Thursday, December 11, 2008

Max Planck: Pimpin Ain't Easy

My brother Andy called this one to my attention. Thanks, Andy! Melbourne-based newspaper The Age reported that the scientific journal Max Planck Research used what it thought was a representative selection of Chinese calligraphy on the cover of its special China issue. However, it turned out to be a sordid advertisement for strippers! Yay science!

Supposedly the editors called on a "German sinologist" to approve the cover, but apparently this did not work out. The magazine eventually replaced the offending cover with a less-sexy one, which featured the cover page of a 1627 book, "Illustrations and Explanations of Strange Machines."
I looked at the original magazine cover, and even without reading it I could immediately tell that it was not a good choice. The calligraphy is bad, for one thing, and there are English letters in there, too! It was not easy for me to decipher on my own, but it is all over the Chinese webosphere so the characters were in electronic form, which helps me. Here is what it says in Chinese:


Here is the best I can do:

Hired for long-term daytime performances for lots of money,
Directors KK and Jiamei personally instructed these young jade girls,
Northern beauties with every kind of attitude.
Their bodies will inflame your desires, these young housewives,
Flirtatious and enchanting, they will be on stage soon!

That's good stuff. This is indicative of two things. 1) German sinologists are funny people and not to be trusted. 2) Many Westerners think of Chinese as a decoration (explored more intelligently on this great site, Language Log, from UPenn), and vice-versa. The fact that it was a bunch of Chinese characters was enough for it to qualify as a representation of China.

But Asians do the same thing with English. Just go to China or Japan and look at the t-shirts people wear. I remember shirts that looked like they were from a college, but the collegiate lettering just said "GSKNEB." I also remember another really popular brand of track outfit when I first went to China sported the logo: "Advanced For Better Concentration." My Thai friend from badminton's name is "Note." His brother is "Knot." I asked him why and he didn't really know, he just said that many people took English names for nicknames -- because it is cool!
I think the choice of the 17th-century book cover was a good choice for the magazine's revised cover, considering the scientific nature of the journal. The book it refers to was dictated by missionary Johann Terrenz Schreck, and is a description of Renaissance-era machines and technology. Planck, the founder of quantum theory, would probably approve. Although who knows, maybe the guy was into strippers!

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