The Bèn school of translation

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Chengde (formerly Jehol), which lies 109 miles / 176 kilometers to the northeast of Beijing, was the old Manchu summer retreat, and is now a popular tourist destination. One its most notable attractions is the Putuo Zongcheng Temple, built by the Qianlong emperor (r. 1735-1796) as a copy of the Potala Palace in Lhasa. Here is a photograph of the Chinese part of the sign describing a gate within the temple compound:


Regular readers of Language Log will have guessed that the punch line is in the English translation:

The Five—pagoda Gate</p> <p>The Five—pagoda Gate is a tall white terrace in Tibetan style,decorated with three red tiers of ladder-shaped false windows. From west to east on white terrace are five pagodas vary in shape and painted red, green, yellow, white, black color. Each pagoda' s color and decorations represents religious sects of Tibetan Buddhism. The yellow pagoda is in the centre, to show the Yellow religion (Gelug sect) as the center, the Red pagoda represents the Red religion (Rnging ma pa), the White pagoda represents the White religion (Bkava brgyud pa), The Green pagoda represents the flower religion (Sa Jia county sends) , the Black pagoda represents the secret religion (the stupid wave sends).

The gate is topped by five mchod-rten (chortens, "stupas" or "pagodas") of different colors, each standing for a different Tibetan sect. The Chinese sign explains the symbolism.  But in rendering the Chinese text into English, the translator's skill progressively erodes until it ends up in free fall.

The translator's first serious stumble is in rendering Sa-skya is as a “county”, not as a sect, indicating that by this point modern dictionary definitions were being copied with little thought as to actual meaning. And the next word represents the curious decision to translate 派 pài not as the noun "sect" or "school" but as the verb "sends" — perhaps due to a feeling that all this religious discussion should be balanced by some attention to the postal service?

But in dealing with the sentence "Hēi tǎ dàibiǎo hēi jiào (bènbō pài)" 黑塔代表黑教 (笨波派) ("The black stupa / 'pagoda' represents the 'Dark Teaching' [Bon-po sect]"),  the translator's stumbles turn into a spectacular pratfall.

The Bon faith is often said to be the indigenous, pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet. And as the Wikipedia article explains,

The syllable -po or -pa is appended to a noun in Tibetan to designate a person who is from that place or performs that action; "Bönpo" thus means a follower of the Bön tradition, "Nyingmapa" a follower of the Nyingma tradition, and so on. (The feminine parallels are -mo and -ma, but these are not generally appended to the names of the Tibetan religious traditions.)

The Chinese phrase Hēi jiào 黑教 (lit., "Black Teaching / Doctrine)" is another way of referring to the Bon religion, carrying over the Tibetan pattern of associating colors with Buddhist sects; so rendering this into English as “secret religion” is another misstep. But when we get to bènbō pài 笨波派, the translation pitches headlong over the cliff into trilingual associative fantasy.

Bènbō 笨波 phonetically transcribes Tibetan “Bon-po” into Chinese and pài 派 defines it as a "sect" or "faith", i.e., a jiàopài 教派. But instead of rendering bènbō pài 笨波派 as the "Bon-po faith" or "Bon-po school", etc.,  the translation renders it, incredibly, as “the stupid wave sends”.

This constitutes a classic example of a common error in bad translations from Chinese: rendering literally the surface semantic signification of characters that are meant to serve purely for sound-transcription purposes.

The word "stupid" is thus a Straussian hint that the people responsible for this sign  belong to the Bèn 笨 ("Stupid") school of translation. And even readers who don't know Chinese can figure out the rest by looking up and in a Chinese-English dictionary, as the rituals of the Bèn school dictate.

[Many thanks to Elliot Sperling for sending the photograph and for helpful comments on the Tibetan sects]


  1. Barney said,

    May 30, 2011 @ 11:12 am

    It might be worth entering the texts into the "alt" part of the image tags, to make this more accessible. I'm not going to attempt the Chinese, but the English one is:

    The Five—pagoda Gate

    The Five—pagoda Gate is a tall white terrace in Tibetan style,decorated with three red tiers of ladder-shaped false windows. From west to east on white terrace are five pagodas vary in shape and painted red, green, yellow, white, black color. Each pagoda' s color and decorations represents religious sects of Tibetan Buddhism. The yellow pagoda is in the centre, to show the Yellow religion (Gelug sect) as the center, the Red pagoda represents the Red religion (Rnging ma pa), the White pagoda represents the White religion (Bkava brgyud pa), The Green pagoda represents the flower religion (Sa Jia county sends) , the Black pagoda represents the secret religion (the stupid wave sends).

  2. June Teufel Dreyer said,

    May 30, 2011 @ 11:55 am

    perhaps it was translated by a machine? This is the type of error I've seen auto-translators make before.

    [(myl) We have certainly verified in other cases that bad MT was to blame. In this case, though, the variable quality of the translation in other respects, and the various rather different treatments of 派 pài in the parenthesized phrases makes me doubt that simple MT is at fault. (Though MT can certainly make contextually-variable mistakes, these have more of a human flavor.)]

  3. arthur waldron said,

    May 30, 2011 @ 12:06 pm

    What this shows above all is (1) contempt for the past and (2) underestimation of the English language. Thirty years ago a Chinese lady of my close acquaintance complained that her classmates thought that English was just a matter of looking up words and stringing them together. When she explained that there was more to it, they were disbelieving. ANW

  4. Wentao said,

    May 30, 2011 @ 12:26 pm

    Here is the Chinese…


  5. Jason said,

    May 30, 2011 @ 12:27 pm

    This looks like a machine translation that was cleaned up by a human, who quit about halfway through. Based on the relative fluency of the first section, and the transliteration of pài as "sect" in the first item (The Yellow Sect), but not, it appears, the others.

    Do I see a snowclone for bad chinese-English translation on the horizon? "Today, the Stupid Wave Sends us…."

  6. Anoop said,

    May 30, 2011 @ 12:42 pm

    Output from google translate:

    Five Tap Mun
    Five-door is a tall tower Tibetan white sets. There are three white walls red trapezoid window blind, under the provision of three arches. White side by side on stage five from west to east tower, red, green, yellow, white, black colored. Each tower and tower accessories are the color of a certain religious content and significance. Huang set the central tower, said to the Yellow Sect (Gelugpa) as the center, on behalf of the Red Sect Hongta (Nyingma), on behalf of White Sect Baita (Kagyu), teaching of flowers on behalf of the Green Tower (Sakya Sect), The Dark Tower On behalf of Black Education (stupid wave faction) and other five major sects of Tibetan Buddhism.

  7. Stephen R. Bokenkamp said,

    May 30, 2011 @ 12:56 pm

    This is great! I was intrigued by the comment that it looked like machine translation worked over. Well, I haven't tried machine translation since early Babel Fish days, so I thought I'd give it a shot. Here is the Microsoft version:

    Five-door of the Tower is a large reservoir of white bench. White wall has three layers of Red trapezoid window blind, provision under three arches. White platform compatible five towers from West to East, Red, green, yellow, white and black colors. Each color of the tower and tower accessories has a certain amount of religious content and meaning. Huangta reset Central, said to shamanism (Gelug) as the Center, hongta representatives of Mongolian Lamaism (Nyingma), Baita representative Bai Jiao (commentary), green Tower represents Hua Jiao (Sakya), the black tower representing black taught (stupid), five major sects of Tibetan Buddhism.

    I was intrigued to see that Nyingma and Gelug were translated, but stupid just remains stupid.

    Thanks for the laugh, Steve B.

  8. Ellen K. said,

    May 30, 2011 @ 1:13 pm

    Regarding the question of if it was a machine translation, I'm thinking if it were a machine translation, the typesetting would not be so poor. I can't see a computer using a dash in place of a hyphen, missing the space after a comma, or sticking in a space that shouldn't be there after an apostrophe. Or am I somehow wrong in my thinking?

  9. Hermann Burchard said,

    May 30, 2011 @ 3:00 pm

    In defense(?) of translators, an example I came across. In a phrase from Heidegger's metaphysics textbook he writes "eigenartig' in the sense of "peculiar." In two excellent, professional translations published by Yale University Press, instead we find:

    a) "of a very particular kind" (publ. date 1959)
    b) "a truly unique sort" (publ. date 2000)

    Both translator's did a foreign re-analysis, getting hung up on "Art" imbedded inside "eigenartig", which separately translates as "genus, kind, sort." It may help to know that "eigen" even alone can mean "peculiar."

    Here is the phrase in my own translation, still awkward as often inevitable when rendering Heidegger:

    as a contemplation of λoγoς, contemplation of the nature of thought is quite a peculiar one

    BTW, my "contemplation" is for Heidegger's "Besinnung," where the two translators have "reflection", and "meditation" respectively.

  10. Blinde Schildpad said,

    May 30, 2011 @ 3:41 pm

    Translation issues aside, I have to say this whole sect-centered explanation of the colors of the chörtens doesn't make much sense. The recognition of Bön as a proper tradition of Tibetan Buddhism is more or less a 20th century innovation, and by no means a generally accepted one at that. Also, if the "black" one was really intended to represent Bön, one would expect to see a Bön-style finial, with Garuda horns replacing the Buddhist moon-sun-thigle symbol. It is much, much more likely the colors (assuming the black is actually blue) represent the rigs lnga, the five Buddha Families. The rigs lnga are so central to Tibetan iconography that in basically any case where there's five of anything, it's safe to assume the Families are involved. Kind of like garbage collecting in New York, I suspect.

  11. jer said,

    May 30, 2011 @ 4:15 pm

    Secret for black is almost understandable – the world famous Hong Kong gangs are called the Black Societies, and any organisation with Black in the title would suggest hidden.

    Perhaps the translator was reading a Dan Brown religious thriller at the time?

  12. Elliot Sperling said,

    May 30, 2011 @ 5:37 pm

    This is marvelous. Thanks for writing it up so well. There’s one thing I should have mentioned earlier, however. The use of colors to designate the Tibetan schools/sects is wholly a Chinese creation. The late Tibetan scholar, Tshe-tan zhabs-drung, wrote a very influential article attacking the use of the term Lamajiao for Tibetan Buddhism. The article was translated into Chinese and even (in India) into English and resulted in the now-prevalent use of the term Zangchuan Fojiao 藏传佛教 here instead of the old term.

    Another section of the same article denounces the use of these colors to represent the schools noting (quite correctly) that the five colors represent the 5 different Dhyani Buddhas (dark blue becoming black in the Chinese reconstruction). The five stupas at the site were not meant to represent some ecumenical, politically correct, warm and fuzzy feeling on the part of Qianlong. He was very much a follower of the Dge-lugs-pa school.

    I have the various copies of Tshe-tan zhabs-drung’s article back in the U.S. Ironically, I recently mailed back to the states the new 13-volume edition of his gsung-’bum (collected works).

  13. Sili said,

    May 30, 2011 @ 5:44 pm

    “the stupid wave sends”

    Well, since Communism is nominally atheist, I guess I can sympathise with a desire to denote a religion by “the stupid wave sends”.

  14. Vasha said,

    May 30, 2011 @ 7:17 pm

    It seems likely that the translator didn't actually understand the text in Chinese, unfamiliar with religious terminology and having never heard of Bön or the other sects.

  15. minus273 said,

    May 30, 2011 @ 7:47 pm

    Usually in Chinese we write the word "Bon" as 苯, the same graph as "benzine". The original Chinese must have been a typo too.

  16. J. Goard said,

    May 30, 2011 @ 8:59 pm

    And the next word represents the curious decision to translate 派 pài not as the noun "sect" or "school" but as the verb "sends"

    Never would've occured to me that the two were related. My Korean etymological sense seems to be progressing by leaps and bounds, but my character knowledge is still baby-level. :-(

  17. Hermann Burchard said,

    May 30, 2011 @ 9:08 pm

    @minus237: Usually in Chinese we write the word "Bon" as 苯, the same graph as "benzine"

    Google translate renders "苯 笨" into English as "Benzene stupid" — but my actual Mandarin = zilch.

  18. D.O. said,

    May 31, 2011 @ 12:11 am

    And the next word represents the curious decision to translate 派 pài not as the noun "sect" or "school" but as the verb "sends" — perhaps due to a feeling that all this religious discussion should be balanced by some attention to the postal service?

    Is it possible that the translator mixed up words "sect[s]" and "sends" graphically?

    [(myl) I don't think that's the reason. CEDICT gives "clique; school; group; faction; to dispatch" as the English glosses for 派 pài, and I suspect that whatever dictionary our Bèn translators (or their MT program) used had "to send" rather than "to dispatch" as a more idiomatic alternative.]

  19. Ben Hemmens said,

    May 31, 2011 @ 5:43 am

    I shall rename myself Dr. Bèn's Holistic Translation Agency.

    @Hermann Burchard: your translation b) just seems to be a mixup of eigenartig with einzigartig.

    Version a): what's the big difference between peculiar and "of a particular kind"?

    Eigenartig, as far as it is not being used in a simple pejorative sense (=strange, iffy, bizarre, nonsensical, crappy), which it often is, just means unusual, of a different kind, of a person: eccentric.

    Peculiar is good, and I'd have left out the »very«. But I don't see the case for the »foreign reanalysis« based on the »art« part of -artig.

  20. John V. Bellezza said,

    May 31, 2011 @ 6:39 am

    I am not versed in such matters but wonder if the confusion surrounding the Chinese translation of sa-skya is due to the fact that it quite literally means 'beige earth'?

  21. Nick Lamb said,

    May 31, 2011 @ 7:27 am

    Arthur, it's never really struck most people that just because you can do something (in this case use at least one natural human language) doesn't mean you necessarily understand how it works.

    And of course when people don't understand how something works, they tend to seriously underestimate how complicated it is. So ironically after dedicating a serious amount of their life (perhaps hours a day for several years in childhood) to acquiring a natural language they drastically underestimate how complicated such things are.

    And that leads to everything from ridiculous signs in Chinese hotel rooms to primary school teachers seriously proposing that five year olds would benefit if they spent an hour a week formally attempting to teach them English grammar.

  22. language hat said,

    May 31, 2011 @ 9:40 am

    From here: "Rudolph Carnap wrote an article where he argued that almost every sentence from Heidegger was grammatically correct, yet meaningless. Of course, some philosophers who were not logical positivists disagreed with this."

  23. John Cowan said,

    May 31, 2011 @ 10:51 am

    "Meaningless" is a technical term in Vienna Circle positivism that probably should be left untranslated.

  24. Ben Hemmens said,

    May 31, 2011 @ 12:03 pm

    » … every sentence from Heidegger was grammatically correct, yet meaningless …«

    Some sentences I have to translate, I'd be glad if they were that good ;-)

  25. Hermann Burchard said,

    May 31, 2011 @ 3:02 pm

    @Ben Hemmens:

    Sie arbeiten jetzt also in Graz? Als Kind lebte ich in Brixlegg a/ Inn, und ging dort zur Schule, erste Klasse. Ich sprach fliessend tirolerisch, innerhalb weniger Wochen. Bald wurden die Einheimischen auf uns aufmerksam (fielen als Saupreissen sowieso auf, und auch durch meine sephardische Herkunft), und wir gingen dann nach Hessen, wo meine Mutter her war. Noch spaeter gings nach Sylt, wo wir bis '45 blieben, da unser Haus in Hamburg ausgebombt war. — Ihre Bermerkungen ueber Heidegger und "eigenartig" vergebe ich Ihnen gern, als Wahloestereicher. Aber Sie irren sich bestimmt. Mehr ueber Heidegger und meine Beziehung zu seiner Philosophie hier, Found Sci 2005, 2011, Titel und Zusammenfassung:

    Gruetzi! (Rechtschreibung?)

  26. Hermann Burchard said,

    May 31, 2011 @ 5:42 pm

    @Ben Hemmens:

    Need to answer some of your questions about "eigenartig" and Heidegger's ("H") use of it. (Sorry, earlier I had to rush to town to get my auto tag renewed, last day of May.)

    1. Eigenartig, [. . .] used in a simple pejorative sense.

    Yes indeed, H does intend the pejorative implication, mind or thought is not just logic, as a bunch of formal rules, but is a receptive mode of humans (his "Dasein"), their capacity to sense the Being of What Is (Sein des Seienden) [forgotten by Western science in an historical shift which he is analyzing, . . . read the book].

    2. The foreign re-analysis bit.

    Hyphenated re-analsyis probably a bad idea, sorry, not the same exactly as folk etymology, which you probably have in mind. Still, this should be easy enough to comprehend:

    Both authors missed that "eigenartig" is simply an adjective, here used by H in the sense of peculiar, a really strange, grotesque, bizarre approach to understanding the nature of thought, which when contemplated as logos, "becomes [mere] logic" (his phrase). The two translators failed to look up the, to them, foreign word in their German dictionaries not being native speakers like myself and unaware of "eigen" alone already having the "bizarre, peculiar" connotation (an eigenvalue of square matrix A is a peculiar value, expressing something really strange about A). Thus, they were reduced to analyzing its to them foreign constituent parts, "eigen" and "Art." So, they re-analyzed them like crevis > cre-vis becomes cray-fish if you (mis-)interpret the syllables. True, the translators were able to reconstitute the adjective's meaning at least approximately, so reanalysis is not exactly what happened, hence a need to put a hyphen: re-analysis of a (to them) foreign word.

  27. Hermann Burchard said,

    June 1, 2011 @ 12:34 am

    @ language hat:

    Earlier, I missed that you, not Ben, were the source of the Heidegger slur (citing Wikipedia — sorry Ben!), his lack of meaning. Was Carnap even a philosopher? I think of him as one of our greatest logicians, but don't know enough about him. He is probably difficult for anybody unschooled in philosophy.

    Probably I need to put a line distancing myself from his ludicrous political comments that he drops here and there in his otherwise sane writings. In my above quoted 2005 paper there is a footnote to this extent. — It would be idle to speculate today about what his motives might have been, perhaps only half conscious — was fear a factor? Germans lived in a state of near panic after the collapse of the currency in the mid '20s, with street battles in cities not uncommon. In my hometown of Hamburg, war-like conditions existed in 1923.

    The same Hamburg workers had demonstrated before WWI and dispersed peacefully after being addressed with kind words promising remedies for grievances by the mayor of the city [my grandfather, anecdote told to me by my aunts, his daughters], from the balcony of his home, domestic tranquility being restored and prevailing until 1918.

    The "Arab Spring" of 2011 offers an illustration with many parallels, hopes of downtrodden masses being difficult to convert into a better future, especially with hot-headed, foolish leaders being unwilling to make concessions, promising revenge, and shooting at demonstrators. Just imagine how the Arab Spring might have turned out differently, if Mubarak, Gaddafi, and Assad would have spoken in soothing, not confrontational tones with their dissatisfied citizens, promising and putting into practice remedies for grievances.

    Why didn't they?

  28. Hermann Burchard said,

    June 1, 2011 @ 12:38 am

    He is probably difficult for anybody unschooled in philosophy.

    Forgot to insert "Heidegger:" He, Heidegger, is . . .

    Same for next paragraph, referring to H's ridiculous politics [not Carnap's].

  29. Fluxor said,

    June 1, 2011 @ 1:32 am

    Seeing how the English is most likely machine-translated, at least partially, it's a bit unfair to pick on the mistranslation of 笨波派 seeing how the Chinese itself has a typo. As an earlier commenter pointed out, the first character should be 苯. Using the correct character, Google translates 苯波派 as "Bon School", which is correct.

  30. Victor Mair said,

    June 1, 2011 @ 5:47 pm

    @Fluxor "…it's a bit unfair to pick on the mistranslation of 笨波派 seeing how the Chinese itself has a typo."

    I recently discovered that at least one Chinese blogger posted on the absurdities of this sign before I did, but did not mention that 笨波派 contains "a typo":

    As a matter of fact, 笨波派 is all over the Chinese Web without comments that it is "a typo," even on major encyclopedic sites such as Baidu:

    There really isn't a consensus that 苯 is the sole "correct" Chinese transcription of Bon.

    "笨波派" 273 ghits

    "苯波派" 1,350 ghits

    "苯教" 538,000 ghits

    "笨教" 85,200 ghits (not all of these necessarily refer to Bon, but many of them do)

    "本波" 814,000 ghits (by no means do all of these refer to Bon, but thousands of them do)

    "本教" 1,910,000 ghits (by no means do all of these refer to Bon, but thousands of them do; this is a very common way to refer to Bon in Modern Standard Mandarin)

    The most frequent usage of 苯 by far is as the transcription for "benzine." Otherwise, it is extremely rare and used in early literary contexts in the bisyllabic term běnzǔn 苯尊 (+ grass radical at the top of the second graph) with the meaning of "luxuriant foliage."

    I asked a dozen or so specialists in Tibetan religion who are also familiar with Chinese what the traditional (premodern) way of referring to Bon was in Chinese, but none of them could point to an established transcriptional equivalent, nor did they know of a consistent translation of the name Bon in premodern Chinese. Somewhat surprisingly, if there was any term that was used more often than others to refer to Bon it may have been Dao / Tao 道 (“the Way”)! Here follow some typical replies.

    From South Coblin:


    I’m afraid I have no ready answer to this…. Anyway, I would guess that one could comb the geographical sections of the dynastic histories and related sources, to see what they say. My impression is that the usual traditional Chinese term is 黑教 [VHM: Hēi jiào, lit., "'black' doctrine"], but I don’t really know how old this is. It still has wide currency among Chinese speakers who are not professional Tibetologists.

    One thing is worth noting though. The term “Bon” has traditionally been used to denote what now are considered by professional Tibetologists to have been two different things. The first is the indigenous pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet. The other is a religion that developed after the end of the Royal Period and the introduction of Buddhism, as a sort of amalgam of indigenous beliefs and Buddhist ones. In the Old Tibetan period, the former was called Gtsug-lag, which however also included some things that today we would probably call statecraft rather than religion. The latter, i.e., the amalgam, is what the Tibetan religious histories and related sources call Bon. In traditional times, the Tibetans themselves did not make a distinction between the two and almost certainly did not understand the difference. In fact, they knew the Royal Period mainly through the received traditional histories. It has only been during the past half-century, as we have begun to study Old Tibetan (as opposed to Literary Tibetan) texts, that we have begun to understand that the two belief systems were in fact different.


    Johan Elverskog:


    To be honest, I really don't know if there ever was a distinct Chinese pre-modern term for the Bonpo. Perhaps there was one but I can't think of it. Indeed, the idea of a distinct Bonpo tradition is a rather recent development and thus in early sources they are simply heretics, shamans (wu), sorcerors (shigong), diviners etc. Stein, for example, has interesting stuff on the Dunhuang use of Bonpo. But after that it seems as if the Chinese ethnographic interest in demarking these distinct boundaries seems to weaken. More to the point, not even the Tibetans understood the Bonpo tradition as a distinct, much less acceptable, school until rather recently. Thus I suspect that the current Chinese transcription is a part of this post-rimé [VHM: trans-tibetan religiosity ushered in by the exile community. Thus above and beyond being a "ben" translation job, the sign also presents a confused (at least from the PRC-perspective) historiographical understanding of Tibet.

  31. Hermann Burchard said,

    June 1, 2011 @ 6:13 pm


    Just out of curiosity, do we have a Tibetan script version of this or related stories/ accounts of the stupas/ families/ colors? Unless this is an unfair request, just because it might look pretty although probably will not help with your current issues. Unfortunately, Google does not translate Tibetan:

    The Tibeto-Burman family of languages, often considered a branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family, consists of languages spoken in various central, east, south and southeast Asian countries, [. . .] [Wikip.]

  32. Hermann Burchard said,

    June 1, 2011 @ 6:15 pm

    Sorry, Johan Elverskog answered my question rather completely.

  33. Hermann Burchard said,

    June 1, 2011 @ 10:12 pm

    Here you can play the Bonpo mantra sung two ways as well as explained.

  34. Victor Mair said,

    June 2, 2011 @ 5:29 am

    @Hermann Burchard

    Thank you very much for that mantra (in two versions, no less)! You have enlarged my knowledge of mantras 100%.

    Thanks also for all the good discussion about the challenges of translating Heidegger. I dare say they are even more Himalayan than rendering Bon into Chinese.

  35. Joel Mielke said,

    June 3, 2011 @ 3:59 pm

    What caught my eye was the use of n dashes instead of hyphens. Typically, the problem is the opposite (hyphens used where n dashes would be appropriate).

  36. Fluxor said,

    June 6, 2011 @ 12:56 pm

    @Victor Mair: Personally, I wouldn't put too much weight on google hits for Bon in Chinese since it's a term unfamiliar to most Chinese readers and the fact the two characters look very similar may sow further confusion.

    You did mention Baidu, which uses 苯教 ( in its article referring to Bon, as does Wikipedia ( The Tibetan government's own Chinese translation also uses 苯教 ( I find these to be more authoritative than the google hits I get searching for 笨教.

  37. Anthony C. Yu said,

    June 8, 2011 @ 2:46 pm

    I thank Victor Mair for forwarding this piece of "Ben Bo Pai" translation by Chinese hacks, whose ignorance of religion and religious matters, both native and foreign, should raise the level of entries in any sort of "Book of Records." But religion, regrettably, is not the only area for displaying such cultural ignorance. Knowledge of Chinese and its many topolect variants and unique idioms is virtually non-existent. A few years back, Rey Chow sent on a PDF file on a bi-lingual menu of a Beijing restaurant specializing in "Hong Kong cuisine–i.e., Kan pai liaoli." The English renditions of all of the standard Cantonese dishes will likely make you "spray out your rice," as the Chinese say!

  38. Bill Crane said,

    June 10, 2011 @ 10:28 pm

    Dr. Martin Rundkvist, a Swedish archaeologist, posts on his blog,, on June ninth, some amusing English translations of Chinese foods and the name of a restaurant that he encountered while visiting China with his wife.

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