Could there be something wrong with this sentence from some webpage:

Police used pepper spray and tear gas to disperse pro-democracy protesters in the city’s most serious confrontation with Beijing in more than a decade.

"Confrontation with Beijing" is an abstract confrontation. But "police used pepper spray and tear gas to disperse pro-democracy protesters" is a physical fight between the Hong Kong police and protesters. The way the example sentence is written suggests that the physical fight = a confrontation with Beijing, which makes no sense. Would the following rewrite be better?

Police used pepper spray and tear gas to disperse pro-democracy protesters in the city’s most serious confrontation with Hong Kong Police in more than a decade.

  • 3
    If the Hong Kong Police are directed by Beijing (the Chinene government), then the confrontation is indirectly with the Beijing government, as a matter of who is in charge.
    – user3169
    Sep 30 '14 at 19:56
  • IF all we had was this sentence alone, it would be natural to equate the city with Beijing (the city of).
    – user6951
    Sep 30 '14 at 20:40
  • 4
    @CarSmack I'm not so sure; that would mean either Beijing is having a confrontation with itself, or the author used "Beijing" figuratively to represent something else in the same sentence where "the city" means the actual city of Beijing, and the latter option is just confusing (if the city was Beijing, then the entity they're confronting would be named differently, like "the central govt"). Without any context, it's fairly clear that "the city" is not "Beijing (city of)", but it's unclear what city it does refer to.
    – cpast
    Sep 30 '14 at 20:50
  • @cpast, by natural, I think I meant for a non-native speaker, but I'm not sure now. :) Anyway, yeah, I'll leave off further reply, as this goes far afield from the actual question. Thanks for pointing out what you did; I agree with it.
    – user6951
    Sep 30 '14 at 21:03
  • @CarSmack The fights between hk police and protesters happened in Hong Kong.
    – meatie
    Sep 30 '14 at 23:38

"Beijing" here means the national government that operates from Beijing. Presumably the actions of the police were directed by the Beijing government, or at least were the result of a protest against the actions of the Beijing government. So I think the sentence is fine as it stands. \

There's nothing wrong with attributing physical effects to an abstract cause. In fact that's routine. Like, "Men give their wives and girlfriends flowers for Valentine's Day." Well of course the flowers are very physical and concrete while a holiday is a very abstract concept. Or, "Relativity makes nuclear power possible." Relativity is a very esoteric theory while nuclear power is pretty concrete. Etc.

  • 3
    Indeed. State capitals are often cast as personifications of the government that inhabits them - "rhetoric from Canberra", "denials from Moscow", etc. One cannot have a confrontation with a city as a physical entity (though that would be a fight to see) but it is very easy to get in a fight with the government that rules from it.
    – Damien H
    Oct 1 '14 at 0:06
  • @DamienH So the sentence is poorly written?
    – meatie
    Oct 1 '14 at 2:46
  • 2
    @meatie No, it just used an allusion you weren't familiar with. With that missing knowledge filled in, it reads perfectly well.
    – Damien H
    Oct 1 '14 at 2:54
  • It's the kind of sentence people say all the time. 'Nothing wrong with it.
    – Jay
    Oct 1 '14 at 13:37

The emphasis is different

The rewrite would change the meaning of the sentence. "Confrontation with the Hong Kong police" means just that - a confrontation with the police; but "confrontation with Beijing" means conflict with the policies and principles coming from the government in Beijing.

The original sentence is about a political conflict, of which the physical fight is just a symptom; and the proposed rewrite ignores that.

  • 1
    I think this answer brings to light a very important point. Confrontation with Beijing implies that the conflict is specifically with the government in Beijing, while the police was just the tool used by the said government to suppress the protesters. They might as well have used paramilitary forces or the army, and it would mean the same thing. However, Confrontation with the Hong Kong police would imply that the confrontation was local to the city, and might have nothing to do with protesting against the government in Beijing.
    – user13267
    Oct 1 '14 at 7:53

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