FREAK Shots: We Don’t Want You Laughing at Us

In the months before the Olympics, the Beijing Speaks Foreign Languages program sent out sign police to catch and correct Chinese signs with incorrect English translations, reported Mei Fong of The Wall Street Journal.

“We don’t want anyone laughing at us,” said the group’s leader Chen Lin.

But some tourists and Beijing residents are concerned the corrections will take away “one of the joys of China” — the “Chinglish” that’s inspired web sites and even T-shirts.

So did the sign patrol get everything?

A blog reader named Danielle DW sent these photos from the Beijing area during its Olympic preparations. Many faulty translations had already been cleaned up, but she “managed to find some good ones anyway.”


Blog reader Eileen Cuneo sent this sign that was still up in mid-August:


You can now use your cellphone’s camera to translate signs in Chinese and other languages — but, as with humans, technology is not without error.


I am sure when a Chinese "Laugh" someone who is not a native speaker of Chinese, it means laughing in a happy way rather than mocking. Don't be embarrassed when we laughing.

Someone who can speak even a few words can get much respect from Chinese people coz we know this language is too difficult for foreigners. Even as bad as my English is, I get respect from you guys.

Sometimes we don't get confirmation from native speakers not because we are too proud to do so but too shy.

PS: if anybody is interested in Chinese language but haven't got a native to help, I am happy to help.

Add my msn..


When I worked in China in 1983 the menu at the hotel restaurant in Sichuan had “strange tasting chicken”.

— Posted by Johnny E

BTW..For this famous brand in China, I really can't figure out a better translation for this. Coz the brand is indeed multiple meaning. I am not sure if it wants to express the meaning of strange or astonishing or surprising. In Chinese, the word ? mostly means strange. If the chicken really tastes different rather than astonishing, I will still choose the word strange.


Add to Allen's points of failure the differences in cultural attitude. In America we expect signs to be very direct to the point of terseness. That kind of direct statement is considered rude in much of Asia, and Asian languages build in politeness more concisely than English does.

I imagine that a lot of the translators use the "text in one hand and dictionary in the other" approach, and are kind of vague on minor details like plurals and tenses.


The first sign (the one about fire) is not from the Beijing area as stated and has nothing to do with the Olympics; the sign clearly states at lower right that it was posted by the Suzhou (in the Yangtse delta, about an hour from Shanghai) Municipal Fire Brigade and the city's environmental management bureau. Also, the English of the first two lines is in fact a very elegant and correct translation of the Chinese. Most impressively the anonymous translator very wisely avoided a literal translation of the third line which, as Mr Stanford above notes, is a quote from Sima Qian a literal translation of which would have left English speakers mystified, but the one used is clear, concise, and unequivocal...


This site funny good, but me work and too much laughing.


My husband saw signs in Northern Japan in 1999 that were supposed to encourage safe driving - they said "Don't Disaster!". That's my all time favorite

M Todd

Response to Joy,

I think you are correct and China and the United States have a lot in common. The only difference is in the United States we can freely voice our concerns and freely vote to change our trade policies. Unlike China which runs down its own people with tanks if they speak freely. The fact that you are even making this post tells me you are not in China right now.

I have nothing against the Chinese people. People are people, some good some bad. The problem is our country has sold out for economic greed. Despite, the fact China (the government) ignores environmental concerns, human rights, steals patients, counterfeits products, and dumps products in this country with unfair trade practices, this country gives it favored nation status.

It is all about greed both in China and the United States.


I'm french, I've seen many english or american shows including a fake french character, or scenes taking place in France... It's systematically misspelling or misusing words. I've always wondered how Hollywood or other superproductions can't afford for a proofreading, or just won't care.

Seeing these shows making fun of another culture and showing at the same time they don't know much about it gives a strange feeling: it's good fun, but it's revolting and sad at the same time. Ignorance and disrespect are no great laughing matter when it comes from so-called educated people.


@ M todd

well, i am a chinese. i really hate to post this here, but if you really think so, i am afraid i have to chalk usa up to the land that

produced invasion, gun attack in university, and export economic crisis, too.

so , what do you think about this?


@Matt (#16): A lot of Mao poems translate very well to English. Who did the translations at the Foreign Languages Institute for the Little Red Book back in 1972, anyway? "A revolution is not a dinner party" is almost better in English than in Chinese.


The first picture is from Suzhou, a city nowhere close to Beijing. The words on the first picture are a famous saying from ex-president of China, Jiang Zemin, said in 1986 back when he was the mayor of Shanghai. The third line is actually inspired by/stolen from a Mao Zedong poem.

A better (although not perfect, I'm not a professional) translation of the words in the first picture would be:

"Potential Misfortune is More Dangerous than a Blazing Fire.

Disaster Prevention Leads to Victory More than Disaster Relief.

Responsibility is Weightier than Mount Tai."

The English really loses a lot of the poetic rhythm that is inherent in the Chinese.


Strange tasting chicken is (or was till recently) available in several Chinese Restaurants in Oakland CA. It's good too, though strange tasting.


Lived in Japan for a few years and laughed at a lot of ths sort of stuff. Usually it was because the writer was too proud to ask a native English speaker if their translation is correct.

Which I still find not as dumb as the Americans that I see with tatoos that are obviously copied by a NON-native Japanese or Chinese. Usually they are unreadable or not even close to what the person thinks they say.

I usually ask "what does that mean?" and they will tell me what they think it means. I learned to be polite from the Japanese so I dont embarass them by telling them they are way off. I just laugh behind my back.


This is going to be on your body for a long time and a few minutes checking the translation can save a few years of embarasement.

OT Its too bad that most Americans see the world as either "America" or "Not America". We really do miss out on so much of this amazing world.



Working with any foreign language, there are multiple possible points of failure. 1)The translation itself. Instead of spending the ridiculous amounts of money a translation agency asks for, someone decides to do it the way they learned in school, by looking it up in the dictionary 2)Proofreading. Even native speakers make mistakes. 3)The order. Hit the wrong key and now you've screwed it all up. 3)The sign maker. To a sign-maker without much education and/or poor eyesight, "atriding" looks pretty close to "striding".


Can you write some Chinese?


a chinese come here




ultrasound gel:


One of the great sites for these funny photos is which is filled with mostly Japanese pop culture and funny signs.

Watch out, it is easy to spend a couple hours there.



Rachel, that is in fact the correct, direct translation of the YangXin Hall.

Yang = grow, cultivate

Xin = mind, heart

Frankly, I think the Hall of "Mental Cultivation" sounds impressive and gets the message across. I imagine that the Chinese Emperors would agree, considering 8 of them made that hall their residence.


My favorite was a sign on a coat tree in a restaurant in Moscow: "Not responsible for lost values"

It wasn't that kind of a place, I swear.

Johnny E

When I worked in China in 1983 the menu at the hotel restaurant in Sichuan had "strange tasting chicken".