Chinese "poem" on the cover a scholarly journal is actually an ad for a brothel in Macau

The prestigious MaxPlanckForschung journal needed some Chinese text for the cover, so they printed a "classical poem" that turned out to be a menu of erotic services from a brothel in Macau.
There were red faces on the editorial board of one of Germany's top scientific institutions, the Max Planck Institute, after it ran the text of a handbill for a Macau strip club on the front page of its latest journal. Editors had hoped to find an elegant Chinese poem to grace the cover of a special issue, focusing on China, of the MaxPlanckForschung journal, but instead of poetry they ran a text effectively proclaiming "Hot Housewives in action!" on the front of the third-quarter edition. Their "enchanting and coquettish performance" was highly recommended...

On, a foreigner-baiting website set up after a commentator on the US broadcaster made anti-Chinese comments following the crackdown in Tibet in March, the reaction was mostly "evil fun". One wrote, "Next time, please find a smart Chinese graduate to check your translation", and another said they should try writing "I am illiterate".

Chinese 'classical poem' was brothel ad (via Of Two Minds)


  1. I just can’t understand how someone with enough admiration for Asian characters and their associated concepts/values to want to put them on their body forever would not first want to be able to read and write these characters so as to fully enjoy and appreciate them. Doesn’t that follow? Also, five minutes research would open up the world of writing with brush and ink and all the wonder and pleasure there.

    There was a time when it was widely believed that to write a spirit’s name was to summon it.

  2. few weeks ago an italian newscaster was all rage on 2chan for her crazy kanji shirt…
    Kind of like “I’m a bitc*” or “I f*ck for money” t-shirts weared by girls in Shibuya…

  3. On the other hand, I do find it quite credible for “Der Max Planck Gesellschaft” to extend their “Forschung” to areas as important and weighty as the enchanting and coquettish performance of hot, chinese housewives in action.
    I, for one, can’t wait to read the conclusions derived.

  4. My friend had “guitar” tattooed on his bicep in Chinese. (Among many other tattoos.)

    A few months later, we went to a Chinese restaurant and I asked the waitress to look at his arm. She said “wow, you must really like archery”. My friend was puzzled. She says “your tattoo…it means ‘the string in a bow’…you know, in archery.”

    My friend was red-faced embarrassed. He later got it removed. Along with some visible ones on his hands. (He got carried away in his youth.)

  5. I was told of a UK aikido club whose Japanese name was meant to say “thunder mountain” but actually said “hedgehog”.

  6. And then there are thousands, nay, millions of japanese and chinese teenagers running around in shirts proclaiming all kinds of insulting, weird stuff in English and yes, German.
    A German clothes for men store lately had Kanji decorated on their windows saying something like “Enjoy easy giving birth”.
    Funny. Every time.
    It seems to be quite difficult to find people to check things, they can’t even do it in Hollywood-Movies, every time some one is talking German in a Movie or TV-Series something is wrong and not only the accent. I guess noone cares about checking things, maybe because of the extra money.

    I wonder how the Max Planck Geselllschaft can make this kind of mistake, there must be someone responsible who enjoys this kind of joke.

  7. tw15: I’d be so much more inclined to join a martial arts club with sense of humor enough to call themselves the Hedgehogs.

  8. @Teapunk #10, that’s why you should watch cool shows like Stargate Atlantis, where they do get the languages right :-)

  9. These people at Max Planck, who regularly talk up string theory and quantum gravity et al, would have to be among the smartest individuals in the world and yet this happens. Goes to show you anyone can have a bad hair day.

  10. I, for one, don’t think I’d be taking a tattooist’s word for it if they said ‘this is the right translation’ for a word. Neither, for that matter, would I be trusting the good automatic translator folk at babelfish. As for the menu of erotic services… *lecherous grin* Now that is a fun little stuff-up indeed!

  11. Ignorance comes in all languages- I like the article a month ago about the train station in Wales that had a Welsh sign saying something to the effect that “I’m out of the office, please leave a message”.

  12. I used to think it was only my fellow stupid Americans who went around messing up kanji without knowing the translation, thinking surely, the Japanese research their English better, all that Engrish stuff has to be from China..(I thought this a long time ago) This phenomenon is everywhere, ESPECIALLY here in Japan. Add “Enjoy” or “Lets” in front of anything, grammatical or not, and you have a Japanese t-shirt standard. “Let’s enjoy peaceful life it’s fine” or “Let’s hamburg donkey” or “FUCK! Enjoy prime of youth” or etc.

    I’ve seen so much stupid English, I’m starting to wonder who the hell CREATES it all here? I remember a story on here a long time ago where they explained a lot of the Chinese Engrish was the fault of directly translating single hanzu from electronic dictionaries (Chinese pronunciation of kanji, kanji is the Japanese one, many of the same characters, many only in China, some only in Japan), but I can’t figure out how they create this atrocious grammar with regular CONSISTANCY- a dictionary approach wouldn’t do that. This is the mystery in Japan- I taught here for a year and I STILL can’t figure out where these distinct but mangled patterns come from.

    I should create a Japanese-style Engrish generator site, and force my students to use it to correct their English by showing me what’s wrong!

  13. If people wonder, I think this is how this mistake happened: There are several persons employed in the main administration of the Max-Planck Society which are in charge of publishing this journal. They have to deal with a huge variety of articles for every issue, and they studied publishing or some humanities maybe. So if there is a focus, like the “Focus China” in that issue, they will start looking at Google Pictures to find a nice cover. Everything has to go quick, and normally there is nothing to be misunderstood about the pictures, so they had no native chinese speaker looking again on that picture, but gave it into print directly. I think its just a big misapprehension, and there is no point of being angry about that from the chinese side. In particular, anticnn is a website run by in my opinion a little over-patriotic chinese youngsters, which often tend to think about the “west” and our media in too bad terms. So no wonder they mistook this for another evil joke of the “bad westerners”.

  14. I’m interested in how Cory calls it a “brothel”, but the article states it was a “strip club”. Two different concepts, no?

  15. #16:
    I think it’s great for the “over-patriotic” youngsters to make fun of this. Most of you out there (including ME) will at least GIGGLE at “Engrish” (a racist word, though oddly endearing?), which usually is *at least* on context, though highly garbled. You can construct a narrative where this “mistake” all seems so reasonable, but there’s no denying that it is simply rooted in ignorance and the sloppy idea that the chinese language is just a picture. The Max Plank Society deserves the red faces and removal of piss!

  16. @17: An explanation is not just a “narrative”, a narrative would be a story. I wanted rather to communicate my experience, which could provide an explanation. I have dealt by myself (I am a phd student at a Max Planck institute) with the people in the PR office of the Max-Planck society (while writing press releases about our research work), and my impression is exactly like I wrote: The PR people, which might have a similar background to the people publishing this journal, have a lot of work to do and are a little superficial, so they did not re-check the meaning of this picture. Thats all I wanted to say. And yes, it makes a difference whether this re-checking was omitted because of general superficiality or because of ignorance towards the chinese language (which I think most people which work at Max-Planck know that its not just pictures, as these are in average educated people, not the guys who would have tattoed a chinese word on their body without knowing its meaning). And as we all know, in judging an action the intention makes a big difference.

  17. @ 10 Teapunk
    @ 17 Batu B

    As an American-born half-Chinese (with a B.A. in English) who has worked plenty of proofreading jobs, I find the bloopers and comments on pretty funny. That site and the Max Planck Institute plainly prove the world still needs proofreaders who aren’t lazy. Or stupid.

    O the job security! Employ more [honest] proofreaders in every tattoo parlor on earth! And in all text-based media, and… oh wait, then we wouldn’t have the hilarity we’re having right now…

  18. “Engrish” (a racist word, though oddly endearing?)

    Racist? Really? I’d say turn down your offend-o-metre. The L and R sounds are often mixed up in Japanese English, seems like an apt, funny description rather than a racial epithet.

    We need to stop reaching for “racist” whenever something references the differences (stereotypical or not) we experience in culture and race. I like the differences between different countries and different people, and I like finding them funny sometimes. That’s ok.

  19. happily, the subtext of Empire is fading. Original deliberate mistranslation began as a way to confuse the intrusive foreigner. After occupation, it was a way for overlord to snob subject by deeming their language unworthy of the effort to learn and for the subjected to conceal. In later times when superficial equality applied it just became payback.

  20. My first question is, how do they know this ad is from Macau?

    Aside from that, I’ve seen worse ads. I don’t know about “Hot Housewives in Action”–somehow Chinese euphemisms for sexually attractive women come across as rather poetic to me, especially when you looked at from a literal sense: “Spring-like Jade women” as well as “Superior beauties from the North,” etc. And there’s nothing actually dirty about the language in the ad.

    I’m curious why anyone would think that only Americans (or the Chinese?!) are “stupid enough” to raid another orthographic system for catchy-looking words without checking the meaning? We like these “exotic” because they are incomprehensible. There’s an air of mystery, even mysticism, to foreign languages, especially languages that use different writing systems than our own. In that light, the literal meaning of the words is kind of beside the point because we have made them into symbols, sort of essences if you will, of exotic and ultimately inaccessible meaning. Think of Latin mass. These words are just meant to be ornamental more than anything.

    I think people are missing the point here about Engrish/Chinglish which is that these T-shirts, purses and what not are intended for a local audience, anyway, and this audience doesn’t care whether the grammar is correct or not. I think this is a big reason behind the bizarre grammar of a lot of Engrish T-shirts: English-speaking Japanese people (kinda) get the meaning which, at any rate, is usually mundane enough to not be worth wearing a Japanese version of anyway. Knowing just a little bit of what’s being said and knowing that it’s English is enough.On the flip side, whoever thought it would be cool to put a Chinese poem on the cover of this magazine obviously intended for a non-Chinese reading audience to admire it and, aside from the use of Roman letter “K” twice in the second line, the photo serves its purpose. The ultimate meaning of this cover for the people who created it and the people who were supposed to see it is: “Chinese Poem.”


    was this the character? 弦

    it can mean either string on a string instrument or string on a bow. the waitress must be trying to screw with your friend’s mind, and succeeded.

  22. I am happy to provide original English translation of the work, which is an advertisement copy usually found outside a ballroom in the streets of Hong Kong:

    We paid handsomely to hire Manager KK and Camay full time;
    They personally present young and beautiful girls;
    Northern beauties in million swaying poses;
    Young housewives of fiery figures;
    All bewitching, seductive and are here on board today.

    — translation by ttvfwong, Hong Kong

  23. 弦 means either chord or bowstring, as far as I know. Maybe there are more exotic other meanings attached to it, but I think the mostused meanings are these.

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