can’t see the forest

Beijing to Work on its English before 2008 Olympiad

Posted in China, English, humor, Olympics, translation by Curtis on 10/15/06

When I was a kid, some of my most exciting summer afternoons were spent in my grandfather’s fireworks shack. He’d open up in June each year, the light incendiaries depot serving as an annex of his old fashioned country store. But I never seemed to be as interested in the bangs, booms, and colors as in the curiously worded English printed next to the strange Chinese symbols all over the packaging—phrases like “HOT FLAMING DRAGON GOLDEN BALLS WITH REPORT” and instructions such as “Please to light fuse and get away quite fast.”

The BBC reports:

China has launched a fresh drive to clamp down on bad English in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Previous attempts to wipe out Chinglish—the mistranslated phrases often seen on Chinese street signs and product labels—have met with little success.

Emergency exits at Beijing airport read “No entry on peacetime” and the Ethnic Minorities Park is named “Racist Park.”

Beijing city authorities will issue new translation guides by the end of the year, Xinhua news agency said.

A road sign on Beijing’s Avenue of Eternal Peace warns of a dangerous pavement with the words: “To Take Notice of Safe; the Slippery are Very Crafty.”

Menus frequently list items such as “Corrugated iron beef,” “Government abuse chicken,” and “Chop the strange fish.”

The mistranslations arise because many Chinese words express concepts obliquely and can be interpreted in multiple ways, making translation a minefield for non-English speakers.

It’s easy to make fun of the English of our friends in Zhonggua, but I wouldn’t want to be around to see them pick over my Chinese, that’s for sure! :-)



6 Responses

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  1. China Law Blog said, on 10/15/06 at 2:57 pm

    With all the American, British and Australian students in China, it would seem relatively simple and cheap to pay some of them to fix these signs. I see it as a combination of arrogance and cheapness that they don’t. My all time favorite sign was Konglish (Korean-English0 posted outside the gym of a hotel: “Please use equipment naked and without close [clothes?] and smoke cigarettes.”

  2. tellitlikeitis said, on 10/15/06 at 4:00 pm

    That’s a really good idea, you’re right. It would make sense to have Anglophone students help in refining English used in China.

    Your example also reminded me of something I read from Japan; I think it might have been rental car instructions pertaining to local road etiquette, and it said something about different degrees of emphasis with which one could blow the horn, such as “tootling lightly” or “tootling with vigor” and so on. Really funny.

  3. The Daily Distracter said, on 10/16/06 at 12:04 am

    I think Chinglish is kind of cute, and I wouldn’t want to see it wiped out altogether…but it DOES come across as…unprofessional, I suppose, for lack of a better word. I mean, bad English in Beijing airport? Especially with emergency exits – things like that can lead to really dangerous situations.

  4. zilla said, on 10/16/06 at 9:44 am

    This made me smile.

  5. NomDebPlume said, on 10/17/06 at 11:16 am

    You mean you’re not supposed to take off your clothes and smoke cigarettes when you work out? Who knew?


  6. Jeffrey Ross said, on 1/18/07 at 1:43 am

    Google is the best search engine

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