Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Character assassinations

Chinese characters are fascinating. Each of the over 47,000 known symbols is a combination of both art and function, with each character representing a syllable. Most educated Chinese people would know 3000-4000 of them, as a large proportion of characters are archaic or obscure variants, but even so, this really puts the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet to shame. I stared in wonder at the religious texts, page after page of perfect script with sweeping curves and delicate lines in complex patterns and unfamiliar shapes, and saw it as a piece of art in itself, without any understanding of what the symbols were supposed to convey.

It seems other Westerners feel the same but it's pretty stupid to get a tattoo of 我愛水獺 purely because the symbols are aesthetically pleasing ["I love otters", in case you were wondering - well... at least that's what Google translate tells me!]. Although mistakes do happen.

But it's not just Westerners making fools of themselves. The drive for individuality in China, a country of 1.4bn people, is pronounced, and in a country with limited freedom of expression the lowly T-shirt has become the medium of choice. Everywhere you look you see teenagers in their baseball caps and basketball trainers, sporting eye-poppingly garish T-shirts with slogans like "Harmony Is Everything" or "Pugs Do Drugs", and for the large part the sentences at least make some sense. But every now and again you see an absolute gem of bad grammar, bad spelling or other assorted Chinglish - "Wear The Style What It Ever Does" or "Cotis tnctsen is to the hishsst dnty" [sic - although "sic" doesn't really do it justice here] - with the wearer and the manufacturer obviously oblivious to how nonsensical it really is.

But after spending hours searching through racks of budget tees for a particularly bad example I could take home and wear ironically, I had to give up. I guess I'll have to settle for a souvenir Beijing tee I bought from a tourist stall. After all, who doesn't love BJ?

BeiJing of course

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