Mistakes in a fraudulent Chinese letter to the Israeli consul in Chengdu

« previous post | next post »

From the Twitter / X account of the famous popular science writer and muckraker, Fang Zhouzi / Fang Shimin:

Text of Fang Zhouzi's tweet:

Yǐsèliè lǐngshìguǎn gōngbù de zhè fēng “yīgè mòshēng Zhōngguó rén de láixìn”, yīnggāi shì zài diànnǎo shàng xiě hǎo, dǎyìn chūlái, ránhòu zài chāoxiě. Suǒyǐ yǒu shūrù cuòwù, bǎ “gōngyuán” shūrù chéngle “gōngyuán” (shūxiě zhǐ huì bǎ “gōngyuán” cuò chéng “gōngyuán”, bù huì fǎn guòlái). Chāoxiě de rén xiězì shuǐpíng tài chà, zuì chángjiàn de jiǎndān de zì “qiě” “jǐ” “zǔ” dōu xiě cuòle, Zhōngguó dī niánjí xiǎoxuéshēng xiě zhèxiē zì yě bù kěnéng cuò.


The "letter from a Chinese stranger" published by the Israeli consulate must have been written on a computer, printed out, and then transcribed. So there was an input error, and "park" was entered instead of "AD" (writing will only mistake "park" for "AD", not the other way around). The copyist's writing skills are too poor. The most common simple characters "and", "self" and "group" are all written wrong. It is impossible even for Chinese lower grade primary school students to write these words wrongly.

The letter is addressed to Gadi Harpaz, the Israeli consul in Chengdu.  You can enlarge the image greatly by clicking on it, then clicking on the original tweet image that appears, so that the details of the letter, including the faint, gray electronic watermark of the Israeli consulate at the bottom right, may be seen more clearly.

I will not speculate on who wrote the letter or what their motivations for doing so were, but only point out that Fang Zhouzi has cast serious doubt upon the genuineness of the letter, which is in deep sympathy with the Israeli people and strongly condemns Hamas, Hezbollah. and Houthis.

Selected readings

[h.t. rit malors]


  1. Jonathan Smith said,

    November 19, 2023 @ 10:09 pm

    *double "的" at end of first/ beginning of 2nd line
    *分辨的出来 should be 分辨得出来
    *the writing screams years of practice, NOT a lifetime of practice (I would know :( )
    *but weirder/stupider is simply the content; the notion that a random Chinese citizen would write a letter to the Israeli Consulate bothering to spell out the history of the region in such partisan terms is bizarre.

  2. Kakurady said,

    November 20, 2023 @ 4:09 pm

    Replacement of 地/得 with 的 is quite common (the Duolingo course I'm taking never uses 地/得), but I don't know if this usage is officially approved.

  3. Philip Taylor said,

    November 21, 2023 @ 5:10 am

    Would it be possible, for the benefit of those of us who cannot read or write more than a handful of hanzi, to explain how the characters “公元” (“gōngyuán”) can mean “AD” (presumably Anno Domini) and yet if the writer surrounds the second character with a short-legged box so as to cause the pair to read “公园” (also “gōngyuán”), they now mean “park” ? And is this “park” as in “green space for recreation” or “park” as in “leave a motor vehicle in a stationary position” ?

  4. John Swindle said,

    November 21, 2023 @ 8:30 am

    @Philip: Good questions. The Chinese word 公元 gōngyuán is used for A.D. but is literally "Common Era" (C.E.). The word 公园 (simplified) or 公園 (traditional), also gōngyuán, is best translated "park," as in that green space, but the characters mean "public" (or "common") "garden." The two terms have "common" in common!

    In writing by hand someone might mistakenly use 公元 for 公园, either forgetfully (there are various characters pronounced yuán) or because the former is shorter, but would be less likely to make the opposite mistake.

  5. Michael Watts said,

    November 22, 2023 @ 4:32 am

    the writing screams years of practice, NOT a lifetime of practice

    I would be surprised to see a Chinese person produce writing that looked like that; the note is easily legible to me. Natural handwriting is, in my experience, not like that.

    But I can believe that someone might make the effort to write in a more print-like style if they knew they were addressing a Westerner. (Why use handwriting at all?)

    I would be interested to know what the mistakes are that Fang Zhouzi identifies in 且 and 己.

    The Chinese word 公元 gōngyuán is used for A.D. but is literally "Common Era" (C.E.).

    Well, note that in modern English-language scholarship the terminology "AD" appears to be considered offensive and has itself been replaced by CE for "common era". Similarly, "BC" has been replaced by "BCE". I have never seen anyone attempt to explain why it isn't offensive for the Common Era to be fixed to the notional birth of Christ.

    The Chinese term 公元 is presumably just a direct translation of the English.

  6. Michael Watts said,

    November 22, 2023 @ 4:36 am

    I would be interested to know what the mistakes are that Fang Zhouzi identifies in 且 and 己.

    Never mind; I was looking at the first image and there were instances of those two characters that looked fine to me, but I see that the second image has miswritten characters which have been highlighted.

  7. Michael Watts said,

    November 22, 2023 @ 4:40 am

    For use of 的 in place of the other identically pronounced semantically empty particles: at least one Chinese person of my acquaintance doesn't know the difference, and several more say it's not something to worry about. So that particular issue doesn't carry much evidentiary weight.

  8. Taylor, Philip said,

    November 22, 2023 @ 12:45 pm

    Michael — « note that in modern English-language scholarship the terminology "AD" appears to be considered offensive » — I’m not sure that I agree with the designation "offensive". It is, I would agree, insensitive to the fact that not all who encounter the abbreviation will necessarily agree that this year (for example) is "the year of our Lord two thousand and twenty three", simply because their Lord (if they even believe in such a concept) was not necessarily born 2023 years ago. But just because something is insensitive does not necessarily imply that it is also offensive, does it ? And even if it is offensive for some readers, it is most certainly not offensive for all. A Google Ngrams search for "2000 AD" finds approximately 200 times as many occurrences as the search for "2000 CE" (0.0000100 vs. 0.000000550%)

  9. Michael Watts said,

    November 23, 2023 @ 9:24 am

    Whether it's offensive or not doesn't have much bearing on whether it's considered offensive. These kinds of linguistic "reforms" tend to come from people who want to make a change for which popular demand doesn't exist, not from popular demand making inroads on people who were happy with the way they were talking.

  10. /df said,

    November 23, 2023 @ 9:43 am

    As the abbreviation AD has no explicit attribution, atheists and other heathens can simply infer "the Christians'" rather than "our" (christianorum rather than nostri, if you will). Changing the name without changing the base, say to the year of the first Model T Ford, is just tokenism (written this year of our Ford 115).

    Similarly you can just say "TV" without having to worry that one letter stands for a Greek word and one for a Latin word ("no good can come of it").

RSS feed for comments on this post