关键词: 非语言交际 身势语 不同文化 不同方式
Body Language on Nonverbal Communication
“Body language”, like our verbal language, is also a part of our culture. But not all body language means the same thing in different cultures. Different people have different ways of making nonverbal communication. For example: different people have different ideas about the proper distance between people conversing; the appropriateness of physical contact varies with different cultures; one could draw up quite a list of “rules” about eye contact: to look or not to look; when to look and how long to look; who and who not to look at; smiles and laughter usually convey friendliness, approval, satisfaction, pleasure, joy and merriment, and, this is generally true in China as well as the English-speaking countries, however, there are situations when some Chinese will laugh that will cause negative reactions by westerners; gestures can be particularly troublesome, for a slight difference in making the gesture itself can mean something quite different from that intended, and, a wrong interpretation of a gesture can arouse quite unexpected reactions and so on. So in order to communicate effectively in a foreign language, one should know also the gestures, body movements, mannerisms and etc. that accompany a particular language. Some authorities feel that the two are dependent on each other. This is certainly true in most situations. But it is also true that in certain situations body action contradicts what is being said, just as the spoken words may mean something quite different from what body language communicates. When this occurs, one must try to get further information, or guess the meaning from the context of the situation. In a sense, all body language should be interpreted within a given context; to ignore the overall situation could be misleading. A comparative study of Chinese and American body language shows a number of similarities and diversities of body language. It shows the importance of knowing the specific gestures that go with a language. Observation shows that a truly bilingual person switches his body language at the same time he switches languages. This makes communication easier and better.
Key words: nonverbal communication body language different culture different ways
1. Introduction …… 1
2. The necessity and importance of learning body language on nonverbal communication …… 2
3. The concrete types and application of the body language …… 3
3.1 Types of body language …… 3
3.1.1 Distance between people conversing …… 3
3.1.2 Physical contact …… 3
3.1.3 Eye contact …… 4
3.1.4 Smiles and laughter …… 6
3.1.5 Gestures …… 6
3.2 Application of the body language …… 6
3.2.1 Greetings …… 6
3.2.2 Signs of affection …… 8
3.2.3 Physical contact in life …… 8
3.3 A comparative study of Chinese and American body language …… 9
4. Conclusion …… 12
When a Chinese converses with a Canadian or American friend of the opposite sex, would it be indecent to be looking at the other person?
If two young friends of the same sex walk with their arms around each other’s shoulders or hold hands, would this be regarded by English-speaking people as proper?
Does nodding the head mean “yes”, and shaking the head mean “no” in all cultures?
There are not questions about language, but about body language, about nonverbal communication.
Nonverbal communication, composed of pictures, dresses, eye contact, spatial signals, gestures and so on, is as important as verbal communication.
People communicate in many different ways. One of the most important ways, of course, is through language. Moreover, when language is written it can be completely isolated from the context in which it occurs; it can be treated as if it were an independent and self-contained process.
Like all animals, people communicate by their actions as well as by the noises they make. It is a sort of biological anomaly of man—something like the giraffe’s neck, or the pelican’s beak—that our vocal noises have so for outgrown in importance and frequency all our other methods of signaling to one another. Language is obviously essential for human beings, but it is not the whole story of human communication. Not by a long shot.
The study of nonverbal communication should be complementary to the study of language. The understanding of one should be helpful in the further understanding of the other. Some authorities feel that the two are dependent on each other. This is certainly true in most situations. But it is also true that in certain situation body action contradicts what is being said, just as the spoken words may mean something quite different from what nonverbal communication communicates. When this occurs, one must try to get further information, or guess the meaning from the context of the situation. In a case, all nonverbal communication should be interpreted within a given context; to ignore the overall situation could be misleading.
2. The necessity and importance of learning body language on nonverbal communication
Although we may not realize it, when we converse with others we communicate by much more than words. By our expressions, gestures and other body movements we send messages to these around us a smile and an outstretched hand show welcome. A form is a sign of displeasure. Nodding one’s head means agreement—“Yes”. Waving an outstretched hand with open palm is the gesture for “goodbye”. Leaning back in one’s seat and yawning at a talk or lecture shows lack of interest, boredom. These gestures have come to be accepted in general as having the meanings mentioned, at last to Chinese and Americans. There are parts of the way in which we communicate. This “body language”, like our verbal language, is also a part of our culture.
But not all body language means the same thing in different cultures. Different people have different ways of making nonverbal communication. The answers to the questions at the beginning of this chapter are all “no”. Even nodding the head may have a different meaning. To Nepalese, Sri Lankans, some Indians and some Eskimos it means not “yes”, but “no”. So in order to communicate effectively in a foreign language, one should know also the gestures, body movements, mannerisms and etc. that accompany a particular language.
Body language is an important media through which people communicate with each other. It refers to the patterns of facial expressions and gestures that people use to express their feelings in communication. The specialist on body language research—Fen. Lafle. Angles, once said: "Once it was lost, a baby couldn t have grown into a normal person". It s also true to the juveniles. In school education, body language plays a positive role in cultivating the students characters.
3. The concrete types and application of the body language
3.1 Types of body language
3.1.1 Distance between people conversing
Watch an Arab and an Englishman in conversation. The Arab, showing friendliness in the manner of his people, will stand close to the Englishman. The latter will move back, watching to the Englishman. The Arab will then move forward to be closer; the Englishman will keep moving backward. By the end of the conversation, the two may be quite a distance from the conversation; the two may be quite a distance from the place where they were originally standing!
Here, distance between the two is the key factor. Different people have different ideas about the proper distance between people conversing. According to studies, it seems there are four main distances in American social and business relations: intimate, personal, social, and public. Intimate distance ranges from direct physical contact to a distance of about 45 centimeters; this is for people’s most private relations and activities, between man and wife, for example. Personal distance is about 45—80 centimeters and is most common when friends, acquaintances and relatives converse. Social distance may be anywhere from about 1.30 meters to 3 meters; people who work together, or people doing business, as well as most of those in conversation at social gatherings tend to keep a distance is farther than any of the above and is generally for speakers in public and for teachers in classrooms.
The important thing to keep in mind is that most English-speaking people do not like people to be too close. Being too far apart, of course, may be awkward, but being too close makes people uncomfortable, unless there is a reason, such as showing affection or encouraging intimacy. But that is another matter.
3.1.2 Physical contact
The appropriateness of physical contact varies with different cultures. Figures from a study offer interesting insight into this matter. Pairs of individuals sitting and chatting in college shops in different places were observed for at last one hour each. The number of times that either one touched the other in that one hour was recorded, as follows: London, 0; Gainesville, Florida, 2; Pairs, 10; San Juan, Puerto Rico, 180. These figures speak for themselves. (Robinett, 1978)
In English-speaking countries, physical contact is generally avoided in conversation among ordinary friends or acquaintances. Merely touching someone may cause an unpleasant reaction. If one touches another person accidentally, he/she usually utters an apology such as “Sorry, Oh, I’m sorry, Excuse me.”
In China, a common complaint of western mothers is that Chinese often fondle their babies and very small children. Such behavior—whether touching, patting, hugging or kissing—can be quite embarrassing and awkward for the mothers. They know that no harm is meant, and that such gestures are merely signs of friendliness or affection, therefore they cannot openly show their displeasure. On the other hand, such actions in their own culture would be considered rude, intrusive and offensive and could arouse a strong dislike and even repugnance. So the mothers often stand by and watch in awkward silence, with mixed emotions, even when the fondling is by Chinese friends or acquaintances.
Going beyond the milder forms of touching, we shall take up the matter of hugging and embracing in public. This practice is fairly common among women in many countries. And in most of the more industrialized countries, it occurs frequently between husband and wife and close members of the family when meeting after a period of absence. Hugging and embracing among men, however, is a different matter. Among Arabs, Russians, French, and in several of the east European and Mediterranean countries, a warm hug and a kiss on the cheeks are a standard way of welcome. The same is true with some Latin Americans. In East Asia and in the English-speaking countries, though, the practice is seldom seen. A simple handshake is the custom. The story is told of what happened not long ago when the Japanese prime minister at the time, Mr. Fukuda, went to the U.S. on a state visit. When he stepped out of his car in front of the white house, he was greeted by the American president whit a “bear hug”. The prime minister was flabbergasted; others of the Japanese delegation were amazed; many Americans were surprised—it was so unusual and so unexpected. If the president had bowed low in Japanese fashion, it would have been less a surprise than to be greeted in a way so uncommon in either country!
The matter of physical contact between members of the same sex in English-speaking countries is a delicate one. Once past childhood, the holding of hands, or walking with an arm around another’s shoulder is not considered proper. The implication is homosexuality, and homosexuality generally arouses strong social disapproval in these countries.
3.1.3 Eye contact
Eye contact is an important aspect of body language. One could draw up quite a list of “rules” about eye contact: to look or not to look; when to look and how long to look; who and who not to look at. These passages from the book Body Language (Fast, 1971) are amusing as well as informative:
“Tow strangers seated across from each other in a railway dining car have the option of introducing themselves and facing a meal of inconsequential and perhaps boring talk, or ignoring each other and desperately trying to avoid each other’s glance. A writer, describing such a situation in an essay, wrote, ‘they re-read the menu, they fool with the cutlery, they inspect their own fingernails as if seeing them for the first time. Comes the inevitable moment when glances meet, but they meet only to shoot instantly away and out the window for an intent view of the passing scene.’ ”
He points out that with people who are unfamiliar:
“We must void staring at them, and yet we must also avoid ignoring them… We look at them long enough to make it quite clear that we see them, and then we immediately look away.
There are different formulas for the exchange of glances depending on where the meeting takes place. If you pass someone in the street you may eye the oncoming person till you are about eight feet apart, then you must look away as you pass. Before the eight-foot distance is reached, each will signal in which direction he will pass. This is done with a brief look in that direction. Each will veer slightly, and the passing is done smoothly.”
In conversations with people who know each other, however, American custom demands that there should be eye contact. This applies to both the speaker and the listener. For either one not to look at the other person could imply a number of things, among which are fear, contempt, uneasiness, guilt, indifference, even in public speaking there should be plenty of eye contact. For a speaker to “burry his nose in his manuscript”, to read a speech instead of looking at and talking to hid audience, as some Chinese speakers are in the habit of doing, would be regarded as inconsiderate and disrespectful.
In conversation, a person shows that he is listening by looking at the other person’s eyes or face. If the other person is speaking at some length, the listener will occasionally make sounds like “Hmm”, “Ummm”, or nod his head to indicate his attention. If he agrees with the speaker, he may nod or smile. If he disagrees or has some reservations, he may slant his head to one side, raise an eyebrow, have a quizzical look.
Staring at people or holding a glance too long is considered improper in English-speaking countries. Even when the look may be one of appreciation—as of beauty—it may make people uneasy and embarrassed. Many Americans traveling abroad find the stares of the local people irritating. They become extremely self-conscious and often end up quite indignant about the “rudeness” of the people there, not realizing that the practice may be quite common in the country and may be nothing more than curiosity. Many English-speaking people in china have heard to complain about this.
“The language of the eyes”—one of the most common and ancient ways of exchanging feelings between boys and girls, men and women—is especially elaborate in the United States. Much study has been made of this: how people of the opposite sex show interest or indifference, encouragement or discouragement, approval or disapproval, affection or aversion. However, there are many differences even within the United States. Men use their eyes in different ways than women; there are differences of age, class or social status and geographical region; there are differences of ethnic background.
The story is told of a teenage Puerto Rican girl in a New York high school who was taken with a number of other girls to the principal for suspected smoking. Although there was no proof of any wrongdoing and although she had a good record, the principal decided she was guilty and suspended her. “There was something sly and suspicious about her,” he said in his report. “She just wouldn’t meet my eye. She wouldn’t look at me.”
When she was questioned by the principal it was true that she kept staring at the floor and refused to meet his eye. And in English there is a saying “Don’t trust anyone who won’t look at you in the eye.”
It so happened that one of the teachers had a Latin American background and knew about Puerto Rican culture. After talking with the girl’s parents, he went to the principal and explained that according to Puerto Rican culture, a good girl “does not meet the eyes of an adult.” Such behavior, he explained, “is a sign of respect and obedience.”
Fortunately, the principal accepted the explanation, admitted his mistake and the matter was settled properly. This difference in interpreting a simple eye gesture was a lesson in cultural diversity that he would not easily forget.
Rules about eye-language are numerous and complex. What has been mentioned gives a good idea of this; we shall not go further into detail.
3.1.4 Smiles and laughter
Smiles and laughter usually convey friendliness, approval, satisfaction, pleasure, joy and merriment. This is generally true in China as well as the English-speaking countries. However, there are situations when some Chinese will laugh that will cause negative reactions by westerners. To illustrate, here is an excerpt from a letter by an American to a Chinese friend on nonverbal gestures that often cause cross-cultural misunderstanding:
“…One is the different meaning of laughter in China and American. When an American is parking his bicycle, for example, and the bicycle accidentally falls over, he feels embarrassed at his awkwardness, and is quite angered and humiliated when Chinese onlookers laugh. I have seen the same thing happen in the dining room, when a foreigner drops a plate quite by accident and feels badly and Chinese onlookers laugh, compounding his discomfort and causing anger and bad feeling.”
Such laughter, of course, is not at the person or his misfortune—whether he be a foreigner or a Chinese. It can convey a number of feelings: don’t take it so seriously; laugh it off, it’s nothing; such things can happen to any of us, etc. However, for people unaware of this attitude, the reaction to such laughter is usually quite unpleasant and often generates ill feeling towards those laughing.
Gestures can be particularly troublesome, for a slight difference in making the gesture itself can mean something quite different from that intended. A wrong interpretation of a gesture can arouse quite unexpected reactions.
A well-known case is a gesture made by Winston Churchill, the doughty prime minister who led Britain through the Second World War. As he appeared before a large crowd, he was greeted with cheers and applause. The occasion was a momentous one and Churchill flashed the “V for victory” sign—with the forefinger and middle finger raised to form a “V”. Whether by mistake or ignorance, instead of facing the palm of his hand to the front, he made the “V” with the back of his hand towards the audience. Some in the crowd applauded; some gasped; some broke out in laughter. The prime minister’s gesture, as given, meant quite something else. Instead of “V for victory”, it meant something dirty; it was an obscene gesture!
3.2 Application of the body language
Hoa has just arrived from Vietnam. Her cousin Phuong and some of his American friends are waiting at the airport to greet her. Hoa and Phuong are both excited about this meeting because they have been separated for seven years. As soon as Hoa enters the passenger terminal, Phuong introduces her to his friends Tom, Don, and Charles. Tom steps forward and hugs and kisses Hoa. She pushes him away and bursts into tears.
Among Chinese from Vietnam, if a boy hugs and kisses a girl in public, he insults her. Chinese culture in Vietnam is very strict about this, especially in the rural areas where Hoa grew up. She described her village: “After children are ten years old, boys and girls cannot play together. A boy and girl cannot date without their parents’ approval. A man and woman cannot hug or kiss if they’re not married.”
In Hoa’s village if anyone violated these rules, the villagers punished the girl by forcing her to kneel on the ground so they could spit at her and throw rocks at her. No wonder that Puong’s American friends frightened Hoa. She did not know what punishment for public hugging and kissing might be meted out to her in this country. She confused Tom, who by American standards was dong the right thing.
Eventually Hoa learned to be comfortable when greeted with hugs and kisses, accepting them as merely perfunctory acts.
Analogous to this situation is another in which Duane, a Chinese American employee, invited his non-Chinese boss, Mr. Keck, to a large family celebration. When Mr. Keck arrived, he shook hands with Duane and, when introduced to Duane’s grandmother, leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. This shocked the older woman, yet Mr. Keck was totally unaware that he had committed a social blunder. What he considered as a respectful act, grandmother considered disrespectful. Instead, Mr. Keck should have nodded to the older woman and offered her a verbal greeting.
◆ When establishing relations with Asians, avoid body contact. The safest form is to nod and give a verbal salutation. Follow their lead as the relationship changes.
Like customs everywhere, increased cross-cultural interaction brings about changes in habits; many Asian businesspeople have accommodated to the American handshaking tradition. On the other hand, in a situation where it seems as if bowing would still be the only polite move to make—especially to the Japanese—following these guidelines should make it easier.
◆ When bowing to people from Japan, hands should slide down toward the knees or remain at the side.
◆ Back and neck should be held in a rigid position, while eyes look downward.
◆ The person in the inferior position always bows longer and lower.
Those from India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh use the namaste for both greeting and farewells and as a sign of respect. They do this by holding their hands chest-high in a prayerlike position, then slightly nod the head; but they do not bow. American students of yoga who are taught by Asian teachers become familiar with this gesture that heralds the beginning of each session. Thais have a similar greeting, but they call it a wai.
While body contact is generally taboo in most Asian countries, elsewhere, body contact is expected; shying away from contact gives off negative signals.
◆ When greeting, people from Indian, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Thailand hold their hands together in front of their chins in a prayerlike position and nod their heads.
◆ When greeting, most Latinos expect body contact. Hugging and kissing on the check are acceptable for both the same sex and the opposite sex. The abrazo is commonplace—friends embrace and simultaneously pat each other on the back.
◆ When greeting, most middle easterners, especially Muslims, avoid body contact with the opposite sex, but men may embrace and kiss one anther. Women may do the same. When shaking hands, men should avoid pulling their hands away too quickly.
◆ When greeting most Americans, expect soma body contract. Women kiss once on each cheek and hug; men shake hands. Men may also hug and kiss women on the cheek if they are close friends.
◆ When greeting orthodox Jews, avoid body contact with the opposite sex.
3.2.2 Signs of affection
Sheree Bykofsky, an American writer, is thrilled when a cruise ship line purchases copies of her hew romantic travel guide, the best place to kiss in and around New York City. The cruise line plans to give the books as dinner favors during their special valentine’s cruise.
They invite Sheree on board to greet the passengers and autograph their copies. The Americans and Europeans delight in meeting the author and having her sign their books. However, when Sheree visits the tables of the Japanese passengers, most of them refuse to acknowledge her.
Japanese people do not approve of public body contact and, thus, have developed a complex system of bowing to express relationships. Touching a member of the opposite sex is particularly repugnant to their sensitivities; consequently, kissing in public is considered a disgraceful act.
The Japanese snubbed Sheree because the title of her book suggested behavior that did not conform to their standards of respect. They would not acknowledge her because, in their eyes, she promoted vulgarity.
Asians from countries other than Japan are equally disapproving when they see American men and women or two men to walk in public holding hands. However, when they practice this sign of friendship in the states, they are frequently mistaken for homosexuals. This shocks them.
Same-sex hand holding or walking arm-in-arm also occurs among Latinos, French, Spanish, Italians, Greeks, and middle easterners.
◆ Most Japanese people strongly disapprove of public expression of affection by males and females through kissing or any other form of body contact.
◆ Same-sex hand holding between Asians, middle-easterners, Latinos, or those from Mediterranean countries is a sign of friendship. Walking with arms on each other’s shoulders or with hands or arms linked also equates with camaraderie.
3.2.3 Physical contact
When Dorothy receives a wedding invitation to attend her Japanese neighbor’s wedding, she is thrilled. She has always admired the Yamashita family. She is very fond of lance, the about-to-be-married son, and feels extremely close to Grace, his mother. Dorothy feels honored to be included in the family festivities.
After the beautiful church ceremony, Dorothy stands in line to greet the bridal party. However, when Dorothy, a very affectionate person, steps forward to embrace the mother of the groom, Grace steps backward.
Dorothy feels rejected.
Even at such a joyous occasion as a wedding, Japanese customs about physical contact in public are not relaxed, even when taking place between the same sex. Truly, more formality is demonstrated in such situations. Consider the extreme reserve displayed at the 1993 royal wedding of crown prince Naruhito to Massako Owada. The physical acts of the royal couple consisted only of sipping sacred sake and making bows—no touching, no hugging, no kissing between the couple, certainly none by the wedding guests.
In Dorothy’s situation, even though she felt very close to Grace, she would have been more socially correct had she bowed her head slightly and then offered only verbal felicitations. In situations like these, it is best to observe the manner in which other wedding guests congratulate family members and then follow their example.
3.3 A comparative study of Chinese and American body language
A comparative study of Chinese and American body language shows a number of similarities; for example: men don’t hug or embrace when meeting; a handshake is the most common gesture that goes with a greeting; waving a hand to say “goodbye” is the same; a frown shows displeasure, and the wrinkling of one’s nose is a sign of dislike, disgust or disapproval; nodding means “yes”, and shaking one’s head means “no”; pouting has the same meaning—displeasure, bad humor, resentment; a pat on the back of a man or boy indicates approval, praise, encouragement; gritting one’s teeth may express anger, fury, or determination.
The charts on the following pages provide examples of some of the difference:
Different Body Language, Same Meaning
Meaning Body Language in China Body Language in U.S.
“Come here” (beckoning someone to come) hand extended toward person,open palm, palm down, withall fingers crooked in a beckoning motion hand extended toward person,closed hand, palm up, with forefinger only moving backand forth (in china this samegesture would be consideredoffensive by many)
“Shame on you!” (semi-joking gesture) forefinger of one hand extended, tip touches one’s own face several times quickly; similar to scratching,but with the forefinger straight (usually with the remark “shame on you!”) forefinger of each hand extended, palms down in front of one’s body; one forefinger makes several brushing movements over the back of the other forefinger
‘I’m very full” (after a meal) one or both hands open, lightly patting one’s own stomach hand raised to throat, fingersextended, palm down (oftenwith the remark “I’m full upto here.”)
Same Body Language in Tow Cultures
but with Different Meaning
Meaning in China Body Language Meaning in U. S.
anger, irritation, frustration, remorse stamping one’s foot impatience
thank you; mutual positive feelings speaker or performerclapping at same timeaudience applauds applauding oneself;improper, immodest
Curiosity, sometimes surprise staring, gaping considered impolite;makes people embarrassed,self-conscious
disapproval, hissing “shah” calling for silence
seldom used;occasionally adults may pat head of children to show affection; patting the head of a teenager or adult would cause displeasure and can be insulting pat on head giving comfort, consolation or encouragement; also shows affection
Body Language and Meaning in One Culture;
No Equivalent in Other Culture
Body Language Meaning in U.S.
chewing one’s fingernails emotional stress, worried, doesn’t know what to do
thumbing one’s nose (one thumb on tip of own nose, fingers curled and moving together) defiance, contempt
wagging one’s finger (forefinger of one hand raised, other fingers clasped, the raised forefinger is wagged from side to side) warning not to do something; indicating that what the other person is doing is wrong
thumb down (arm crooked in front of body, closed fist, thumb extended down, one or several downward movements) rejection of a proposal, idea, person; nonverbal way of saying a strong “no”
winking (quick closing of one eye, generally with a smile and slight nod) may show several feelings; understanding, approval, encouragement, trying to get across a message, solidarity
touching or pointing to tip of one’s own nose with raised forefinger “It’s me” “I’m the one” (to westerners, the gesture would seem slightly funny)
using an open hand to cover one’s mouth while speaking (generally used by older people) to show confidentiality and secrecy; sometimes no meaning
using both hands (when one would be enough) in offering something to a visitor or another person respect
(when one’s tea cup is being refilled by the host or hostess) putting one or both hands upright, palm open, beside the cup “Thank you”
upraised forefinger of each hand coming together in front of the body until the two touch boy and girl in love; a good match
The examples in the charts are by no means complete, but are enough to illustrate the diversity of body language and to show the importance of knowing the specific gestures that go with a language.
The study of body language should be complementary to the study of language. The understanding of one should be helpful in the further understanding of the other. Some authorities feel that the two are dependent on each other. This is certainly true in most situations. But it is also true that in certain situations body action contradicts what is being said, just as the spoken words may mean something quite different from what body language communicates. When this occurs, one must try to get further information, or guess the meaning from the context of the situation. In a sense, all body language should be interpreted within a given context; to ignore the overall situation could be misleading.
A word of general advice: when one communicates in a certain language, it is generally advisable to use the nonverbal behavior that goes with that particular language. Observation shows that a truly bilingual person switches his body language at the same time he switches languages. This makes communication easier and better。
The authors gratefully acknowledge Xu Mingwu, Prof for his assistance in this study.
 Fast, Julius. 1971. Body Language . Pocket Books, N.Y.
 Liu Yongfa, Liu Xuan’en. 1997. The Practical Body Language. Hua Wen Press.
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 Samovar L. A. 1981. Understanding Intercultural Communication. Wadsworth Publishing Company.
 Shen Minxian. 1999. The Use of the Body Language in Elementary School. Shanghai Education Vol. 12.
 Stern H. H. 1983. Fundamental Concepts of Language Teaching. London: Oxford university press.
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