The ShangRing device

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Francis Miller sent in this photograph of a lollapalooza of a Chinglish banner (click to embiggen):

When I first glanced at the English translation, I thought that I might be hallucinating from the heat in Philadelphia and from overwork:

Warmly Welcome WHO Expert Team to Manufacturing SiteInspection for Prequalification of Male Circumcision Device 'ShangRing'

Most troubling was "ShangRing". Was that meant to mean "On / Up (shàng 上) Ring"? (Cf. at the end of this recent Language Log post.) But, even if that's what was intended, it wouldn't make any sense in the context of the whole banner.

To steady myself, I tried as calmly as I could to look at the Chinese, but the delirium only intensified:

Rèliè huānyíng WHO zhuānjiā zǔ lìlín shèng dà yīliáo shēngchǎn xiànchǎng shěnhé, zhǐdǎo gōngzuò


"Warmly welcome the team of experts from WHO who are in attendance at the production site of St. Great (or University?) Medical to inspect and direct the work."

That was slightly reassuring, since I now knew roughly what the banner was about, but was troubled by "St. Great" (or whatever) and the fact that I still had no clue what "ShangRing" was all about, much less what "Prequalification of Male Circumcision Device" pertained to, since neither of those elements were present in the Chinese.

I took a walk around the block, breathed in deeply, and started googling. Before long, I came to the realization that there is indeed a device for performing male circumcisions that is called the "Shang Ring" after its inventor, Jianzhong Shang. Apparently this device has shown great promise for HIV prevention, especially in African countries, and even Bill Gates has apparently expressed enthusiasm for the Shang Ring (link, link, link, link).

All right, on to the next problem. What is this shèng dà 圣大 ("St. Great") that seems to modify yīliáo 医疗 ("medical")? Google Translate and Baidu online translation service both say that it is equal to "Santa", but I rather doubt that, so I start looking around again, and before long I find that it is part of the name of the company that produces the Shang Ring:

Wúhú shèng dà yīliáo qìxiè jìshù yǒuxiàn gōngsī


Wuhu SNNDA Medical Treatment Appliance Technology Co., Ltd.

This company is located in the Hi-tech. & Pioneering Service Center at North Yinhu Road, Wuhu Economic & Technological Development Zone, Wuhu 241001, China. Wuhu is located in Anhui Province. So shèng dà 圣大 = SNNDA, which must stand for something important to the company.

You learn something new every day in Chinglish Studies. In this instance, the lesson I came away with was that, even when the Chinglish translation is trying to be helpful by telling you more (by way of explanation or amplification) than is in the Chinese, it may actually lead you astray in other ways.

Oh, in case you were wondering, the word for circumcision in Chinese is huánqiēshù 环切术 ("circular cutting operation") or gēlǐ 割礼 (lit., "cutting ceremony").


  1. Jon Weinberg said,

    July 24, 2013 @ 9:24 pm

    Near as I can tell, the English text on the banner conveys a warm welcome for the WHO expert team that is doing a site inspection relating to WHO's approval of a male circumcision device called the ShangRing — and it turns out, on examination, than all that is exactly correct. So the English text, notwithstanding the noun pile, is just fine. Am I missing something?

  2. David Morris said,

    July 24, 2013 @ 10:55 pm

    Knowing almost zero Chinese, I assumed that 'shang' was either childish or rudeish for 'penis', and that the problem was one of register.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    July 24, 2013 @ 11:09 pm

    @Jon Weinberg


  4. maidhc said,

    July 25, 2013 @ 1:44 am

    St. Great sounds like some minor British educational institution. I suppose I'm influenced by "Greats" at Oxford.

    I can't help being reminded of W.C. Fields in International House (1933) arriving in his autogyro. "Where am I?" "Wuhu!" replies Peggy Hopkins Joyce. I can't find the scene online unfortunately.

  5. Milan said,

    July 25, 2013 @ 5:32 am

    @David Morris

    My impression was quite similar. I associated "shang" with "shank" one the hand and the verb "to shag" in it's British slang meaning on the other hand. These associations, one belonging to slang and the other being unsettlingly explicit, made the word appear definitely rude and not childish.

  6. David Morris said,

    July 25, 2013 @ 7:41 am

    Yes, I thought it was more likely to be rude-ish rather than childish, but I was doubling my chances. For some reason, I've been thinking about cock-rings all day, but they're not for circumcision. (Well, maybe …)

  7. Victor Mair said,

    July 25, 2013 @ 7:53 am


    And then there's the interjection wūhū 嗚呼 ("alas!"), longer form wūhū'āizāi 嗚呼哀哉 ("alas and alack!").

  8. jan said,

    July 25, 2013 @ 7:57 am

    "The ShangRing Device" sounds like a Star Trek episode.

  9. Andrew Bay said,

    July 25, 2013 @ 8:05 am

    Since the ShangRing was in quotes, it primed me to expect it to be a name. At least they aren't trying to qualify the circumcision device from Robin Hood: Men in Tights. The sentence may be missing some verbs and other connectors, it succeeds in conveying the desired message.

  10. Wentao said,

    July 25, 2013 @ 10:26 am

    My first reaction to "ShangRing" is actually 上环 – not Sheung Wan the neighborhood in Hong Kong, but the female contraception method. Probably the reference to circumcision led my thoughts to the reproductive system.

    Also, circumcision is usually referred to as 包皮环切术, adding "foreskin". I believe 割礼 can only be used in Judaic contexts.

  11. Mr Punch said,

    July 25, 2013 @ 10:29 am

    The English was quite clear to me, except that I assumed ShangRing was all Chinese.

  12. Neil Dolinger said,

    July 25, 2013 @ 12:34 pm

    Could the notable difference in the meanings of the Chinese and English versions signify that the translator was not only fluent in both languages but in both cultures as well? A team of English-speaking scientists or engineers, particularly in a medical field, would not be put off by non-euphemistic terms used with sex organs. On the other hand, AFAIK, many lay Chinese in the community could very well be offended if the Chinese version had the full meaning of the English version.

  13. Jason said,

    July 25, 2013 @ 7:36 pm

    Could the notable difference in the meanings of the Chinese and English versions signify that the translator was not only fluent in both languages but in both cultures as well?

    In no way could that translation be described as "fluent". I'll grant that it's quite comprehensible, unlike most of the Chinglish we see on the blog, but not fluent.

    "ShangRing", on the other hands, is a marketing nightmare of a name. It couldn't be much worse if they called it the "Wangcisor". Let's hope they hire an English marketing firm before bringing it to prime time.

  14. J said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 3:58 am

    Maybe the translator felt the need to explain what SNNDA was in English but assumed that the Chinese audience of the banner would already be aware of what ShengDaYiLiao is.

    I am not sure why Prof. Mair feels the need to insert fantastical translations of proper nouns like ShengDa (there are other examples in previous posts). It was pretty obvious to me that it was a name for some sort of medical organization, which in the absence of a known English or other name for the company, should just be translated as the Pinyin without tones.

  15. Victor Mair said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 7:04 am


    I would not have felt the need to translate shèng dà 圣大 if SNNDA were in the English (even though nobody seems to know the meaning of SNNDA either).

    I showed the banner to about a dozen native speakers of Chinese and half a dozen advanced non-native speakers. They were all perplexed by shèng dà 圣大, with some of them registering it more or less as I have translated above). It is my practice to provide translations in similar situations whenever I encounter them and verify that native speakers are puzzled by Chinese locutions. The ungainly English translations are an effort to convey for those who do not know Chinese the sense of uncertainty and unease felt by native speakers who cannot grasp exactly what they mean.

    As for those who allege that the English wording on the banner is straightforward and easy to understand, I can only gulp in amazement, since everybody I have shown it to thinks that it is very difficult to follow. I suppose, though, that for those who have taken the time to read through the analysis in my post, in retrospect, it does make some sort of sense, despite the extraordinary awkwardness.

  16. Ellen K. said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 7:58 am

    Curiously, it seem to me, "warmly welcome" is something that's clearly different from what a native speaker would write, but straight forward and easy to understand. The rest is not so clearly not a native speaker, but much more opaque as far as meaning.

    "SiteInspection" is decidedly odd, but that's typography rather than word choice. Same with the capitalization. I recall on the first reading wondering if that was intentional (the writer meant the two words to run together) or not.

    It reads a bit like legalese or headlinese. In other words, it comes across like a register of English that we expect to be opaque at times.

  17. Victor Mair said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 11:50 am

    @Ellen K.

    "Warmly welcome" is standard Chinese English for rèliè huānyíng 熱烈歡迎, a constant formulation when visiting guests and delegations arrive at a school, factory, hospital, or other "unit".

    Modifiers are so ubiquitously attached to nouns and verbs in Chinese that when translating we are often tempted to omit them. Here are two from Classical sources:

    bǎojiàn 寶劍 ("precious sword")

    míngyuè 明月 ("bright moon")

    Sometimes I get the distinct impression that the first syllable(s) of such expressions are added more for rhetorical and prosodic, rhythmic purposes than for their semantic content. Chinese, as many of us have noticed all along and as Perry Link has recently shown so convincingly (in his new book), has a fondness for 2- and 4-syllable expressions. As a matter of fact, as I have often pointed out, the average length of a Chinese WORD is almost exactly two syllables.

  18. Neil Dolinger said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 1:42 pm

    @ Jason, I guess fluency is in the eye of the beholder. To me, fluency does not require native-speaker proficiency, just an ability to make oneself understood by the majority of listeners or readers. AFAIK, this is the standard that many fluency grading systems use as well.

    @Dr. Mair, maybe it's because site inspection in China is part of what I do for a living. Except for the "ShangRing", I had no trouble understanding the English in this banner, even before your very interesting analysis. This notwithstanding the run-on typography of SiteInspection or the lack of definite articles. I am curious, how did other readers parse the English other than the intended meaning?

  19. Jason said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 4:42 pm

    Also, I'm interested to see the exclamation mark in the Chinese text, but not the English text. Has the exclamation mark been wholly incorporated into Chinese orthography? Is there no Chinese equivalent?

  20. Milan said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 4:57 pm

    I (not being a native speaker) parsed the whole clause as imperative at first: The readers are advised to "warmly welcome" the WHO expert team, but the context made it clear to me that this was not the intended meaning. Politeness dictates that such orders are given in such a way that those who are concerned to not notice it. I was also put off by "Manufacturing SiteInspection"—not so much by the wrong spacing in itself, but the perceived implication that "Manufacturing" modified "SiteInspection." I really wondered what an inspection could manufacture.
    Last but not least I was baffled by the use of "Shang", which I genuinely believed to be a slang term at first. Being confronted with unknown an impenetrable slang is a familiar experience for a non-native speaker, so some of use probably develop a habit of assuming slang when being confronted with new words in certain contexts, of which reproductive organs most certainly is one. Besides the similarity to "shank" and "to shag" was tempting.

  21. Victor Mair said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 5:04 pm

    @Neil Dolinger

    "site inspection in China is part of what [you] do for a living" — so you've probably seen lots of banners like this and are familiar with what is expected of the genre.

    Most of the people I asked about the English (who don't know Chinese and have never been to China) just threw up their hands in flabbergastation; others simply laughed or said something snarky. The "Warmly Welcome" at the beginning and the 'ShangRing' at the end, plus everything jumbled together and running on at such great length in between, seem to have thrown them for a loop, so to speak, so they really didn't even get to the point of seriously trying to parse the English on the banner.


    During the 20th century, after experimenting with some comparable marks of their own devising, the Chinese came to accept the Western system of punctuation lock, stock, and barrel. That includes the exclamation point, which they use the same way we do. In Classical Chinese, there were particles that were pronounced that played a similar role to our unpronounced punctuation marks.

  22. Brett said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 6:13 pm

    @Neil Dolinger: I, as an American with no knowledge at all of Chinese, understood what the English meant as soon as I looked at the picture, before reading any of the post. I certainly noticed the oddities in the translation that people here have pointed to, but the overall meaning was quite clear.

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