Bilingual Chinese lesbian slang dictionary

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"Siting Yao’s bilingual dictionary translates Chinese lesbian slang:  The London-based graphic designer illustrates unique language expressions and humorous anecdotes in her colourful, graphic guide to queer code."  By Ellis Tree, It's Nice That (4 July 2024)

Made for: “Chinese speakers who are interested in but unfamiliar with queer culture, English speakers who are interested in Chinese queer culture, and Chinese lesbians who want to celebrate their own culture”, Siting Yao’s publication Lesbian Slang in Chinese collates 40 amusing anecdotes and phonetic translations into a pocketable A7 dictionary. Presented in a bilingual format, with visualisations of each slang term or expression to “enhance connections between diverse audiences”, the publication aims to bridge cultural and linguistic divides through creative publishing methods.

The idea for the creation of the tiny but mighty Chinese dictionary “comes from my own experience as a Chinese lesbian”, Siting tells us. Realising that there was no systematic record of the Chinese slang terms she used every day, the designer wanted to create a way to share colloquial phrases to new audiences and document some of the language surrounding Chinese lesbian culture. “Our community has developed a unique culture and a lot of slang”, she says “Some of this slang has evolved as a way to avoid censorship, while others have origins in famous anecdotes and stories within the community”.

Not simply a translation of terms, the bilingual publication contains a colour-coded editorial system, tailoring the illustrated stories to both English and Chinese audiences: “When writing the Chinese sections, I focused on explaining the meanings and origins of the slang terms. For the English sections, I made sure to clarify the puns and phonetic nuances in the slang and included references to similar expressions in English to aid understanding,” Siting explains.

The dictionary’s distinct orange and green colour combo is inspired by the colours of “the lesbian pride flag” and one of the dictionary’s slang phrases: (júlǐjúqì 橘里橘气) which translates to “the smell of citrus aroma” – Siting explains that the phrase connotes the scent of oranges and is often used to “describe a flirtatious vibe between two women”. So by going all out on orange, the designer intended to “create a visual cultural symbol exclusively for Chinese lesbians”.

Her visuals on the other hand took from screen printed protest posters by the See Red Women’s workshop. “The feminist print collective’s use of visual media in activism greatly influenced my approach to visualising and communicating queer-feminist ideas,” Siting shares, leading her into the use of Risograph printing for the production of her book and accompanying one-page zine. As a print ephemera enthusiast, she tells us that the project may have also taken from the various “tickets and leaflets, to hardcover books and independent magazines”, that the designer always seems to find herself collecting.

Amply illustrated — in orange (with green), of course.  The Chinese text is printed in orange and the English text in green.  Very attractive and artistic.


Selected readings

[Thanks to Mark Swofford]


  1. Philip Taylor said,

    July 9, 2024 @ 2:16 pm

    A7 ? Crikey, that is small. The smallest I have ever typeset is A5-folded-A6, and if the client wants two columns then I strongly recommend A4-folded-A5. Two columns, the measure of which cannot be much in excess of 30mm, must make the hanzi very hard to read …

  2. Robot Therapist said,

    July 9, 2024 @ 2:51 pm

    But where can I get a copy?

  3. Milan said,

    July 9, 2024 @ 4:34 pm

    @Philip Taylor,

    Judging by the linked website, the design alludes the 'the little red book', i.e. the _Quotations of Chairman Mao_. Most editions have a similar size (perhaps exactly A7?)

  4. Philip Taylor said,

    July 9, 2024 @ 9:12 pm

    Interesting, Milan — I had never previously realised that Mao’s Little Red Book was really that little … I used to own a copy of The Little Red Schoolbook (until it was stolen) but that was 9 x 13 cm, not 7.4 x 10.5.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    July 9, 2024 @ 9:48 pm

    Mao's Little Red Book was tiny, and it sold hundreds of millions of copies.

    You can see the small size from the photographs of people holding it in their hand here.

  6. CCH said,

    July 9, 2024 @ 11:30 pm

    I googled a bit and found this page which has it embedded/downloadable: It seems to have been a Master's piece. I don't know if this is the final version – it says it is A6 in the description here and there are typos in the zine's text – but it was very interesting to read regardless, especially as an English speaking lesbian.

    (Hopefully the link works and the comment goes through, I know there are sometimes issues with that)

  7. Not a naive speaker said,

    July 10, 2024 @ 6:17 am

    My Little Red book is 7.5 x 11 cm and has almost 400 pages; see the below image with a metric rule.

  8. Philip Taylor said,

    July 10, 2024 @ 6:25 am

    Makes perfect sense — there is no reason why such a book should be exactly one of the A-series sizes, but that is a very reasonable metric rounding of A7. Would you be able to scan a page with hanzi, so that those of us who have never seen the original can see how easy (or otherwise) they are to read at that size ?

  9. Not a naive speaker said,

    July 10, 2024 @ 1:14 pm

    @Philip Taylor

    This is the only page with hanzi; the rest of the book is in perfect, idiomatic German. The German title is Worte des Vorsizenden Mao Tsetung
    The overall condition is excellent; printed on Bible paper; it has a ribbon bookmark; the plastic cover is still flexible and shows no signs of brittleness after 50 years.
    Somebody put some serious effort in making this booklet.

  10. Philip Taylor said,

    July 11, 2024 @ 10:41 am

    I see from this online copy that Mao’s book was set in a single column, which from a design perspective makes perfect sense — why the designers of Lesbian Slang in Chinese have chosen to set it in two columns is unclear to me.

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