updated 1/24/2007 5:49:11 AM ET 2007-01-24T10:49:11

Welcome to China, where the slippery are very crafty, you must receive strangers carefully and the polices warmly warn people not to drive tiredly.

Confused? Amused? Beijing teacher Liu Yongli is simply embarrassed.

He has spent the last three years photographing 1,000 or so examples of poor, misleading or just plain mysterious English used on signs in the Chinese capital and a few other cities.

“English is widely studied in China, but it is remote from daily life,” said Liu, who teaches English at a Beijing university. “A lot of the common English, and that used on signs, does not appear in text books.”

He has collected examples of Chinglish signs that range from poor grammar or spelling -- “Please cleaning” and “Volu nteer” -- to the bizarre.

A favorite of his reads: “To take notice of safe, the slippery are very crafty”. It is actually warning people to take care when using a sloping driveway up to a building.

And another: “On the taxi the guest stands forward”. Liu suggests the simpler “Taxi pick-up point” would probably do.

One Beijing school even stuck up signs demanding students “Speaking English Only!”

“I think this is a problem of lack of culture, of illiteracy,” Liu, 32, told Reuters. “Signs are supposed to provide convenience. But these ones not only are inconvenient, they cause trouble too.”

Rush for Olympic Games
Liu first noticed how bad Beijing’s Chinglish problem was in 2003 when studying for his masters degree. Then he got a camera a year later and started snapping away. Today, he says, he never leaves home without it.

“The government does not pay enough attention to this problem,” he said, sitting in his parents’ apartment in a dreary eastern Beijing suburb as aircraft preparing to land at the nearby international airport droned overhead.

Beijing has set up a body specifically to tackle the problem ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games, but Liu said a national standard was needed.

“The government should publish a standard book that people and departments who make signs can refer to,” he said.

“There’s another laughable problem: China has a national language commission, but it’s only concerned with Chinese and not English,” Liu added.

Liu has attracted considerable local media attention for his campaign, and likes taking reporters to see a large car dealership where the word “exit” has been written “export” throughout, the two words being identical in Chinese.

Other literal translations Liu has spotted are “oil gate” for a gas or petrol station and “business suspended” for closed.

“There is a misunderstanding that you can just use a dictionary, but translation is not like that,” he complained.

“People often put English on signs for image reasons, because they think English is fashionable,” Liu said. “There are lots of books on English available, but you can’t find one about English signage,” he added. “There’s no model for people to follow.”

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.


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