Elliot Sperling took the following photograph a couple of days ago (July 16) in Reb-gong or Rebkong (Tib.: རེབ་གོང /reb gong / Repkong / Ch.: Tongren 同仁). Reb-gong (Tongren) is about 150 km south of Xining, the capital of Qinghai (Kokonor) Province, and around 200 km to the southwest of Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu Province, in the northwestern part of the People's Republic of China.
The Chinglish translation at the bottom of the sign reads thus:
"Hide the satisfied store in statue of Buddha in exquisite article in Nepalese art in han."
Such an incomparable specimen of Chinglish might as well have been produced through free association or stream of consciousness. Even James Joyce would have been hard put to come up with a sentence whose syntax is so fractured.
What the sign actually says is this:
Zàng Hàn Níbó'ěr yìshù jīngpǐn fóxiàng rúyì shāngdiàn
"Wish-fulfilling Shop for Tibetan, Chinese, and Nepalese Fine Artwork and Buddhist Statues"
As the following analysis will demonstrate, it is obvious that the mangled English comes from the Chinese, not the Tibetan.
The first horrendous error is that the translator confused the verbal meaning of cáng 藏 (“hide”) with the nominal meaning of Zàng 藏 (“Tibetan”). In fact, the same character 藏 has other meanings that fall under these two pronunciations:
zàng 藏: place to store things; Buddhist or Taoist scriptures / canon; Tibet
cáng 藏: hide; store
The confusion over the verbal and nominal senses of cáng / zàng 藏 could not have occurred with the autonym (endonym) “Bod” བོད་. I have long maintained that the second syllable of "Tibet" represents essentially the same morpheme as "Bod", and that the first syllable is a Tibetan prefix meaning "upper", but there are other competing explanations of the origins of the name "Tibet".
As for how zàng 藏 came to signify Tibet, it is actually a transcription of the name of the Tsang region (around Shigatse). The full Mandarin exonym for Tibet is Xīzàng 西藏 (lit., "West Tsang").
It is very strange that the hàn 汉, which would seem to mean "Chinese", gets stuck on at the end and is left uncapitalized. This may, however, stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of the Tibetan, which will be explained below.
Another key term in the Chinese that is not fully grasped by the translator is that of rúyì 如意 ("as you wish"), which has a long and colorful pre-Buddhist history. After the advent of Buddhism, it was co-opted for various Sanskritic notions, for which see this article.
Rendering rúyì shāngdiàn 如意商店 as "satisfied store" presents an odd picture, but it fails to convey the Indic idea of the (often supernatural) fulfillment of one's desires.
Let us see now what the Tibetan says. Here is the standard "revised Wylie" transcription:
Bod rgya bal gsum gyi sgyu rtsal gyi nus pa ’bur du thon pa’i sku ’dra’i tshong khang dgos ’dod kun ’byung
Translation: "'Your Wishes Will Appear’ shop for statues produced in the artistic style of Tibet, India and Nepal"
According to Ronald Davidson,
The translation is almost the reverse order of the Tibetan, but that reflects the differences of standard word order for the two languages. Tibetans typically like to have a florid name for something at the end of the announcement, and the 'Your Wishes Will Appear' echoes the cintāmaṇi/kāmadhenu idea of India, so that it has a strong Buddhist flavor, not unusual for a shop selling religious statuary. A minor question is the meaning of the initial 'bod rgya bal gsum' which normally means as I have translated but in certain contexts could mean Tibet, China and Nepal, since the term for India (rgya gar) and the term for China (rgya nag) are often abbreviated in the same manner (rgya). In this instance, though, it is pretty clear that the shop carries Indo-Tibetan artistry of modern manufacture, and it would appear that they can do orders, big or small as well.
Regardless of what the Chinese and Tibetan versions say, I'm afraid that tourists who come to this shop will be so totally mystified by the Chinglish translation that they might be afraid to enter. In that case, having a Chinglish translation would be worse than having no translation.
[Thanks to Donald Lopez, Robbie Barnett, and Nathan Hill]