During the Arab Spring demonstrations, we saw many signs that attempted to reach a Chinese audience in Chinese: "Maybe Mubarak understands Chinese", 2/10/2011; "Chinese sign in Benghazi", 3/21/2011; "Roll out of here, Mubarak", 4/3/2011. Similar signs were spotted during the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations later the same year:  "No more corruption".

Now, in Syria, we see protesters condemning China with signs written in Arabic:

(from this website)

The immediate context of this denunciation would seem to be China's veto of the UN decision to sanction Syria.

According to Shawkat Toora, the sign says:

ilā al-Ṣīn
akhlāqu-kum arda’ min biḍā‘ati-kum

إلى الصين
أخلاقكم أردأ من بضاعتكم

To: China

It's signed "Tansiqiyya Āmūdā – Āpāhī". No idea what that is. A Kurdish organization maybe?

As for peculiarities, the signature is not Arab/ic, and the daggered alif on the ilā is unusual.

The word translated by Shawkat as "worse / viler" could also be translated as "meaner / nastier", and "wares / goods" could, of course, also be rendered as "products".

Joe Lowry and Roger Allen read the second line slightly differently: Akhlāqu-ka arda' min bidāati-ka أخلاقك أردأ من بضاعتك

Joe also provides this transcription of the signature line: تنسيقية عامودا – آڤاهي

This Joe renders as "Coordinating Committee of ‘Āmūdā – Āvāhī" and notes that "Āvāhī seems to be a Kurdish youth group that is participating in the Syrian rebellion against the government."

Jamal Elias offers additional information about the sign, its signature, and probable purpose:

Amuda is a predominantly Kurdish town right on the border with Turkey. A Tansiqiyya is a community level organization, a formal part of Syrian civil structure. I don't know what Aqahi/Apahi/Aghahi is doing there. My first guess would be that it's the name of a neighborhood within Amuda, so the sign says something like "Agahi Community Council, Amuda".

As for why someone would make this sign and have a kid hold it up: I'd bet a beer (but not a keg) on this being part of the Turkish vs Chinese competition for the market in northern Syria, sponsored either by Turkish businessmen or else by their local Kurdish associates.

The Chinese translation on the website where I found the photograph is interesting:

Zhōngguó: Nǐmen de dàodé bǐ nǐmen de chǎnpǐn hái lèsè / lājī

I am particularly intrigued by the use of lājī (PRC pron.) / lèsè (Taiwan Mandarin pron.) 垃圾 ("garbage; refuse; rubbish; waste; trash; junk") as a stative (adjectival) verb, since it normally functions as a noun (as might be expected from its meaning). This goes to show how much Chinese grammar is driven by syntactical position.

[Thanks to Devin Stewart]

Share:

1. ### Victor Mair said,

July 16, 2013 @ 10:28 pm

The missing character in the signature would appear to be the initial form of "ve":

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%DA%A4

Perhaps because it's a Kurdish letter, WordPress doesn't seem to like it.

July 17, 2013 @ 12:20 am

I am particularly intrigued by the use of lājī (PRC pron.) / lèsè (Taiwan Mandarin pron.) 垃圾 ("garbage; refuse; rubbish; waste; trash; junk") as a stative (adjectival) verb, since it normally functions as a noun (as might be expected from its meaning). This goes to show how much Chinese grammar is driven by syntactical position.

Sounds like normal British English to me. Even after 30 years on this side of the Atlantic I am still not quite used to ordinary British expressions like "I'm rubbish at languages" or "It's been a really crap day". English grammar driven by syntactical position? Something special about the general semantic domain?

3. ### Alon Lischinsky said,

July 17, 2013 @ 1:46 am

@Bob Ladd: indeed, English grammar is very much driven by syntactial position. That's why zero-derivation (conversion of a word to a different part of speech without any morphological marking) is so common.

4. ### Patrick said,

July 17, 2013 @ 5:06 am

I believe that in Kurdish (Kurmancî), avahî is the word for "building, construction," derived by means of the suffix -hî, -(y)î from ava, "built up, prosperous." I am not sure, but I think this may be related to Persian آمادن āmādan, "to make ready, prepare" (present stem āmāy-) and Ossetic амайын amayɨn "to build."

5. ### Matt Keefe said,

July 17, 2013 @ 2:18 pm

Like your colleagues, the first thing I spotted is that the sign clearly uses the singular -k- ending, not the plural -kum ending, but as China is a country, and thus generally treated as a femine, I would have taken that ending to be -ki, not the masculine -ka (thus, akhlāqu-ki arda' min bidāati-ki). I would be interested to know if there's a reason for doing otherwise.

This being illustrative of precisely nothing, of course, anyway…

6. ### You've missed the point said,

May 21, 2014 @ 10:45 am

أردأ means 'lower' – so your morality is low (in status), just as your products are low (in quality).

Chinese goods are known across the Arab world for being badly made. No Turkish conspiracy theory required.

آڤاضي is certainly an odd word which I must assume is either Kurdish (unlikely) or some local area undocumented by the internet. The ڤ only ever means ڤ this side of the Suez canal (except in SE Asia).