Chinglish (continued)

[Continued from previous post]….

For some reason “Chinglish,” as the translation from Chinese to English is jokingly called, tends to lend itself to especially bad translational grammar. Some can perhaps be blamed on bad translating, but part is the taxonomical difference in the way the Chinese and Americans speak. Whatever the reason, it is a hilarious source of amusement to Kyle and Holly, who collects photos of exceptionally poorly translated menus and signs.

Some examples:

The ancient building is renovating. Please excuse me for bringing trouble to you.

The act of smoking, eating and drinking the drink and staying on for a long time become troubled of other users and stop it, please. (sign on subway)

Sale – 100% off.

Please don’t littering.

Keep your legs no running.

Draws money machine (sign on an ATM)

Deformed man toilet (handicapped restroom)

Takewaterplace (water fountain)

Wash after relief (handwashing sign)

Wort collecting trough (sink)

Attention. Don’t jumping in elevator. If you do it, it’s gonna be stop. And you must be locked up.

No litter please! Take them back with you.

Do not put the plastic back in your head to prevent from suffocating.

Building asks a smoked visitor in the outside smoking section that you cannot smoke in.

Please remove your shoes before being entered. Thank you.

“Chinglish” may be humorous, but the differences between the way the Chinese and English think is a fascinating subject, and something crucial that Westerners doing any form of work in China understand. The main difference can be summed up in two words – the difference between individualism and collectivism, or communal society. For example, in China everyone celebrates their birthday on Chinese New Year. Instead of a party celebrating the life of an individual, everyone turns one year older together.

To truly appreciate the Chinese, you have to understand the priorities of their culture. Americans tend to value self-expression, entrepreneurship, imagination and personal emotion. By contrast, the Chinese value loyalty, obedience, self-discipline, thrift, humility and moderation. What Americans may think is a “weaker” set of values are simply what the Chinese have needed to survive for decades.

Until the 1950s, it was not unusual for five generations to be living in one house. Farms were more like family compounds, simply surviving drought and famine was team effort. When communism moved in to reorganize the country’s economy and created the non-filial “work unit,” it was a labor change, but not necessarily an ideological one. Survival still depended on the collective success of your work unit, or dan wei. Goods such as radios or bicycles were rationed by the government through the unit. Parents of the current generation probably had their marriage partner picked out or vetted by the group. The group was responsible for the chronically ill or elderly within their numbers. As a result, people literally lived, married and died within the group.

The workforce became more mobile in the 1980s, but the dan wei is a large part of China’s past, shaping the cultural philosophy of China. Urban housing is assigned by employers, making employees neighbors in their own apartment compound. It is not unusual for co-workers to date and then marry. The employer often provides childcare and recreation facilities as well. As a result, many Chinese still live, work and die within the same unit of friends and co-workers. This partially explains the strong sense of collectivism and the practice of saving face. With everyone in a group’s future entwined, an insinuated affront to one family member or co-worker is threat to the group and an insult to everyone’s reputation. This is even reflected in Chinese ancient religions – Confucianism and Taoism both preach of a peacemaking or collective goal, a harmonious society (Confucianism) and harmony with one’s surroundings (Taoism).

While the culture is atheistic, the Chinese way of living – an emphasis on sharing, avoiding gluttony, responsibility for family, and being content with what one has – in general, putting others’ needs above oneself – is inherently more “Christian” in my opinion, than the American lifestyle of me, me, me. In fact, you could argue that collectivism is often more of the biblical model than individualism. Justus, the Tanzanian preacher’s favorite verse floods back to my mind. “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.”

In the U.S., the verses we have engraved on coasters and fridge magnets are more like, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

The basic principles of Chinese culture are reiterated over and over in scripture. Treat others with respect. Do not seek personal gain. Avoid greed. Take care of widows and orphans. Seek self-discipline. Humble yourselves. Avoid greed. While these concepts are foreign to us (no pun intended), they are not foreign to God.

Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are the meek.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.

Blessed are the Chinese, for theirs may be the kingdom of heaven.


Coffee, Tea and Holy Water will be published March 2015 by Abingdon Press.