Shanghai Tries to Clean Up Its Chinglish

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For the next 6 months, Shanghai will be hosting the 2010 World Expo. According to the New York Times, the Chinese government is preparing for the event, in part, by mounting a campaign to clean up the muddle of malapropisms affectionately known as “Chinglish.”

Some Chinglish is simply produced by people with limited English skills, but most of it is the result of a computer translation program called “ Jinshan Ciba,” which mangles translations to produce genuinely hilarious results. Here are some the best examples from the New York Times article:

From menus:

“Fried sausage” was translated as “fried enema.” I’ll bet that restaurant sells more of that particular dish now that the translation has been corrected!

I’m not sure what “monolithic tree mushroom stem squid” is supposed to be, but it was too good not to include. Please feel free to leave your guesses in the comments.

“Jew’s ear juice” is the name of an actual Chinese drink. Apparently, there is a certain type of wood ear fungus that is called “Jew’s ear.” Jew’s ear juice is a beverage made from the juice squeezed out of the fungus, along with hawthorn, dates and honey to make it somewhat more palatable.


Are you a size extra large? In Chinglish, that’s a size “Fatso” or “Lard*ss,” depending on the store.


If you need to relieve yourself while on the streets of China, you may find yourself following a sign to the “urine district.”

These are all quite amusing, and some people even defend Chinglish as an essential part of Chinese culture, something that should be celebrated, not corrected.  The New York Times quotes Oliver Lutz Radtke, who is apparently studying for  degree in Chinglish, who says:

“If you standardize all these signs, you not only take away the little giggle you get while strolling in the park but you lose a window into the Chinese mind.”

But is poor translation really a “window into the Chinese mind?” In some cases, perhaps the answer is yes. For example, “Keep Off the Grass” is translated to the decidedly more anthropomorphic  “The Little Grass Is Sleeping. Please Don’t Disturb It. “

However, I seriously doubt that the mistranslation of “fried sausage” into “fried enema” is a window into anything-it’s just the wrong word. These menus, signs, etc are translated into English to help English-speaking tourists-and in many cases, to encourage them to spend their tourist dollars.  The loss of a little “character” is probably preferable to restaurants and closing stores losing business, or to tourists doing something wrong simply because they couldn’t understand the warnings on a sign.

If you need to make sure your information doesn’t fall victim to these kinds of errors, use our professional Chinese translation service.