Facebook = you must die

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Brendan O'Kane received this image posted to Facebook from a friend of a friend, and he kindly passed it on to me:

A very common Chinese character transcription of the name "Facebook" is fēisǐbùkě 非死不可. The characters have been carefully chosen and literally mean "cannot not die", i.e., "must die".

The entire legend accompanying the image of Mark Elliot Zuckerberg reads as follows:

Jūn yào chén sǐ, chén fēi sǐ bùkě 君要臣死,非死不可
("If the ruler wants his vassal to die, then he must die.")

It is all in Classical Chinese, so if you plug it into Google Translate, Baidu Fanyi, Yahoo Babel Fish, and the like, which are programmed to translate Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM), you will obtain some really amazing, amusing gibberish.


  1. Antariksh Bothale said,

    June 9, 2012 @ 3:39 am

    I am curious to know why the characters of Facebook were chosen to mean 'must die'. I mean, surely FB won't want its name to have negative connotations?

    Also, pardon me if I sound clueless, but I can't quite get the point of this picture. Is it that they have used a classical Chinese saying and punned it because 非死不可 is also used to refer to the website (and hence portrayed Zuckerberg as some kind of modern day king) or is it a sarcastic take on the fact that people are becoming slaves of the so-called king Facebook (and hence, Zuckerberg)?

  2. Brad Patterson said,

    June 9, 2012 @ 4:14 am

    Like Antariksh, I'd love to know why these characters were chosen as well. Most romanizations are selected very carefully:

    可口可乐 (ke kou ke le) coca-cola, meaning "can mouth, can be happy"
    乐事 (le shi) Lays (potato chips), "happy things"
    美国 (mei guo) aMErica, "beautiful country"
    耐克 (nai ke), Nike, "able to endure"

    NY Times had an interesting article on how it's a "business in itself" :


  3. cyberiagirl said,

    June 9, 2012 @ 4:26 am

    I'm with Antariksh, why carefully choose those characters?
    Also, isn't there a second 臣 in the original? Does that impact anything?

    [VHM: Fixed. No, it doesn't have any impact, since, even if the second 臣 were missing, the sentence would still be understood as if it were present.]

  4. Bob Violence said,

    June 9, 2012 @ 4:28 am

    I am curious to know why the characters of Facebook were chosen to mean 'must die'. I mean, surely FB won't want its name to have negative connotations?

    Facebook didn't choose these characters. Their official "Chinese" name is just "Facebook," in Roman letters. "非死不可" is Chinese netizens making the obvious joke. I'll leave it to someone acquainted with classical Chinese idioms to work out the actual joke here (assuming there is one beyond the Facebook=非死不可 pun).

  5. Cy said,

    June 9, 2012 @ 5:06 am

    I remember translating this for class in college (well before facebook), although I have no memory of what the source is. I glossed it with "…then not to die is not permitted." (or similar, maybe 'not dying' – I had an elaborate system for the 非-不 distinction that I wouldn't be able to defend presently). Was very pleased with myself. Thanks to that experience, I will never, ever be able to forget this puntastic name for facebook. Thank you, VHM.

  6. Outis said,

    June 9, 2012 @ 5:46 am

    The phrase "君要臣死 臣不得不死" (slightly different wording but with identical meaning), is commonly believed to originate in Confusian classics, but it cannot be found in any of the extant classical texts.

    The image here can be interpreted in many ways, especially considering that Facebook is banned in China.

  7. Victor Mair said,

    June 9, 2012 @ 6:21 am

    The origins, parallels, and variants of "君要臣死 臣不得不死" are discussed at many places on the web. For those who are interested, here is one of the longest and most elaborate discussions:


  8. sango said,

    June 9, 2012 @ 7:31 am

    Isn't 臣 only used by the vassal to refer to himself? I thought it was a humble way to say "I".

    In that case shouldn't it be "If the ruler wants me to die, then I must die."

  9. George Corley said,

    June 9, 2012 @ 9:19 am

    Bob is apparently right. Chinese Wikipedia lists it under "Facebook", but mentions in the introduction that a number of different names are in common use (unofficially, of course). http://zh.wikipedia.org/zh-cn/Facebook

    I wonder whether Facebook choosing a Chinese trademark name could pose political problems, since mainland and Taiwan tend toward different variants (脸谱 and 面书, respectively, per Chinese Wikipedia). Of course, the bigger problem is they don't have any presence in China, and the CCP is unlikely to allow them to — so that probably means no trademarks.

  10. Rod Johnson said,

    June 9, 2012 @ 11:30 am

    Google is happy to translate it from Japanese: "Minister of death is needed you, not the non-death Minister."

  11. Nathan Myers said,

    June 9, 2012 @ 1:33 pm

    Victor: Thank you for the link to iask.sina.com.cn, but I can't read that! It's Google Translate to the rescue, I guess: An ancient common people rarely read the official history and sub-books, the Confucian writings, put "Monarch called Chen Si, the minister had died; parent to child death, the child had to die" this old drama, storytelling population rate very frequent in violation Ren perverse defined heresy as Confucius and Mencius, and actually spread so far.

    I, too, am curious about answers to sango's question.

  12. Mark F said,

    June 9, 2012 @ 10:30 pm

    Were the "Can't not die" characters carefully chosen by Facebook, or by nationalistic Chinese?

  13. Nik said,

    June 9, 2012 @ 11:09 pm

    that's when you still had kings, now we had Party

    When the Party wants you to die, you Twitter (or Weibo)

  14. Brendan said,

    June 10, 2012 @ 12:17 am

    As others here have mentioned, 非死不可 is not an official transliteration for "Facebook," but neither was it chosen by nationalist Chinese. It's just a joke — and an old-ish one at that: I remember seeing 非死不可 for "Facebook" around mid-2007, if not earlier. (Victor had a post mentioning it back in 2010, as well.)

  15. Victor Mair said,

    June 10, 2012 @ 5:30 am


    Whether you translate 臣 in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person all depends on context. Try this one (from Analects 12.11) on for size:

    jūn jūn, chén chén, fù fù, zǐ zǐ 君君臣臣父父子子 ("A ruler should behave like a ruler, a subject / vassal like a subject / vassal, a father like a father, and a son like a son.")

  16. Observation said,

    June 10, 2012 @ 6:54 am

    In my opinion, the translation in this poster is not the work of a machine translator. I don't think 臣 is a common personal pronoun in the second person. Like sango said, 臣, as a personal pronoun, is usually used in the first person, as in 臣有二馬,故常奇之。 (岳飛《論馬》). In any case, since machine translators can only translate 白話文, I don't think they can translate 臣 as a pronoun at all. Google Translate, for example, provides many translations (including odd ones like Collinson), but none of them were personal pronouns.

  17. George said,

    June 10, 2012 @ 2:22 pm

    It has nothing to do with first-, second-, or third-person really, as the word "you" here is used in a generic sense – try replacing it with "one". The sentence could be spoken either by the servant or a third party making an observation.

  18. Kris said,

    June 10, 2012 @ 5:56 pm

    actually the question of how to translate Facebook into Chinese came up in a Singaporean newspaper article in February 2012 http://chinadigitaltimes.net/chinese/2012/02/%E8%81%94%E5%90%88%E6%97%A9%E6%8A%A5-%E5%B0%9A%E5%9B%BD%E6%96%87%EF%BC%9Afacebook%E7%9A%84%E4%B8%AD%E6%96%87%E8%AF%91%E5%90%8D%E9%97%AE%E9%A2%98/ .

    More often than not, the English term is used directly, but then there are terms that are preferred in one country. 臉書 in China, 面冊 in Taiwan (this is not listed in the article, but I've heard it from Taiwanese friends), 面子書 in Malaysia and/or Singapore (the author lists some more, and probably the exact geographic distribution and overlap of the terms still need to be worked out).

    But basically the author proposes to use the English term, preceded by an explanatory qualifier, i.e. 社交網站Facebook "the social networking site Facebook" in order to avoid the problem of competing calques (and probably trademark issues for Facebook)

  19. Ali stanton said,

    June 15, 2012 @ 2:15 am

    I think this is one of the best recent sino-cultural flotsam ive seen in a while…
    my personal interpretation is that…
    1.Its a clever way to reference the growing online community in china, especially the huge army of weibo 微博 users, and how the modern chinese reaction to government fiat is starting to seem radically different from their predecessors. Instead of the 臣 doing what hes told, he gets on facebook and tells the online community whats happened! Mark Zuckerberg is therefore portrayed as the figurehead for a new generation of informed citizenry.
    2.Since facebook is now banned in china, and has been since…well without facebook its difficult to measure time…but seems like a few years! anyway, it could be a big coincidence but its a bit ironic to use a banned site and refer to freedom??
    anyway, best joke ive seen in a while!

  20. Daniel Xiong said,

    November 6, 2012 @ 1:22 am

    I am a Chinese, if you have any question about this well I can explain. The original meaning for this sentence is "If my king want me to die, I won't not die." It is a quotation from Qing Dynasty by Xiaolan Ji. It shows the loyalty of an official at that time. It is using a negative word but it's positive meaning.

    Here's a story if you wanna hear: During Qing Dynasty, Qian Long (who is the emperor of Qing) wants to make fun of Xiaolan Ji, who is well-known, wise and clever man, and ask him what is loyalty and filialty. Then Ji says, if my king want me to die, I mustn't not die. So Qian Long ask him what if I ask you to die as a king, how do you want to die? Ji says maybe a river jump. A few while later, Ji comes back soaked himself. Qian Long asked:" how come you still alive?" Ji says sincerely:" I met with Qu Yuan( The first notable poet in China, who suiside by river jump due to disappointed by corrupt kingdom) and he don't want me to die." Qian Long wondering:" What do you mean?" Ji says, "he told me that 'I died because of a fatuous king, but not you. There's no rush for you to die, why don't you ask your king whether he is fatuous or sage?'" Then Qian Long crack a smile quietly.

  21. Daniel Xiong said,

    November 6, 2012 @ 1:46 am

    Well,excuse me the one I wrote above is pointless, I mean, 非死不可, is a negative meaning, but the story behind is really positive. But we don't use that for fb's name in China, cause it's using a word "death(死)". So we change it into 非试不可, which means "mustn't not try" or "cannot not try" and have pretty similar pronunciation.

  22. Emma said,

    June 9, 2013 @ 11:18 am

    I thought I was the one who first called Facebook Fei Si Bu Ke back in 2007. I was just trying to be funny, that's all. I also like to call Penn's Landing 判死乱钉,etc.

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