Apologetic rat

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The following ghastly photographs of a rat that was caught stealing from a convenience store in Heyuan, Guangdong province have gone viral on Chinese social media.


WARNING:  viewer discretion advised.

The photographs following the page break may be upsetting to some readers.


The sign on the left, which appeared first, reads:

Ā, xiǎozi.  Jiù zhè diǎn néngnài ma?  Jiùsuàn bǎ wǒ dǎ sǐ. Wǒ yě bù huì chéngrèn nǐ jiā de dàmǐ shì wǒ tōu de.

呵, 小子就这点能耐吗.就算把我打死, 我也不会承认你家的大米是我偷的.

"Hey, buddy, that's all you're capable of?  Even if you beat me to death, I will never admit I've stolen your rice."

The sign on the right reads:

Wǒ zài yě bù gǎnle!


"I won't dare to do it again!"

N.B.:  zài 在 ("in; at; exist; remain; dwell; be located", etc.) is an error for zài 再 ("again; once more")

Judging from this Weibo post (VHM:  seems to be blocked / scrubbed now) and the following comments (only a small selection of which are shown), Chinese netizens really love their emoji.  This extremely popular one, 😂, for example, is referred to as the "笑cry" (xiào 笑 means "laugh") emoji.  It was named "WOTY 2015" (11/16/15) by Oxford Dictionaries and is officially called "face with tears of joy" in English.

Here are two articles about the initially unrepentant and then later abject pilfering rat:

Aside from the issue of cruelty to animals they raise, the photographs have also struck a resonant chord with those who recall the torture of intellectuals during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and, more recently, the forced apologies and confessions of bookstore owners, entertainers, and others who have offended the Chinese Communist Party.

[h.t. Alex Wang and Dean Barrett; thanks to Maiheng Dietrich, Melvin Lee, Fangyi Cheng, and Yixue Yang]


  1. peterv said,

    January 27, 2017 @ 5:50 pm

    Is the rat still alive?

  2. Rubrick said,

    January 27, 2017 @ 7:18 pm

    That's what I was wondering. If not, then the display is certainly tasteless, but hardly cruel.

  3. Alex said,

    January 27, 2017 @ 8:24 pm

    I've noticed in English when one isn't sure how to pronounce a word, people tend to say it quickly when used in a sentence. I've noticed when asking my Chinese friends and colleagues to help out to test writing ability that when they don't know a character they "deliberately" or subconsciously write faster and messier. When I say i can't really read that (read being checking to see if it's correct) and ask them to write it as neatly as possible, that's when they admit they aren't sure how to write it. It tells me there is pressure of embarrassment.

  4. B.Ma said,

    January 28, 2017 @ 7:47 am

    @Alex, in school I had friends who, when they were unsure how to spell English words, would also write the first few letters neatly and then scribble the rest.

    I belong to a profession known for bad handwriting, so I can't tell whether my current colleagues are doing the same…

    Chinese grass script is basically scribbles anyway :)

    Happy New Year everyone!

  5. Bfwebster said,

    January 28, 2017 @ 1:07 pm

    I strongly suspect (or at least would like to think) the rat is dead or dying. Having had pet rats both as a teenager and then many years later as an adult, I'd expect a live (wild!) rat like that would be flailing around (especially its tail), and it might even try gnawing on one of its limbs to try to escape. Note how the sign in the left photo isn't really secured but just lightly draped over the rat's head; that suggests the rat is motionless.

    Also, it would be pretty hard to tie up a live (conscious, undrugged) rat like that, since the rat (especially a wild one) would be trying very hard to bite you.

  6. Andrew Usher said,

    January 28, 2017 @ 2:07 pm

    Is it not strange that no one would oppose killnig the rat, but display it like this attracts calls of 'cruelty'? It's as if (as I believe) people don't have much of a problem killing (potentially) conscious creatures, only in adittming that that is actually done … if this were a political site I'd take that argument farther, but it isn't, and I see nothing of especial linguistic interest here.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  7. Alex said,

    January 28, 2017 @ 6:59 pm


    I know many with bad handwriting, I myself am saying thanks that the word processor was invented. I have always wondered where that profession gained the notoriety of poor handwriting. I also wonder if its just US or across all countries this profession has the stereotype. I have my guesses on why but will google this shortly!

    My observations are just that, observations. Its not just the messiness, its mainly the speed change when writing a character one doesn't know. One would expect slower and more careful, as if a person was taking their time to consider things. However its usually the opposite, the person rushes through it to shorten the time of embarrassment hoping to get a pass via messiness. (One of the goals in my mind of language reform is to have as few people suffering from embarrassment, especially in this society which so values face.)

    Speaking of doctors, I work with an American doctor here who teaches Chinese doctors. I guess expats tend to congregate together. He does have some interesting anecdotes on language use here in the medical profession as it relates to Chinese characters and language as we have discussed this blog, but that will be another post!

    Found this partially related topic:

  8. Lance Nathan said,

    January 30, 2017 @ 3:38 am

    Can I ask that if you're going to post upsetting pictures, you post them behind a cut tag? (Or link them with a warning and don't display them at all?) It's certainly not what I wanted to have to see while casually scrolling through LanguageLog.

  9. Craig said,

    January 30, 2017 @ 10:09 am

    @Lance Nathan, agreed.

    This image should not have been reproduced here. A link with a warning was necessary. I'd rather not have to give up Language Log, but if this is what I'm going to find here, I may be compelled to leave.

  10. Victor Mair said,

    January 30, 2017 @ 3:03 pm

    @Andrew Usher

    "I see nothing of especial linguistic interest here."

    Here are some of the features of the language on the signs that have been explicitly or implicitly touched upon in the o.p., in the comments, or in private communications to me:

    1. colloquial usages, e.g., néngnài 能耐 ("ability; capability; skill; talent")

    2. miswriting (zài 在 ["in; at; exist; remain; dwell; be located", etc.] for zài 再 ["again; once more"])

    3. discussion of emoji associated with the Weibo post

    4. the quality of the handwriting

  11. Rebecca said,

    January 30, 2017 @ 7:26 pm

    i quickly scrolled past the pictures to say thank you for moving them past the break. Its been disturbing seeing them every time I came to LL. I wouldn't have predicted that they would have that effect on me, but there you go

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