"Master the essence of solid"

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From the website for Royal China Group, a famous Chinese restaurant group in London:

The problem begins at the beginning:  jingcui 精粹 does not mean "master"; it means "essence".

The entire text reads as follows:

Zhōngguó yǐnshí wénhuà bódàjīngshēn,
Huángcháo nǔlì bùxiè yánshǒu zhèngzōng chuántǒng Yuècài de fēnggé,
bìng zài wèijué de lǐngyù zhōng xúnqiú túpò,
zhǎngwò gùzhōng jīngcuì


Except for the disastrous last line, the English translation is basically serviceable (mostly based on Google Translate).  But what are they trying to say in that last line?

"Zhǎngwò 掌握" really does mean "master".  The crux lies in how to analyze the grammar and syntax of the last two binoms, gùzhōng 固中 and jīngcuì 精粹 (not to mention the semantics of the former).

For the last six characters,

Google Translate has:

"Master the essence of solid"

Baidu Fanyi has:

"Mastering the essence of Guzhong"

Bing Translate has:

"Master the essence of solids"

DeepL has:

"Mastering the essence of solid China / Chinese"

[even the formidable DeepL was tripped up by Royal China's grandiose locution]

All four have jīngcuì 精粹 ("essence") governed by gùzhōng 固中 (whatever that is), which is what you would expect from the structure.

Could it be that they originally intended something like "master the essence of solidity"?  But that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, particularly not for such a florid, pompous statement as this.  Maybe they got carried away with their purple prose and lost track of their train of thought, but were vaguely intending some such vapidity as "inherent essence".

Selected readings

[Thanks to Kiewwoo Goh and Zihan Guo]


  1. AntC said,

    May 25, 2023 @ 4:17 am

    I would expect this non- English at a cubby-hole eatery in the back streets of Tsim-sha-tsui.

    But one of Royal China Group's establishments is in the heart of London's financial district, they claim. They could just ask a passing suit.

  2. Taylor, Philip said,

    May 25, 2023 @ 6:12 am

    "They could just ask a passing suit" — but what question should they ask ? If not even Victor can offer a passable translation of "掌握固中精粹", how can a member of RCG's team be expected to be able to explain to said passing suit of what they would like a more idiomatic (and transparent) rendering ?

  3. John Swindle said,

    May 25, 2023 @ 7:34 am

    Does 固中 ("in the midst of solid"?) mean something in some version of Cantonese? If not, is there another character that looks or sounds like 固 that would make sense of it?

  4. Not a naive speaker said,

    May 25, 2023 @ 9:01 am

    Someone must have been confused when selecting / creating the logo for this Royal China Group. The upper part of the logo image reminds me of the The Great Wave off Kanagawa. This is Japan, not China.

    Scroll down on the entry page and you'll find more of this high-falutin prose. The English text is created by Google Translate from the Chinese text.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    May 25, 2023 @ 9:11 am

    From Wu Hung:

    I think “固中” means “箇中” or “個中”, which means ”此中","其中“,”这里面“。。。

  6. Aardvark Cheeselog said,

    May 25, 2023 @ 3:04 pm

    This is basically a "hexapodia the key?" kind of comment but.
    Do 固中 go together? Or could it be

    掌握固 – get a really firm grasp on
    中精粹 – Chinese essence


  7. JPL said,

    May 25, 2023 @ 4:16 pm

    Having absolutely no knowledge of Chinese, Cantonese or otherwise, I could guess that the thought they were wanting to express at that point focused on Cantonese cuisine and the essence of Cantonese cuisine, so perhaps "capturing the essence of Cantonese cuisine" might express something roughly equivalent to what they wanted to express there, although I'm ignoring problems of how translation is to be done. Maybe they had a different way of referring to Cantonese cuisine that is more poetic.

  8. ~flow said,

    May 26, 2023 @ 3:32 am

    > could it be 掌握固 – get a really firm grasp on, 中精粹 – Chinese essence

    Basically no. The first half, 掌握固, is somewhat imaginable given that e.g. 掌握好 would be a perfectly quotidian resultative complement. But 中精粹 is not possible; 中華精粹 (Essence of China) or 中日精粹 (Sino-Japanese Essence) sound OK. You can't use 中 on its own to mean 'Chinese'; a wording like 中政府 ('government of China') is not grammatical (although 中共 'CCP' *is* grammatical). It's all about the balance I guess.

  9. John Swindle said,

    May 26, 2023 @ 4:41 am

    @Not a naive speaker: Unless the "waves" are Chinese lions or possibly stylized fleas.

  10. Theo said,

    May 26, 2023 @ 2:36 pm

    Wu Hung's solution (箇中) was my first instinct too.

  11. Joshua K. said,

    May 27, 2023 @ 4:07 pm

    I don't understand this post: "jingcui 精粹 does not mean "master"; it means "essence"."

    So what would that be? Instead of "master the essence of solid," should it have been "essence the essence of solid"? They already had "essence" in the translation.

    It seems that the problem is with the word translated as "solid," not the words translated as "master" or "essence."

  12. John Swindle said,

    May 28, 2023 @ 3:26 am

    So, thanks to Wu Hung, 掌握箇中精粹 zhǎngwò gèzhōng jīngcuì "master the essence of it" or "master the essence of these."

  13. Victor Mair said,

    May 28, 2023 @ 5:06 am

    @Joahua K.:

    As indicated in the post, "jingcui 精粹 does not mean "master"; it means "essence"." is not the only problem with the text, it's just the beginning.

  14. Joshua K. said,

    May 29, 2023 @ 1:58 am

    Victor: I understand now. I had been focused entirely on the last sentence and missed the title in large print which says "Master" in English but has immediately below it the Chinese for "essence".

  15. Vampyricon said,

    July 3, 2023 @ 9:48 am

    I'd translate it was "Master the essence within." Within what? Who knows? The phrase is there for the vibes, not the substance, so the vibes would suffice.

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