Chinglish signs in China


An article in today’s Wall Street Journal reminded me of how much fun it is to read signs in China. The article did not give any explanation for the strange English usage on most signs, just that in view of the tons of people coming for the 2008 Olympics they have formed a committee to try to correct the worst of these (or the best depending on your point of view).

At Badaling this sign, above, was fairly understandable even if banal. It was near the Great Wall.

Whereas this sign, right, on entrance to the Longmen Buddhist Caves, was a little strange.

Perhaps even curiouser was this sign at a cable car entrance along the Yangzte. See above left.

I talked to a fair number of young people who knew that many of the public signs used very strange and sometimes even meaningless English, but none of them were willing to offer reasons for these peculiar phenomena. I suppose they thought it would be dangerous to point this out to either older or superior people.

They did say that the Chinese part of the sign made sense and that is the only thing that most Chinese looked at. My guess is that most English sign translations might have been created by somebody of importance, and of course, not many would want to take a chance on offending someone important, say a CCP member, which could and very likely would be very awkward.

Those big grayish-white buildings with the circle of stars as a logo in the center of every city are not there just for the fun of it apparently. I noticed that only a few people approached these buildings, and they did not seem eager to be there. Their documents were always carefully checked before entrance.

Of course, some signs were self-explanatory and often welcome to the weary traveler.

It will be interesting to read the history of market Leninism, if that is what is going on in China, sometime in the future.

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