What if you were in a hotel bathroom and you saw a notice that said, "take care of the landslide".
Could you possibly have guessed what it meant?
The Chinese call it Chinglish and many foreigners have had the experience of reading such confusing
Chinese translations of English words and phrases.
To help foreigners better understand Chongqing, a translation center was set up under the foreign
affairs office of the municipality in southwest China. It released standard translations to some
widely-used words on Wednesday.
The standard translations included "livable Chongqing", "traffic-smooth Chongqing", "forest
Chongqing", "safe Chongqing", "healthy Chongqing", and "crime crackdown", which referred to the
efforts of the city, notorious for its mafia, in clamping down on gang crimes.
"Different or even wrong translations can trouble foreigners," an official was quoted by the
Chongqing Morning News as the reason for the move.
"The phases we translated are all widely used," he said. "For instance, 'gang crime crackdown'
has been searched by netizens on Baidu.com 152,597 times in the past seven months."
However, these standard translations were still not "standard" enough in the eyes of foreigners.
Daniel Cotterall, who had been an editor at a Beijing-based news organization and has spent several
years learning Chinese, pointed out that "forest Chongqing" could be "green Chongqing" and native
English speakers wouldn't say "traffic-smooth Chongqing".
But Cotterall said the translations were still better than others he had seen.
"The funniest one I saw was in the bathroom of a hotel in Heze," he said. Heze is a city in east
China's Shandong province. "Take care of the landslide," it said, when it actually meant "be careful
of the slippery floor."
According to a report on China's portal website Netease.com, journalists from the New York Times
and the Mirror Weekly collected many amusing mistranslations in Shanghai during the World Expo
One example: at a shuttle bus stop outside an airport, a sign read: "Please be well seated and
always make yourself safe. Thank you".
Another one was at a construction site: a yellow sign read "Execution in progress" which actually
meant construction was underway.
In the menu of a restaurant, a soup cooked with mushroom and black-bone chicken was translated
as "bacteria wu chicken soup", as the character of wu translates to black in Chinese.
And as the 16th Asian Games draws near, a slogan at the metro station in Guangzhou was rated by
netizens as the "most shocking slogan". It said "Ying-Asian Games". Ying in Chinese characters
More than 600 volunteers from the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies collected more than 4,800
mistranslations on signboards, menu cards and shop fronts in the city and handed in the result
to the Organization Committee of the 16th Asiad. The government of Guangzhou also made efforts
to improve translations in public places before the event.
"During the Asian Games, there will be many foreigners in Guangzhou. Wrong translations could damage
the image of our city," said Li Wenhui, a volunteer.
A foreign national, who called himself a linguist and worked at an international business school
in China, said on the website of Guardian.co.uk that he "whole heartedly backed the Chinese
authorities' plan to reduce mistranslations".
The netizen, nicknamed Ruptured, said that mistranslations could be the result of "poorly written
and poorly used pocket translators".
"The Chinese authorities have every right and responsibility to prevent the Chinese people as a
whole from becoming a laughing stock in the West," he said.
Chen Dezhang, a renowned linguist from the Beijing Foreign Studies University, believed the efforts
by the authorities were necessary, although he agreed that the standard translations in Chongqing
could be improved.
"In official international communications, Chinglish and mistranslations must be eliminated," said
the professor, who had worked in the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
"There is no such thing as 'English with Chinese characteristics'," he said. "Language is serious
Yet foreigners seem to appear tolerant to wrong translations or Chinglish.
"I think a lot of Westerners enjoy Chinglish -- it is charming," Cotterall said.
"After all, the Chinese are not native speakers," he said. "If I make a mistake when speaking in
Chinese, you can understand it as well."
He said that standard English was like a metropolis while Chinglish was akin to small cities with
a certain flavor.
"I like the 'small cities' more," he said. Chinglish reflected the Chinese way of thinking, which
he believed was very interesting.
In fact, some Chinglish phrases have even become accepted English phrases, said Zhao Jianhui, an
English teacher with the School of Business Foreign Languages in the Shanxi University of Finance
"For example, 'long time no see' is a word-by-word translation of a Chinese greeting, but foreigners
use it too, now," she said.
The teacher believed that the change was a result of China's growing influence in the world.
She hoped that more Chinese words could be accepted in the English language.
Some universities have also begun to adopt Pinyin in the translation of their names. A good example
is Beihang University, which used to be called the Beijing University of Aeronautics and
On the social networking website Facebook, there is a group calling for "saving Chinglish", which
has attracted thousands of members.
Oliver Lutz Radtke from Germany has also called for preserving Chinglish and has even written a
book about it.
"A lot of the Chinglish signs carry a certain Chinese notion in them which enriches the English
language and makes English more Chinese," he was quoted by AFP as saying.
(Intern Chen Yanyan contributed to the story)