There is yet another campaign to stamp out “Chinglish”, this time in Shanghai, the city which will visited by millions of visitors in the upcoming World Expo fair.

As we all know to our amusement, Chinglish refers to the poorly translated or mis-spelt phrases seen in public places – on road signs, notices, menus, etc. The mistakes range from complete nonsense (e.g. ‘Fivst Aicl Centrt’ instead of ‘First Aid Centre’) to abosolute howlers (e.g. ‘crap’ instead of ‘carp’ on a menu). This latest effort to clamp down on Chinglish reveals a few facts:

  • The problem is a big concern.
  • China would try to boost its public image before major events.
  • China has much faith in the power of campaigns, political or otherwise.

  • Unfortunately, previous experience shows that such campaigns have not been effective. As early as 2001, shortly after Beijing had won the right to host the 2008 Olympics, the city launched a similar campaign in which awkward phrases were sent to a panel of English teachers and foreigners for revision. Similar campaigns, along with others targeting at bad habits such as spitting, littering, queue jumping, swearing and bad driving, were launched again in 2006 and 2007 after previous attempts were met with little success. Still, it appears that the Chinese authorities’ blind faith in such short term fixes is pretty much unshaken. It is like making a frantic effort to sweep the dirt under the carpet before someone comes to visit. The long term vision of developing good living habits and a sense of pride in a clean living environment is less of a concern.

    In one of those campaigns the Beijing Tourism Board was quoted as saying that the poor English translations “either scare or embarrass foreign customers”. Now who should be scared or embarrassed by the following translations? Them or the Chinese themselves?

    A warning of slippery roads: "To take notice of safe, the slippery are very crafty"
    Emergency exits at Beijing airport: "No entry on peacetime"
    The Ethnic Minorities Park is named "Racist Park"
    On a cruise on the Yangtse River: "Don't Bother" instead of "Do not Disturb" on the cabin doors
    A paragliding site is named "Site of jumping umbrella"
    On a hotel brochure: "Please take advantage of the chambermaids”
    A sign pointing to the help desk of a train station: "Question Authority"
    Forbidden: Prostitution, gambling and drag abuse!A sign in the Shanghai metro: "After first under on, do riding with civility"Another sign in the Shanghai metro: "If you are stolen, call the police at once"
    A sign in a hotel lift: "Please leave your values at the front desk"
    A sign in the stairwell of a department store: "Please bump your head carefully"

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