Changing China

Giant on the move

Explodes fries the lamb waist

February 11, 2008

A woman walks past a store in BeijingOne of the many delights for foreigners arriving in China is the chance to read tortured English translations on Chinese menus and business signs.

As Reuters has reported in the run-up to the Olympics, central directives have been issued by image-obsessed officials seeking to stamp out these non-standard translations.

Apparently, Beijing authorities are worried that tourists will somehow go home with a tarnished image of China if they encounter an inexactly translated sign or menu.

And so such gems as “mixed elbow with garlic mud” and “hand-shredded ass meat” have been targeted to be replaced by something more acceptable, but undoubtedly more bland.

The bureaucrats’ gain is decidedly our loss.

But my hopes were restored this week when a new restaurant opened in my neighbourhood and spry, young staff members were out front, handing out business cards and brochures to attract customers.

Its dishes, the notices promised, were “to be induced with a tongue indulged in a neuturing Chinese cuisine from a fantastic mixture of preserved cooking skills and to induce with a charm endowed by fashion drinks and brand vintages.”

Ah, what charm indeed. I immediately went in and sampled the food, which was excellent.

Why, I wondered, are Beijing officials so thin-skinned on this issue?

Imagine, for a moment, if residents of English-speaking countries were to suddenly try to cater to Chinese tourists by translating their menus and signs into Chinese characters.

My Mandarin teacher chuckles, sometimes even guffaws, when she sees I’ve missed a stroke in one of the characters I’ve written, totally changing the meaning from what I’d intended.

A notice for passengers is seen on a tourist service car in Longmen, Henan provinceI laugh at my mistake along with her, realizing it’s the equivalent of my neighbourhood convenience store that carries a fashionable English name, “The Dailg Shop”.

I thought it was just a printing error until I spotted the same mistake on a competitor’s store front down the street.

Even if officials can replace most of the existing translations deemed offensive or embarrassing, a quick calculation revived my confidence that tourists coming for the Olympics will still have a few encounters of the curious kind.

The rate of new restaurant openings in the half year remaining before the Games will probably outpace the bureaucrats’ ability to vet their menus and stamp out errant translations, much less to even locate all of the existing violations.

Just to test my theory, though, I rushed to another restaurant to check whether my all-time favourite sign was still standing.

“Explodes fries the lamb waist,” reads a posterboard on the restaurant wall featuring its best dishes. 

And at 22 yuan, or about $3, it’s a bargain.

Across the street, though, an outlet of the “Nine-headed Bird Chain Restaurant” was being torn down, presumably to make room for a new restaurant and another new menu.

Let the Games begin.

Pictures by Claro Cortes IV


It’s not just Chinese restaurants.


Or this, on the menu of a Swiss restaurant:

Posted by John Chalmers | Report as abusive

I think we have learned something today: there is no way to correctly translate anything word for word. It just doesn’t work. In trying to do this, the translations become more and more obscure.

Posted by Liza | Report as abusive

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see