Sexist tech ad

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The news about sexism in China's high tech industry is out and it's all over the internet:

The most damning account of all comes in Lijia Zhang's "Chinese Tech Companies’ Dirty Secret" (New York Times Opinion, 4/23/18), which includes a video presentation.  At 1:34, there's a job ad from the Chinese tech company Meituan which is so disgusting that I've purposely put the screenshots on the second page.  (What follows in the video is even more repulsive.)  I didn't want to pass up the Meituan ad altogether, however, because it does have an interesting linguistic hook.

zhǎo gōngzuò = zhǎo nǚrén 找工作=找女人

gàn nǐ zuì xiǎng gàn de 干你最想干的

You can see for yourself how the creators of the New York Times video translated those lines into English.  If it weren't for the prurient purpose of the ad (note the whole series of posters on the wall behind showing the bottom half of a woman in various stages of undress), the second line would have been better translated as "Do what you want to do most".

The admen are intentionally playing with the infamous gàn 干 ("do; f*ck"; it also has many other meanings, including, when read in first tone, "dry"), with which we here at Language Log are thoroughly familiar:

— to cite only a few of the many posts in which the grotesquely polysemous gàn 干 is featured.

These ads may strike us as unimaginable, but in a country where gross gender inequality is a fact of life, they are not unexpected.  So far as I know, there has never been a female member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, perhaps not even of the Politburo itself.  Nor am I aware of female members of the equivalent of our Cabinet, though I do remember one female State Councilor.  Occasionally there have been and still are female Foreign Ministry spokespersons who can cutely reprimand other nations for not obeying China's dictates.

[Thanks to Ben Zimmer, June Teufel Dreyer, and Yana Way]


  1. siweiluozi said,

    April 24, 2018 @ 9:10 pm

    You're right about no female members of the Politburo Standing Committee, but there has been one woman on the Politburo for the past several iterations (Sun Chunlan, currently, and Wu Yi, previously). Zhou Enlai's widow, Deng Yingchao, was on the PB in the early '80s, and of course Jiang Qing was a PB member during the Cultural Revolution. So, a total of four. Not a stellar representation.

  2. Jeremy Daum said,

    April 24, 2018 @ 9:22 pm

    Seems like they could have even preserved the pun, as English allows 'to do someone' as a crude sexual reference as well.

  3. Michael Watts said,

    April 25, 2018 @ 12:39 am

    Jeremy, the pun cannot be preserved — while English does mirror the double entendre for "do", the Chinese does not draw the mandatory-in-English gender distinction between personate "who" and nonpersonate "what".

    In English, putting together a grammatical sentence requires you to choose between

    Do what you want to do most.


    Do who[ever] you want to do most.

    But those are the same sentence in the ad.

  4. ZZZWWW said,

    April 25, 2018 @ 5:17 am

    Do the one you want to do most.

  5. Bathrobe said,

    April 25, 2018 @ 9:29 am

    Damn it, I knew I'd picked the wrong industry!

  6. Rodger C said,

    April 26, 2018 @ 7:06 am

    "What has he done?" "A woman." —Measure for Measure.

  7. Jose Pedro said,

    April 27, 2018 @ 2:37 pm

    "These ads may strike us as unimaginable"

    Who is "us" here?

    That ad could EASILY have been used in the Americas and Europe in tech trade mags and such, and there were plenty of similar ads even in mainstream media in the past within the last 5 years.

    (Not to mention the current leader of the "free world" and his altright/gamergate helpers.)

    Two words: "American Apparel"

    Also, the reaction of tech bros to ads that don't fit their expectations:

  8. Eidolon said,

    May 1, 2018 @ 5:38 pm

    @Jose Pedro

    American advertisements are less crass about their sexism, as even your own examples demonstrate. But I distinctly remember a time, perhaps two decades ago or more ago, when blatantly sexist and similarly crass ads were more normal. The effects of modern feminism on social sensibilities are recent. Of course, it has yet to catch on in China. Although, there are many signs of progress, for example in the number of women in management positions in Chinese companies.

  9. tertu said,

    May 2, 2018 @ 8:19 am

    Translating it as “do what you want to do” would be appropriate, in my view. It comes off as appropriately crass and somewhat dehumanizing as well.

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