Siege lions and procedural apes

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Nancy Friedman came across the website of RippleInfo, a technology company in Suzhou.  Nancy doesn't read Chinese, so she submitted it to Google Translate, whereupon she discovered a section titled “Suzhou Siege Lions Have Caused”.  That led her to a statement from the CEO that included this sentence:

If the siege lion apes and procedures are not happy, how to write perfect code?

At that point, Nancy wrote to me:  "This is too zoological, and possibly too existential, for me. Can you help?"

I had earlier helped Nancy solve the problem of "Sad jelly noodles" (4/6/16) in Taipei, so I was happy to try my hand at the "siege lion apes and procedures".

Before looking at the Chinese text, I pondered what in the world could siege lions be doing at a tech company in Suzhou. It wasn't long before I realized that the Chinese for "siege lions" is gōngchéngshīmen 攻城狮们 and that must be a cutesy homophonic pun for gōngchéngshīmen 工程师们 ("engineers").  Analogously, those apes who are wrapped up in procedures must be chéngxùyuán 程序猿 ("procedure apes"), which is a playful homophone for chéngxùyuán 程序員 ("programmers").

After I figured that out, I found on the RippleInfo website the section that Google Translate rendered as “Suzhou Siege Lions Have Caused”:  zhì Sūzhōu gōngchéngshīmen 致苏州攻城狮们 ("to Suzhou siege lions," i.e., "to Suzhou engineers").  What I read there confirmed my supposition about gōngchéngshīmen 攻城狮们 and chéngxùyuán 程序猿 ("procedure apes").

What mystifies me is why the CEO of a tech company who is trying to recruit gōngchéngshīmen 工程师们 ("engineers") and chéngxùyuán 程序員 ("programmers") would refer to them as "siege lions" and "procedure apes" in an announcement of this sort.  Perhaps he just wants to convey to them the lighthearted spirit of his company.


  1. David L said,

    June 30, 2016 @ 9:40 am

    procedure ape = code monkey?

  2. Joe said,

    June 30, 2016 @ 12:21 pm

    @David L: It sure does look like it.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    June 30, 2016 @ 1:29 pm

    Thank you very much, David L and Joe!

  4. Joe said,

    June 30, 2016 @ 4:48 pm

    Here's the entry for siege lion. It looks like that this is Chinese geek jargon – Sino-L337, perhaps?

  5. Rubrick said,

    June 30, 2016 @ 5:19 pm

    So an American monkey becomes a Chinese ape. They're just determined to outdo us in everything, aren't they?*

    *To any Darwinian sticklers out there, yeah, yeah, apes aren't actually evolutionarily "superior" to monkeys (or sea urchins or ferns or even Mr. Trump).

  6. Charles said,

    June 30, 2016 @ 7:38 pm

    If procedure ape = code monkey, then this is even more confusing. In my personal experience, a code monkey is a negative term for a programmer who sits in a cubicle for 10 hours a day and writes code under a deadline in poor working conditions for an unfair wage.

    If the CEO of this company describes it's programmers as code monkeys when trying to recruit them, then I have to wonder, who would ever want to work there?

  7. Jamie said,

    July 2, 2016 @ 2:28 pm

    @Charles Even if it is a direct translation/calque it doesn't necessarily have the same (negative) connotations. Especially as it is punning term (programmers like that sort of thing).

    Also, I think programmers might describe themselves as code monkeys in a self-deprecating or ironic way.

  8. Dr. Yang Liu said,

    July 5, 2016 @ 10:40 am

    Hi all:
    I am Dr. Yang Liu and I am the CEO of RippleInfo. Here is the clarification of "siege lions". I think confusion comes from "Google translate". Chinese "工程师“ means ”Engineers“。The Chinese pronunciation of "攻城狮“ is the exact same as that of "工程师". Sometimes, we borrow "攻城狮" instead of "工程师" engineers to express that we want to recruit some ambitious engineers to embrace challenges. That's it. Nothing disrespectful to engineers. I am also a engineer who holds a Ph.D. in EE. I did not use "程序猿“ “procedure apes" or "coding monkey" in my letter. But I want to explain a little bit more about "程序猿" here. The Chinese pronunciation of "程序员“ is also the same as that of "程序猿." Sometimes, Chinese like to exchange the use of some words with with same pronunciation just for fun. As we know, engineers especially soft engineers who do the coding work work very hard and work long hours. Some geeks start to mock themselves as "程序猿" "coding ape" for fun. So software engineers usually call themselves as ""程序猿" for fun. Again, no dispective meaning inside the word of "程序猿". When I started my new venture in Suzhou, I wrote a letter to express my vision and mission of the company. So in the context, I used "攻城狮" to call for ambitious engineers to get onboard. I think Google translate is a good tool, but sometimes it is not a good tool for culture translation. "siege lions", uh, a very interesting English translation. :)

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