Racist Park

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Liwei Jiao sent in a selection of signs from a Chinese website that was originally part of a collection assembled in the Daily Mail. We've seen most of these Chinglish signs before, and have already discussed several of them over the years. But this one is new, at least to me, and unusually inept:


mínzú yuán 民族园 ([Minority] Nationalities Park)

The mistake arises from making the wrong choice among the multiple meanings of the word mínzú 民族 ("ethnic group; race; nationality; people").

The reason this mistranslation is particularly inappropriate is because of the infamous (but not historically accurate) sign at the entrance to Huangpu Park in semi-colonial Shanghai — "No dogs or Chinese allowed" — which is one of the most frequent instantiations of racism from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


  1. Plane said,

    May 17, 2013 @ 6:13 pm

    Apparently this sign was removed in 2007. From an engrish.com blog post:

    "These photos were referenced in the news quite a bit last year when talking about China cleaning up their Engrish in preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympics. The sign no longer exists […]"

    Still quite interesting, of course!

  2. Gene Buckley said,

    May 17, 2013 @ 8:08 pm

    This reminds me a bit of when I was in Greece years ago and saw billboards for what initially seemed like an "Ethnic Bank"; but then I realized that Εθνική Τράπεζα just means "National Bank."

  3. Q. Pheevr said,

    May 17, 2013 @ 8:18 pm

    @Plane: I remember that!

  4. Brendan said,

    May 17, 2013 @ 9:57 pm

    2007 might actually be a little late for the date of removal — I remember seeing these signs circa 2004 or so, but I think they got cleaned up around 2005/6, in advance of the Olympics. A shame — it was a rare case of truth in advertising.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    May 17, 2013 @ 10:56 pm


    I didn't catch it right away, but after a couple of seconds, wham! It hit me really hard!

  6. Michael C Dunn said,

    May 17, 2013 @ 11:44 pm

    Gene Buckley:

    "This reminds me a bit of when I was in Greece years ago and saw billboards for what initially seemed like an "Ethnic Bank"; but then I realized that Εθνική Τράπεζα just means "National Bank."

    Or, more literally still, "ethnic trapeze."

  7. maidhc said,

    May 18, 2013 @ 12:01 am

    Tacoma WA has a Chinese Reconciliation Park built recently as an apology for the racist treatment of Chinese immigrants in the 19th century.

  8. Will said,

    May 18, 2013 @ 1:51 am

    Wasn't this written about on this very site in the past? http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/004417.html

  9. Victor Mair said,

    May 18, 2013 @ 6:28 am

    The historical memory displayed in the above comments is both valued and appreciated.

  10. Dan Lufkin said,

    May 18, 2013 @ 9:42 am

    Could we take a moment to discuss how "trapeze" and "bank" are related?
    Something more wonkish than "takes wild swings."

  11. Rodger C said,

    May 18, 2013 @ 12:03 pm

    @Dan: Τράπεζα is a table. T\You count money on it, or you stand on it and swing around. Hopefully not at the same time.

  12. Jacques said,

    May 18, 2013 @ 12:29 pm

    τράπεζα = bank;
    τραπέζι = table;
    but of course it is possible that the two words are related.

  13. Keith said,

    May 18, 2013 @ 5:04 pm

    "τράπεζα = bank;
    τραπέζι = table;
    but of course it is possible that the two words are related."

    Undoubtedly, in the same way that "banc" and "banque" are related.

  14. Ellen K. said,

    May 19, 2013 @ 6:11 am

    Regarding bank/trapeze/table, how do these comments about table answer the question (or even have anything to do with the question) of how bank and trapeze are related?

  15. Chris Waugh said,

    May 19, 2013 @ 7:12 am

    I concur with Brendan, the sign has been gone for a long time. It was on the old Badaling Expressway not far south of its interchange with the 4th Ring Road and provided a little amusement on the bus ride out to Yanqing. Brendan's timing is about right.

  16. Rodger C said,

    May 19, 2013 @ 12:04 pm

    @Ellen K.: I thought I'd covered that.

    Trapeza is the original word for "table"; trapezi is Classical trapezion 'little table'.

  17. Ellen K. said,

    May 20, 2013 @ 1:47 pm

    So, was Michael C. Dunn wrong to say it's literally, "ethnic trapeze" and trapezes have nothing to do with anything, other than a presumed etymological connection with the Greek word for table?

  18. Alon Lischinsky said,

    May 21, 2013 @ 8:02 am

    @Ellen K.: let's work that out.

    English trapeze ‘gymnastic apparatus’ is a borrowing from French ‘trapèze’, with the same meaning. The device in question was presumably so-called because the ropes and cross-bars formed a geometrical trapèze ‘trapezium, quadrilateral figure with two parallel and two non-parallel sides’. This sense is from Medieval Latin trapezium, used to translate Ancient Greek τραπέζιον (trapézion), a geometrical term of art coined by Euclid. The same term had the non-specialist meaning ‘little table’, being the diminutive of τράπεζα (trápeza, ‘table’).

    Which brings us to banks. The English term is a doublet of bench, and it originally referred to the counter on which a money-trader did business. Rather than seeing this counter as a bench, Greek sees it as a table, but the logic is the same.

  19. Chris Miller said,

    May 29, 2013 @ 1:44 pm

    Yes, I never fail to experience a discreet frisson of amusement when I pass by the National Bank of Greece branch on Montreal's Park Avenue in the Mile End neighbourhood, and allow myself to read it as the "Hellenic Ethnic Trapeze"!

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