Who’s the chief of the BBC?

So this is a pretty cool news story:

Chinese revolt leader becomes village chief of Wukan

The leader of protests against land grabs in a southern Chinese village has been appointed its new chief.

Lin Zulian will head the new Communist Party Committee in Wukan and organise elections for a new village committee.

I mention it, though, not for its content, but because I’m wondering about that word “chief”.

Why does the BBC translate whatever word is officially used to describe this official as “chief”? In English (and perhaps this is an American thing, I dunno), “chief” has connotations of either a guy with a bone through his nose and feathers in his hair, or the guy with the cigar who runs the police or fire department (but not the whole place).

They could have rendered it as “leader” or “head” (both of which they used to refer to him elsewhere in the piece), or (given that he will “head” the Committee) presumably “Chairman” or “Chair” (although it might not be proper to refer to the “Chair” of a village).

If Wukan were a “town” or “city”, one might expect “Mayor” there, but I can buy that it’s a village in some objective sense having to do with population or something. So not using “Mayor” is perhaps understandable.

Does the BBC refer to the leader of a village in England as the “chief”? Let’s see…

Well! Searching for “english village” on the BBC site turns up a whole lot of droll and more or less nostalgic stories, but so far no mention of chiefs or mayors or anything. Perhaps villages aren’t governmental structures at all in England?

The official page about local government in the UK seems to be silent about villages, talking instead about “county and district councils” which may or may not involve mayors who may or may not have any actual powers. Searching for “village” there turns up the fact that local councils are responsible for village greens. Still nothing about village chiefs, though.

So perhaps the BBC uses “chief” for the leader of a village just because they don’t know what else to use, English villages not having leaders?

Okay, so what does a search for “village chief” on the BBC site find? Various chiefs, mostly from China, but also an indigenous Alaskan, a chief from the Ivory Coast, South Sudan, and aha Aberdeen!

Ah, wait. The one in Aberdeen is “David Beattie, chief executive of Aberdeen Sports Village“. Which is perhaps a commercial enterprise that just happens to be called a Village.

It is at least somewhat suggestive, though, that villages in non-Western places have “chiefs”, whereas the Aberdeen Sports Village has a Chief Executive. :) I’d love to see the BBC Handbook that covers this subject…

Update: The New York Times, for what it’s worth, seems to use “party boss” and “party secretary” in this piece about the same thing. The word “chief” is absent from the article.

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