From the Gansu province

In most languages, we can play with the way the words sound, as in a pun. During the trip to the Western, Gansu province, I found out that in Chinese, you can also play with the way the words look. After we landed in Lanzhou, the capital, we were taken on a 4-hour care drive on an impressive, new motorway. While the driving seemed quite safe (as least in comparison with prior experience in other countries…), the Government is still active promoting safer behaviours through numerous billboards on the side of the road (e.g., Don’t drive while being sleepy, do not speed etc.). These messages follow each other serially and are repeated after completion of the whole sequence. Now, one of those, the one warning about the danger of driving under influence, attracted my attention from the second time I saw it. The billboard came with a picture of a car, but that car looked a bit strange. Not the way one would spontaneously draw a car maybe. I waited for the next encounter with the panel, and at that time, I thought: “Wait a minute, it is not a car, it’s ‘Jiu’, the Chinese character for liqueur”. And then immediately, I realized: “Oh! But in fact, it’s both”. And thus, in the most amazing and unexpected kind of way, and following additional explanations, it became clear that some clever communication person decided to use the ambiguity between the design of that car and the relevant Chinese character to merge both in consensus design and cross it out to say: Liqueur and driving should not go together. Hats off!


Gaby sa…
In fact you will see that chinese language is very different (and in a way superior)to our western languages. We have no difficulty in admitting that the word “tree” is a convention, it is les obvious that this convention governs the delineation of the thing to which the word is assigned. Ex what experiences are called objects, or events or actions? The fist becomes the hand because the object fist was hiding an action under an object name. In Chinese words do duty to both noun and verbs, giving a better representation that objects are also events and that our world is a collection of processes rather than entities. It goes of course far beyond the words. Words and concept are in fact a representation of the mind and in this case the chinese mind. We are boxing everything and find ourselves ill at ease when language is not straight forward. But life is not straight forward, why would you want straight forward words to define it. This is the world of the Tao, and you will find in the very words of Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching ( abook you cannot ignore if you want to understand China) written 500 years before christ “The Tao which can be spoken is not Eternal Tao”. Chinese were smart enough to have a code for social convention (confusianism) and another for spiritual practice (taoism). Like this you could disagree with the society without revolting against God. Something we have not ben able to do in the west and that led to many catastrophies.

Wellcome to China!
Marie Paule sa…
le choix des illustrations est brillant
Brilliant note, Yvan -- however, I am left asking -- why would they have created the symbol for liquour to resemble a car???
Yvan sa…
I think the idea is to negate the combination of the drinking ("Jiu" character) and driving (car drawing)