Garbled, misleading or misspelt English-language signs in many tourist spots have long confused English-speakers in Beijing, and city officials have declared war on non-standard English usage.
"There are many 'Chinglish' words on road signs, public notices, menus and signs describing scenic spots, which often puzzle foreigners," said Xiong Yumei, vice-director of the Beijing Tourism Bureau.
Xiong used the popular term "Chinglish" to describe the strange mixture of Chinese and English words and grammar.
"When I wanted to use the public loo I just followed the signs that said 'Collecting Money Toilet.' It was so strange," said Janet Clause, an Australian tourist, recalling her trip to the Ming Tombs, one of the Beijing's well-known tourist attractions.
"Misspelling is another big headache," said Clause.
"When I had dinner with my friends at a Chinese restaurant at the Temple of Heaven, it took us a while to realize that the 'crap' on the menu was, in fact, a misspelt but very tasty fish.
"The soft-fried 'pawns' are a sea food without 'r' and the 'bean eurd' is, I presume, bean curd. It is surprising how many spelling mistakes can exist on a five-page English menu," she said.
At times the odd language can obscure the meaning.
Students at prestigious Peking University launched a campaign last year to root out non-standard English usage in public places.
Many expatriates and local residents furnish tips on linguistic defects via telephone or e-mail, according to Xiong.
Statistics indicate that around 2.85 million foreign tourists came to Beijing last year and the number is expected to break 3 million this year.
"Linguistic perfection is becoming increasingly important with the rise in the number of foreigners flowing into the city," said Li Honghai, a top official with a municipal committee to promote the study of foreign languages among capital residents.
Li said problems range from obscure abbreviations, word-for-word translations of Chinese characters into English, improper omissions and misspellings.
The Beijing Tourism Bureau recently launched a six-month campaign to foster standard English usage at 60 famous scenic spots frequented by foreigners, such as the Palace Museum and the Great Wall.
People who come across an English sign in these spots that is incorrect or confusing can report the offending sign to the bureau at 010-65158844, extension 1033, before May next year.
Public comments will be filed and sent to a panel for evaluation.
Signs discovered to fall short of standard English will be changed, Xiong said.
The panel consists of English professors and expatriates living in Beijing.
Panel leader Chen Lin, a renowned English professor with the Beijing Foreign Studies University, said translation problems stem not only from wrong words or grammatical mistakes, but also from insufficient cultural exchange between China and the West.
"Chinese people should learn more about the culture of Western countries, so that people can better study and use a foreign language," said Chen.
(China Daily December 6, 2002)