News / USA

Chinese Symbols Prove Popular in US

But not everyone gets the right message

This “Occupy” protestor may have thought his sign said “No More Corruption.” Actually, as translated, it’s closer to “There isn’t any more corruption.”
This “Occupy” protestor may have thought his sign said “No More Corruption.” Actually, as translated, it’s closer to “There isn’t any more corruption.”

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Ted Landphair

From the moment Spaniards - or Vikings, some would say - first dropped anchor and encountered the natives whom the Spanish called “Indians” because they thought they had arrived in India - the land now known as “America” has been a multicultural place.

And of course it’s much more so today. Just check out our faces and dialects and music.

Our signs are getting more multicultural, too. We see them in English, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and more. Well, maybe it’s Chinese.

Mandarin Chinese characters, called “Hanzi,” are hot right now. They’re a popular decoration on clothing and artwork and tattoos.

No doubt this boy or his parents thought this character translates as “samurai,” but the character actually means “hemorrhoid” in English.
No doubt this boy or his parents thought this character translates as “samurai,” but the character actually means “hemorrhoid” in English.

Just ask Tian Tang, a 35-year-old Chinese-American engineer, who works for an Arizona company that makes electrical semiconductors. Since his graduate-school days, he has maintained a website showing that an awful lot of the Chinese characters we see across America are just plain wrong.

Some are not even Chinese at all, but pretty little ink strokes that sort of look Chinese.

One of Tang’s postings shows a colorful shirt decorated with a powerful, leaping tiger. Next to the beast are nine Chinese characters. But they translate into gibberish - words such as “unicorn” and “chicken.” Not one of the characters has anything to do with tigers, or even cats.

Indeed, the characters on this sign do mean “blue bamboo,” but they’re upside down.
Indeed, the characters on this sign do mean “blue bamboo,” but they’re upside down.

Other Hanzi, delicately tattooed onto a woman’s back, translate as “crazy diarrhea.” Surely this wasn’t what she ordered from the tattoo artist.

So, America is a multicultural melting pot. But reading the signs doesn’t always tell you who you’re melting with.

“If people would stop making fools of themselves, my site would dry up,” Tang says.

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