Ace love

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Photograph of an artistic arrangement on the wall of a tea shop in Philadelphia's Chinatown.

(Nothing can be done about the shadows behind the characters and the letters, because they are affixed to the wall in such a way that they stand out from it.)

iiù nián chuán chá qíng
"six years transmitting affection for tea"

bǎi nián chuán rén ài
"a hundred years transmitting love for people"

The English translation on the wall is:

After six years of tea affection,

a hundred years of ace love.

After showing this to about thirty native speaker graduate students and not one of them being able to understand what is meant by "ace love" nor where the "ace" part comes from in the Chinese, I ran down to Chinatown myself and asked the staff and management of the shop what gives with "ace love". There were approximately ten of them working there at the time. None of them could answer my question about "ace love", and they didn't seem to be bothered by that. The best that a couple of them could come up with is that "ace love" means "passion", but none of them could correlate that with anything in the Chinese.

The boba tea was excellent — tasted like real tea (mine was oolong) well prepared, the atmosphere was pleasant, and the staff were cheerful.

[Thanks to Nick Tursi and Zhaofei Chen]


  1. Nick said,

    April 4, 2024 @ 1:05 pm

    Perhaps a tennis pun of some kind?

  2. V said,

    April 4, 2024 @ 1:10 pm

    Maybe a LLM picking up on "ace love" as a shorthand for "asexual love"?

  3. V said,

    April 4, 2024 @ 1:15 pm

    "Ace" is used frequently as a shorthand for "asexual".

  4. KeithB said,

    April 4, 2024 @ 1:35 pm

    If that is the case, they missed the obvious: brotherly love, being in Philadelphia and all.

  5. David B Solnit said,

    April 4, 2024 @ 4:21 pm

    I wonder if somehow there was confusion between 傳 chuán 'transmit' and 專 zhuān 'specific, expert', and parsing it as [[專人]愛] rather than [傳[人愛]], so 專人 'expert person' > 'ace' (although I believe the standard word for 'expert' is 專家 zhuānjiā rather than 專人 zhuānrén).

  6. Geo said,

    April 5, 2024 @ 5:16 am

    The second character doesn't look like 年 and dictionaries can't recognize it either. What's the story about it?

  7. CCH said,

    April 5, 2024 @ 9:12 am

    In parts of the UK (mostly more northern parts), "ace" is used to mean something great. "That's ace" means "that's great", "I just had an ace curry" means "I just had a really good curry". When I read the sign, that's what I instantly thought of – that they had used some online translator that spat out some slightly more obscure British slang.

  8. Geo said,

    April 5, 2024 @ 3:04 pm

    Please don't remove my question again. Why doesn't the second character on the photo look like 年? I could not find it in any dictionary. Please clear up this situation.

  9. John Swindle said,

    April 5, 2024 @ 5:17 pm

    @Geo: It's based on a Lishu (Clerical Script) form of 年 .

  10. Jonathan Smith said,

    April 5, 2024 @ 5:31 pm

    @Geo because this is one of dozens of what we might call "variant forms" of the character "年"

    see e.g., where there are 35 if I can count; this one is listed second. And it's not even that simple as you would want to look at the texts/inscriptions referenced under the variant to confirm that the dictionary representations are faithful. Plus the "originals" are often themselves copies… etc.

  11. Berdj Rassam said,

    April 5, 2024 @ 9:53 pm

    This is interesting – thanks for sharing it, even though there isn't a definite answer.

  12. John Swindle said,

    April 6, 2024 @ 5:06 am

    Apart from the "ace" in the English, what are the six years and the hundred years about?

    David B. Solnit suggested that 傳 "transmit" in the left-hand column might somehow have become confused with 專 "expert," therefore "ace." Could be! I'll add that 傳人愛 could be read either as 傳 (人愛) "transmitting love for people" (or maybe "transmitting people's love", like 人見人愛 "loved by all") or as (傳人) 愛 "the missionary's love." I don't know that that helps, though.

  13. Allen Thrasher said,

    April 6, 2024 @ 10:05 am

    Apparently everyone else knows what the objects on display are, but I am ignorant. Are they teacups, or measures, or caddies in which the tea is transported and sold, or what? I humbly crave enlightenment.

  14. Philip Taylor said,

    April 6, 2024 @ 2:35 pm

    I confess that I had not worried about what the articles actually were until your question, Allen, but now I think that they are possibly miniature (i.e., "toy") tea caddies …

  15. loonquawl said,

    April 9, 2024 @ 2:40 am

    Searching for parts of the original, most sites that come up have 'chichasanchen' somewhere in the title, which (perusing a subset of them google-translated) seems to be some brand that only recently pivoted to tea (might explain the 'six years' part) – the brand might be 100 years old. I did not get what the brand was originally about, but it might have something to do with clay crafting? Is clay and 'ACE' (perhaps as an acronym somehow related?

  16. loonquawl said,

    April 9, 2024 @ 2:48 am

    Rereading the pages, i think the six years and 100 years may refer to the sculptors' occupation: Marketing blurb puts the tea company at about 25 years old, but the recently hired clay artists to work on tea related objects.

  17. Victor Mair said,

    April 9, 2024 @ 6:29 am

    For loonquawl and others who might be interested, Zhaofei Chen did some extra, special research on the name of the shop:

    In the novel "Dream of the Red Chamber", Jia Baoyu mentioned "任凭弱水三千,我只取一瓢饮." -《红楼梦》第九十一回《纵淫心宝蟾工设计,布疑阵宝玉妄谈禅》

    《论语·雍也篇》 also has something similar "子曰:贤哉! 回也。 一箪食,一瓢饮,居陋巷"

    I think the idea "三千" comes from the Nichiren Buddhism, a branch of Mahayana Buddhism cosmology. In the book " Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom " (Chinese [大智度论]) , it mentioned a term "three thousand realms in a single moment of life" (Chinese [一念三千]) which derived from the multiplication of ten basic aspects of life (the Ten Worlds), each of which contains the potential for the other nine, thus making a hundred worlds. It means that within each moment of life (ichinen), there exist three thousand realms or possibilities (sanzen).

  18. John Swindle said,

    April 10, 2024 @ 11:25 pm

    The Buddhist 一念三千 "three thousand worlds in a single moment" goes back at least 700 years before Nichiren to the Tiantai master Zhiyi 智顗 (538-597 CE) in his Mohezhiguan《摩訶止觀》.To me it still doesn't explain six years of something and one hundred years of something else.

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