Reading the fine print on Chinese signs

It’s easy to criticise English translations, but most of the time they do manage to get across the main point with minimal grammatical errors. I’m sure that soon there will be a flood of bad Chinese translations in English speaking countries, so we should probably go easy on the bad English translations to lessen the chance of future retaliatory mocking 😉

Let’s have a look at some typical signs, these are all translated fairly well, the only one that really stands out is the ‘Does not provide the test’, but there’s a lot of Chinese on these signs that obviously isn’t being translated into English, what could it be?

The first sign ‘Camera Surveillance’:




Pinyin: quán miàn jiān shì zhōng
Zhuyin: ㄑㄩㄢˊ ㄇㄧㄢˋ ㄐㄧㄢ ㄕˋ ㄓㄨㄥ
English: 全面 means ‘complete’ or ‘comprehensive’, 監視 is to keep under surveillance. The usage of here 中 is important as you’ll find this a lot, here is means that the aforementioned action is currently being performed – e.g surveillance is in progress. Accompanied by a picture of a nasty looking tiger – better not steal anything!


Pinyin: tōu qiè xíng wéi zhě
Zhuyin: ㄊㄡ ㄑㄧㄝˋ ㄒㄧㄥˊ ㄨㄟˊ ㄓㄜˇ
English: This part translates as ‘thief’ or ‘thief-like behaviour’, and breaks down as: 偷竊 ‘to steal’, 行為 ‘behaviour’, and then the last word 者 is also a special usage case, which means a person of this type. So we can also say 投資 ‘investor’, or 分析 ‘analyst’.


Pinyin: yī lǜ yī fǎ jiù bàn
Zhuyin: ㄧ ㄌㄩˋ ㄧ ㄈㄚˇ ㄐㄧㄡˋ ㄅㄢˋ
English: 一律 ‘Without exception’, 依(照)法(律) ‘ according to the law’, (查)究辦 ‘investigate and deal with’

The literal translation being:

If you behave like a thief, you will without exception be investigated and dealt with according to the law.

A proper translation might be something like:

Thieves will be dealt with to the full extent of the law

The second sign ‘Don’t Play’:


Obviously 玩(wán) is play – but does this mean you can’t bring toys into the shop and play? you can’t run around in the shop?


Pinyin: wán jù shāng pǐn
Zhuyin: ㄨㄢˊ ㄐㄩˋ ㄕㄤ ㄆㄧㄣˇ
English: 玩具 ‘toys’, you should also remember ‘具’ as this will come in handy in for other words such as 工具 ‘tool’, or 家具 ‘furniture’. 商品 are goods or merchandise, so what they are specifiying here is ‘toys that are for sale in the shop’.


Pinyin: qǐng wù chāi fēng jí tóu zhí
Zhuyin: ㄑㄧㄥˇ ㄨˋ ㄔㄞ ㄈㄥ ㄐㄧˊ ㄊㄡˊ ㄓˊ
English: 請 ‘please’, 勿 ‘do not’, 拆 ‘take apart/open’ 封 ‘a seal/packaging’, (以)及 ‘and/as well as’, 投擲 this usage is a bit strange, it means to ‘throw’, but why you’d be throwing products around I do not know, but we get the idea.

The translation for the second sign:

Please don’t open and use toys/merchandise

The third sign ‘Does not provide the test’:



Pinyin: tí gōng
Zhuyin: ㄊㄧˊ ㄍㄨㄥ
English: to provide (service, product etc)


Pinyin: shì yòng pǐn
Zhuyin: ㄕˋ ㄩㄥˋ ㄆㄧㄣˇ
English: sample products

This is an easy one, and is simply:

Sample products are not provided

Lastly, the fourth sign ‘Don’t Open’:



Pinyin: shì tóng
Zhuyin: ㄕˋ ㄊㄨㄥˊ
English: …is regarded as/is seen as.


Pinyin: gòu mǎi
Zhuyin: ㄍㄡˋ ㄇㄞˇ

English: to buy/purchase.

We already know 拆封 means to open the packaging or break the seal of a product, so together with 視同 ‘is seen as’, and 購買 ‘to buy’, we get the following translation:

Opening the packaging of a product is regarded as purchasing it

Although a more humourous translation:

You open it, you bought it!

Have any ideas of how to translate these better? Or a suggestion for Chinese material you’d like to see analysed? Please leave a message below:

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