Vulgar village vernacular

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This Chinese article is about a man who has made a living by painting slogans and ads on village walls for thirty years. Some of the slogans are rather bizarre, as may be seen by looking at the many photographs in the article.

The article says it is such a well-paying job that the man was able to buy 6 apartments in his hometown with his earnings. Painting on walls is one of the major ways to advertise or propagate goods and ideas in the countryside.

There are many examples of such signs in the article, but I couldn't understand all of them upon first glance, so I wondered if the country folk would be able to read the signs. I asked a number of my graduate students from China, and they all said, yes, the country folk not only would be able to read them, but would enjoy them and would be motivated to buy the products and services promoted by the signs.

One of my informants opined:

I actually think each of them makes sense. An easier way to be comprehended by the Chinese local peasants. They usually rhyme, in a specific cadence (either penta- or heptasyllabic), or appropriate old, local, vernacular sayings / proverbs to provide a setting for the peasant readers’ comprehension. hahaha! but they are very hilarious!!

Some of the advertisements are closely related to the everyday life of the villagers (such as agricultural products and tools), and some other advertisements and political propaganda markedly influence their lives (such as online shopping, mobile payments, and family planning / childbearing policies).

Nonetheless, I suspect that there is a strong gender bias in these signs, with many of them being directed at men rather than women.  Here's a bit of evidence in support of that impression.

One of the most frequently occurring words on the signs is "lǎopo 老婆", which can mean "old lady / woman", but in these signs it usually has the colloquial meaning of "wife".  This exactly mirrors the usage of "old lady" in colloquial English to mean "wife", even though she might be young.

In this colloquial setting, if you really want to mean "old lady", then you'd say "lǎopór 老婆儿" ("old biddy", "old woman" [with tones of intimacy], though this could still mean "wife") or "lǎopópo 老婆婆" ("old woman", especially as used by children):

  1. (childish) granny; old lady
  2. (regional, colloquial) husband's mother; mother-in-law
  3. (dialectal Gan) great-grandmother


Another common term for "wife" is "xífù 媳妇" ("son's wife; daughter-in-law; married woman; young woman"), also spoken / written as "xífur 媳妇儿", while  "ér xífù 儿媳妇" is often used for  "daughter-in-law" — from the mother-in-law's point of view.

The following are the signs with "lǎopo 老婆" or “xífù 媳妇” in the article:

Hǎi'ěr kòngtiáo mǎi de duì, lǎopó cáinéng lǒuzhe shuì


Once you make the right decision to buy a Haier air conditioner, you can hug your wife to sleep.

Yòng shǒujī xuǎn Píngguǒ iPhone, lǎopó jiārén bèi'er yǒu miànzi

用手机选苹果iPhone, 老婆家人倍儿有面子

If you choose Apple iPhone as your cell, your wife and family will gain a lot of face (be greatly honored).

Dāng Éle me wàimài qíshǒu, lǎopó fángzi zài yě bù chóu


If you work as a takeout delivery rider for, you will no longer worry about wife and house (getting married and buying a house).

Bìguìyuán fáng mǎi de zǎo, xífù qǔ dé bǐ rén hǎo


If you make an early decision on buying an apartment in Biguiyuan, you will marry a better wife.

Huājiāo zhíbò wán de hǎo, xífù qǔ dé bǐ rén zǎo


If you play Huajiao live streaming well, you can marry a wife earlier than others.

I suppose getting married is the top priority for country lads and their parents, so "lǎopo 老婆" or “xífù 媳妇” often appear on the signs to galvanize them to  believe in the ads.

A diverse assortment of observations from my informants:


I remember that whenever I traveled in Chinese rural areas, especially several years ago when I was a kid, I could always see those handwritten signs painted on the sidewalls of buildings. I think those who painted them were employed to do so as their jobs, and the contents they wrote were assigned by the local governments or businesses. Some were commercial advertising, including agricultural machinery, fertilizer, pesticides, or network operators and banks, among others; and some were slogans used for propaganda purposes, on for example China's Family Planning policy  ("One Child Policy" in previous years, and now the "Three-child Policy" ), and now even on COVID (e.g., mask mandates, travel restrictions, social gathering limits, etc.).


This article mainly focuses on those handwritten commercial advertisements in Chinese rural areas, and how the changing contents reflect the changing situation of Chinese rural economics. Many of these signs seem ridiculous, nonsensical, and sometimes even vulgar, which manifests the limited education level and underdevelopment in rural China to some extent. 


This kind of sign often reminds me of the wall-mounted Big-character Posters during the Cultural Revolution and socialist propaganda.

If one did a study of such signs in the past 30 or 40 years, he might have a clearer vision of what has changed or remained unchanged in the countryside of China.


Selected readings


[Thanks to Tong Wang, Shuheng Zhang, Yijie Zhang, Zihan Guo, and  Chenfeng Wang]


  1. Scott P. said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 10:37 am

    These pithy sayings remind me a bit of the old Burma Shave ads:

    Your shaving brush / Has had its day / So why not / Shave the modern way / With / Burma-Shave

  2. Claw said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 11:51 am

    The last two also feature the same grammatical error – the use of 的 where 得 should be used:

    *买的早 → 买得早
    *玩的好 → 玩得好

  3. Steve Jones said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 12:06 pm

    From my 1990s’ trips to Hebei villages, my favourite is 女儿也是传后人, the image that heads this article
    For comments (based on my book Plucking the Winds), see under “Rural sexism” in

  4. KevinM said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 7:34 pm

    There's a sign on the CT turnpike that shares the same man buys/woman is pleased sexist template. It has gained acceptance through longevity, and people are sort of fond of it. The advertiser is a swimming pool company; the slogan is "Your Wife is Hot."

  5. Akito said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 9:27 pm

    A learner of Chinese with no specialist knowledge here. I have the impression that the choice of 的, 得, or 地 used as a particle has no historical foundation. These characters may have been introduced on an ad hoc basis, without regard to their meanings, when spoken language (白話) began to be written down in the modern period. (I take it that classical written language generally didn't show grammatical particles.) Then it's quite understandable if people don't pay much attention to the "correct" choice.

  6. Claw said,

    August 23, 2021 @ 11:49 am

    > I have the impression that the choice of 的, 得, or 地 used as a particle has no historical foundation.

    There actually is historical foundation for the separate characters though, and it's also evidenced by the fact that other varieties of Chinese continue to pronounce these words (when used in their grammatical particle sense) with separate pronunciations, even though their pronunciations had merged into a single unstressed 'de' in modern Mandarin Chinese. For some more background on their origins, refer to the following:

    > I take it that classical written language generally didn't show grammatical particles.

    Classical Chinese features many grammatical particles, though they differed from the particles used in modern Chinese. In fact, the idiom 之乎者也, which are four of the most often occurring particles in Classical Chinese, is sometimes used metonymically to refer to text written in the style of Classical Chinese. Nor was Classical Chinese a static language; even though it had a distinct style that did not keep up with the changes to the spoken language, vernacular features did creep into it over time. This included the usages of characters that evolved into the modern Chinese particles.

  7. Akito said,

    August 23, 2021 @ 9:47 pm

    Thank you, Claw, for clarifying the origins of the particle use of 的, 得, and 地, and for pointing me to the relevant article. Much appreciated. I had thought the /di/ pronunciation of 的 in singing was mere spelling pronunciation.

  8. tom Davidson said,

    August 26, 2021 @ 5:15 pm

    And Akito, don't forget 滴 as in 好滴!

  9. Akito said,

    August 26, 2021 @ 8:00 pm

    @tom Davidson:
    For the unstressed/reduced/neutralized /də/ as a particle, I am only familiar with 的, 得, 地 and 底. Is the 滴 in 好滴 also pronounced /də/? Is it Putonghua?

  10. Akito said,

    August 27, 2021 @ 12:48 am

    A fellow student has just told me 好滴 was Internet slang for 好的. Thanks.

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