Shanghai Trying To Rid Itself Of Hilarious Signs

The NYT says that for the past two years the Shanghai Commission for the Management of Language Use has been trying to eradicate the scourge of humorous signs from its city.

The campaign is partly modeled on Beijing’s herculean effort to clean up English signage for the 2008 Summer Olympics, which led to the replacement of 400,000 street signs, 1,300 restaurant menus and such exemplars of impropriety as the Dongda Anus Hospital — now known as the Dongda Proctology Hospital. Gone, too, is Racist Park, a cultural attraction that has since been rechristened Minorities Park.

“The purpose of signage is to be useful, not to be amusing,” said Zhao Huimin, the former Chinese ambassador to the United States who, as director general of the capital’s Foreign Affairs Office, has been leading the fight for linguistic standardization and sobriety.

As if to rub their failure in their faces, the paper of record put together a gallery of hilarious signs and products for your clicking pleasure.

Shanghai Is Trying to Untangle the Mangled English of Chinglish [NYT]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Short_Circuit_City says:

    Looks like I’ll have to rename my homicide detectives…[puts on glasses]…murder librarians.

  2. Vanilla5 says:

    …linguistic standardization and sobriety.

    These signs are especially funny after a few shots of sake.

  3. Riff Raff says:

    “Racist Park, a cultural attraction that has since been rechristened Minorities Park. “

    How is that an improvement???

  4. colorisnteverything says:

    Oh no! But where will Engrish funny get all of it fun out of?! I think we continue to execute!

  5. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:
  6. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    I’m guessing they can’t use the term Engrish, but Chinglish just seems wrong somehow. These signs are hilarious, and while I think the government should keep the signs, they also need signs that are clear and concise. It’s one thing to laugh at the “cash recycling machine” sign, but after you’re done laughing you still have no idea where to go to withdraw money.

    • mac-phisto says:

      i came here to say the same thing. chinglish? really? i guess it’s a more accurate term than engrish, but it definitely seems more offensive.

      • FatLynn says:

        No it’s not. Engrish is making fun of how Asians pronounce the letter L.

        • parv says:

          Asia encompasses more than Japan & China, you generalist toad.

          • parv says:

            Sorry, I was too irritated to properly form an insult. “Generalist” is no insult; it could be the truth or even a complement.

            I should have used “generalization-ist”. In any case, I was really thinking of “insensitive clod”, noun part of which did not come to me at the time of writing.

    • SissyOPinion says:

      I think your brain is jumping to “chinklish”, which is pretty offensive.

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        I hadn’t heard of that one, but my brain was probably formulating that the word seemed a little too close to a slur.

    • kdui says:

      As a Chinese person — “chinglish” is when we speak using both Chinese and English words/terms freely interspersed with each other.

      Bad translation is just what it is… it’s not called chinglish.

  7. diasdiem says:

    It’s easy. Just hire a native English-speaker, and show them each of your signs. If they laugh hysterically, recheck the translation.

    • Raekwon says:

      If only. While in Taiwan we had people come up to us and ask for translations. Even if we write it word for word the printer, typesetter or whoever actually manufactures the sign doesn’t know English and often strays from what we wrote originally.

      • Nytmare says:

        While the errors won’t stop, it sounds like it will help to use the most exact handwriting possible when providing these translations. We take it for granted that they’d at least be familiar with the alphabet.

  8. Raekwon says:

    In a related story American try to rid themselves of mangled Chinese only to realize they permanently tattooed it on their bodies.

    • rockasocky says:


      It’s like, sorry frat guy, I am not impressed with your tattoo that says “monkey balls,” even if you think it means King Kong.

    • nerveagent says:

      This is awesome, tatoos are for idiots.

  9. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    On one hand, we English speakers in America have been butchering the Chinese language for decades, making it part of our trendy tramp-stamp tattoo revolution, and relegating it to metal signs in the bargain bin at TJ Maxx. Also a victim? The font Papyrus. But on the other hand, they’ve spent decades making fun of Americans and now they’re getting a taste of their own medicine on their own turf. I don’t feel bad for these people who are boohooing that they feel uncomfortable when foreigners laugh at their ludicrous signs.

    • Difdi says:

      A lot of those wrong tattoos are the result of a tattoo artist being less literate in whatever language than they claim to be.

    • MongoAngryMongoSmash says:

      We’ve been doing a pretty good job at butchering the English language, too. Our Spanish can’t be too great either. Congratulations America, we’re stupid in three languages.

  10. dreamfish says:
    • EtherealFlame says:

      FOR THE WIN! They used to have a set of fierce vagina shirts when they first started but have since taken them off. I love that site.

  11. failurate says:

    Does the 226 come with a side of amoxicillin or is that extra?

  12. Rachacha says:

    I am reminded of a former female boss who was visiting China and wanted to get her name translated into mandarin to place on her business cards. We contracted with a translation company to translate “Jane Smith*” into mandarin characters that approximated the english pronunciation. When we got the translation back, a native Mandarin speaker saw the transaltion and asked what it was for, when we told her, she began laughing hysterically as the translation meant something to the effect of “Bountiful wide being”…in effect “Fattie”. Needless to say, we nixed the translation.

    *Name was changed to protect the innocent

  13. RxDude says:

    I sure could go for an ice cold jew’s ear Juice. Hold the fragrant and hot marxism, though.

    • Powerlurker says:

      Apparently “Jew’s Ear” is a technically correct, if somewhat outdated English term for “black wood ear” fungus (which is what the Chinese on the can says).

  14. CFinWV says:

    The signs weren’t too bad when I was in China, you have to go into grocery stores and read the products on the shelves for the real hilarious stuff.

    • tbbx says:

      My favorite supermarket find was “Omniscient Compressed Biscuits”.

      They were vacuum packed to ensure proper compression.

  15. Pkfad says:

    Bablefish fail.

  16. yevarechecha says:

    I had several of these experiences during my vacation in China a few years ago. Since I was obviously non-Chinese, the tour people would always bring me English-language materials, and most of them had some really funny stuff in them. The worst part was not being able to explain to all these puzzled Chinese why you were laughing so much. A friend and I got some very odd looks for taking pictures of signs that said things like “Male Men” and “No Striding” and “5-Star Western Toilet” (meaning it is up to the standards of an I-95 service plaza, which is leaps and bounds beyond everything else there). We would try to explain that “These signs are not what we would say in English and are inadvertently funny” but it’s difficult to convey exactly why to non-native speakers.

  17. ben_marko says:

    They also called the mangled English “Chinglish.” Never heard of that term, always thought it was called Engrish!

    • Difdi says:

      Engrish is specifically a Japanese translation problem; It refers to the way the letters R and L are essentially the same in Japanese, which causes some native Japanese-speakers to be unable to hear any difference between a native English-speaker saying the letters or using them in words.

      This leads to some seriously funny translation errors. But the term Engrish is pretty specific to the Japanese language (Chinese doesn’t have that problem, it has different ones).

  18. tbbx says:

    While these signs are rather silly, I do give the Chinese credit for trying. I lived in a city with almost no foreigners, yet everywhere I went there were signs to at least try to accommodate me.

    The Chinese do this to be welcoming and because want to emulate the US and be seen as part of the world community.

    How many signs in Chinese (outside of Chinatown) do you see in the US?

    And look what we’ve done to their wonderful cuisine.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Go to San Francisco. Chinese everywhere. Also, St. Paul, Minnesota. Also, Eden Plaza in Northern VA. It’s everywhere. There are plenty of foreigners in Beijing, since it is a world city and is a hub of business. If anything, Beijing should look to Hong Kong, which is must more Westernized (because of the British), and probably doesn’t have these kinds of problems.

  19. areaman says:

    I’m surprised no one has commented on the “Execution in Progress” sign yet.

    Probably because it’s a legit sign. When I’m walking through a public square and do not want to watch an execution on that day, that sign will have come in handy.

    This reminds me of a WSJ story about the same kind of effort in Beijing. They had a sign like in the article.