence (serial verb constructions).

The two examples, both featuring 上报 shàngbào (underlined), occur in the following sentence from Techweb:

Wǎngluò-shàng liúchuán-zhe hěn duō guānyú yóuxì shàngbào bèi bóhuí de xiāoxī, yóuxì gōngsī jiāng nèiróng shàngbào shěnhé, dàn zāodào “dǎ huí” chǔlǐ.

'On the Internet, information about games submitted and being rejected is circulating; a game company submits content for approval but meets with "return" treatment'

In the first serial verb construction, the argument structure is:

We will tentatively represent this as follows:

Topic (Object 1)Verb 1 
游戏 上报
(Same topic: Object of 驳回)Verb 2
(游戏) + 驳回

This takes 游戏 yóuxì 'the game' as the patient (the item submitted), moved into topic position, a role that it plays for both verbs.

Given that 游戏 yóuxì fills the patient role for both verbs, it is curious that only 驳回 bóhuí is marked with bèi. Theoretically it should also be possible to mark 上报 shàngbào with bèi. And indeed, examples of 被上报 bèi shàngbào can be found on the Internet:

(from a headline)

zài táiwān dǎ mà lǐngduì wǔhàn bù wénmíng yóukè bèi shàngbào guójiā lǚyóu jú
'An uncivilised tourist from Wuhan who hit and cursed a tour leader in Taiwan has been reported to the National Tourism Administration'

(from a question on the Internet)

zuòbì bèi shàngbào qǔxiāo xuéwèi zhèngle, gāi zěnme bàn?
'I cheated, was reported, and had my degree cancelled. What should I do?'

Despite this, our sentence above does not use 被上报 bèi shàngbào 'be submitted'.

The result is a peculiar difference in the argument structure of the two serial verbs. For the first verb, the structure is:

游戏 yóuxì, semantically the patient (Object 1), serves as the topic of the construction.

For the second verb:

游戏 yóuxì is again the patient (Object 1) and also the topic of the construction, but the verb is marked with bèi.

This kind of argument structure in serial verbs is quite common in Chinese but peculiar when seen from English, which would require parallellism between the verbs.

However, while bèi is often identified as a 'passive' marker, it cannot be straightforwardly equated to the English passive voice. Traditionally, it conveys a sense of adversity or being the victim. This opens the way to a different interpretation. If the submitter (游戏公司 yóuxì gōngsī 'game company', which initially does not appear among the arguments of either verb) is understood as the victim, the sense can be understood as: '1. We submitted the report but 2. it was rejected, to our detriment'.

In this case, the argument structure might be understood as 'The game company submitted the game but (the game company) was rejected':

SubjectVerb 1Object 1 
(Same subject)Verb 2
(游戏公司) + 驳回

But this is also peculiar. In fact, the verb 驳回 bóhuí normally takes as its object the word 请求 qǐngqiú 'request, application'. The subject of the second verb should be understood as 游戏公司的请求 yóuxì gōngsī de qǐngqiú 'the application of the game company':

SubjectVerb 1Object 1 
(Object)Verb 2
(游戏公司的请求) + 驳回

This vagueness over arguments, particularly the arguments of serial verbs, is quite typical of Chinese.

This can be seen in the second serial verb construction:

yóuxì gōngsī jiāng nèiróng shàngbào shěnhé
'Game companies submit approve content'

The construction is:

This construction combines 上报 shàngbào 'to submit' with 审核 shěnhé 'to check, approve'.

The jiāng construction belongs to 上报 shàngbào 'to submit'. 内容 nèiróng 'content' is the Object 1 (the patient), marked with jiāng. (Note the use of jiāng even though Object 2 (the recipient) is not made explicit.)

For 审核 shěnhé 'to check, approve', the argument structure is different. While 内容 nèiróng is still the patient, the subject (or agent) is the competent authorities, even though this does not appear explicitly among the verb's arguments. Moreover, unlike the action of 上报 shàngbào 'submit', which could be either a completed or future (uncompleted) action, 审核 shěnhé 'approve' is understood as uncompleted.

Approval of the content is the aim of submission. The meaning of the whole is 'submit for approval'. This is a conventional construction in bureaucratic Chinese.

The two parts of the sentence can be represented as follows:

SubjectObject 1Verb 1(Object 2, omitted)
游戏公司 + 内容 上报(有关部门)
+ ()
Subject (omitted) Verb 2(Object omitted)

Both linked verb constructions are interesting for their loose argument structure compared with the relatively rigid requirements of English.

7. Verbs that require the passive in English

There are at least two other verbs in our original sentence that require a passive in English but are not marked as passive in Chinese.

1) 首先要解决的问题 shǒuxiān yào jiějué de wèntí ('first need-solving problem') is active in Chinese, with unspecified subject. In a literal rendering, English requires us to say 'problem that needs to be solved'. (Interestingly, and somewhat confusingly, English can also say 'problem that needs solving', which is not overtly marked as a passive).

2) In 分类征收个税 fēnlèi zhēngshōu gèshuì ('classify [as] taxation of personal income'), 分类 fēnlèi is active in form but passive in meaning. Similarly for 纳入 nàrù ('include'). Where Chinese is happy with the straightforward form of the verb, English requires 'be classified' or 'be included'.

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