I love Chinese garden signs! Since I don’t speak Chinese, I am thankful for their English sub-titles. These bits of English make me feel welcome and give me a clue to what’s going on. Best of all, their awkward translations are poetic and thought-provoking. Of course they have a practical purpose by reminding us to do the right thing like 'stay on the path'. But even better, they often offer an incentive to do so, giving us a reward for behaving well, like 'staying on the path makes you a beautiful person.' In marketing speak, they make a call to action linked to a specific benefit. Brilliant!
Here are a couple of examples that I encountered at the world famous scholar gardens in Suzhou, China:
“Civilized behavior of tourists is another bright scenery”
“Give the grass a little love, the grass will reward you with an extension of green”
“Kindly treat the virescence around in the way life is treated”
Translating things is never easy, but there are a few headwinds when it comes to Chinese-to-English translations: different grammatical rules, limited software, and a lack of good translators.
China-Mike.com has a wonderful post on what he calls “Chinglish” where he further explains, “Chinese—like English—is highly idiomatic… Many popular [idioms] have a universally understood moral – a kind of cultural shorthand that virtually every Chinese person understands… Chinese also lends itself to ‘poetic’ – almost haiku-like translations. ..’Stay off the grass,’… might read, ‘The grass is smiling at you, please be kind.’ ”
I believe that more gardens around the world should have signs like these; and we should all translate our garden signs into multiple languages. I am sure that translations of English sayings into Chinese are just as entertaining.
See more Chinese garden stories here.