China in the West (in a sign)

An interesting design using the characters 西 (west) and (“middle”/China):


Via Sinosplice reader Érica. Photo taken in Hong Kong.

UPDATE: The original post mistakenly had (east) instead of in the 西. My bad!


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. I can see 西 and 中, but not 西 and 东. 西 and 中 would seem to fit with the rest of the sign, Chinese and English versions.

  2. light487 Says: April 4, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    Yer.. I don’t understand either..

    I see Xi (west) and Zhong (central)… but not Dong (east) character..

    Is this a trick question/statement to make us hunt for the non-existant east?

  3. Harland Says: April 4, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    Boy, I’m glad we use simplified characters. I’m looking at the smaller characters in the sign, and boy, what a pain. Simplified characters are part of the 70% of things that Mao got right!

    • I feel like I am going to incite a traditional vs. simplified war here, but in defense of traditional characters I think that their relatively higher level of graphic complexity means that they have a slight edge on readability, because they’re more graphically differentiated. This is of course assuming the text isn’t so small that you actually can’t make out the characters, which I don’t think is the case for this sign.

      (Writing them by hand, of course, indubitably takes longer and I use official and ad hoc simplifications all the time.)

    • Have to agree with Andrew here. It’s all about what you’ve learned…actually the more Chinese you learn, the more you appreciate traditional characters because the simplified ones just don’t make sense sometimes.

      • Harland Says: April 8, 2011 at 4:22 pm

        Simplified was specifically introduced to increase literacy. I’m sure it’s good to look down from a throne on the unwashed, but you probably read a lot more Chinese than most Chinese people.

        When I see traditional characters, I usually react with horror…dear Lord I’m glad I don’t have to learn those.

  4. @Harland: Simplified characters are a joke and something for the lazy.

    @ All,
    go with the traditional if you really want to learn the language.

    I get eye pains (and progressively more angry) every time I read simplified characters

  5. Sorry to pile on, Harland. I agree with Josh and Andrew, which in this case means disagreeing with you and Mao (and Wang on the panel of experts assembled by the NYTimes after the link below). The massive improvement in literacy since 1949 is sometimes held as proof that simplified characters are easier to learn – I think this confuses correlation with causation.

    China in the 1950s was just climbing out of decades of civil war, foreign occupation, crushing poverty, feudalism, and near zero enrollment of girls in schools – it feels to me that each of these macro changes was a bigger factor than a few chalk strokes plus or minus on a chalkboard. Definitely credit goes to the Communists for the leap in literacy, but the directly successful policy might have been filling teachers with revolutionary zeal and sending them to the villages to teach. Chinese kids were ready to learn to read. Traditional characters wouldn’t have held them up.

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