Chinese Pwns Shakespeare?

I discovered this little gem of translation magic in my WeChat feed the other day under the title 中文远比英文美 (“Chinese is far more beautiful than English”). The poem quoted below is widely attributed to Shakespeare online, so the attribution is reasonable. (More on that later.)

Qu Yuan Pwns Shakespeare?

I’ve tried to maintain a 4-line structure to make comparisons easier, but in a few cases it was inappropriate to break the Chinese poem structures, so I left them as is, since the 4-part structure is obvious anyway.

Original English Poem

> You say that you love rain, but you open your umbrella when it rains.
You say that you love the sun, but you find a shadow spot when the sun shines.
You say that you love the wind, but you close your windows when wind blows.
This is why I am afraid–you say that you love me too.
― William Shakespeare

普通版 (“Normal” Version)

This is the “normal” version, a straight translation of the English above into modern Chinese. (This is also the second most accessible version if you want to try reading the Chinese.)

> 你说你爱雨,但当细雨飘洒时你却撑开了伞;

文艺版 (“Artsy” Version)

文艺 literally means “literature and arts,” but these days it’s often closely associated with the phrase 文艺青年, a young person who pursues artistic beauty (especially of the literary nature), but may often come across pretentious to normal people.

You’ll immediately notice how difficult the following translation is compared to the first one; it’s chock-full of hard words.

> 你说烟雨微芒,兰亭远望;后来轻揽婆娑,深遮霓裳。

诗经版 (“Book of Songs” Version)

This one is written in the style of the 诗经, the “Classic of Poetry,” AKA “The Book of Songs.”

You’ll notice a dramatic reduction in length, plus a classical style.

> 子言慕雨,启伞避之。

离骚版 (“Departing in Sorrow” Version)

离骚, also known as “Departing in Sorrow,” is a famous Chinese poem from the Warring States period, written by 屈原, the poet commemorated by China’s “Dragon Boat Festival.”

> 君乐雨兮启伞枝,君乐昼兮林蔽日,


七言绝句 is a Tang Dynasty poem structure using seven characters in 4 “sentences.”

> 恋雨却怕绣衣湿,喜日偏向树下倚。

吴语版 (Wu Version)

吴语 is a “topolect” of Chinese; it’s the family that Shanghainese belongs to.

Shanghainese friends tell me that this version is a little forced and not very poetic (it doesn’t do Shanghainese justice). Seems like it just got tacked on later after a 文艺青年 did the other versions.

> 弄刚欢喜落雨,落雨了么搞布洋塞;

女汉子版 (“Strong Woman” Version)

女汉子 is difficult to translate, but 汉子 normally refers to a man. So 女汉子 refers to a “manly” woman, or more appropriately a “strong woman,” the type that takes no crap from nobody. “你有本事” (literally, “[if] you have the ability”) lends an air of direct challenge to the whole thing, kind of a “what are you gonna do about it?” feel.

This one, like the 吴语 version above, also seems tacked on, since the phrase 女汉子 is trendy these days.

> 你有本事爱雨天,你有本事别打伞啊!


七律压轴 is an 8-line poem format, 7-characters per line. (I don’t know much about this, and my Googling didn’t turn up any definitive results, so if anyone wants to help out in the comments, feel free!)

> 江南三月雨微茫,

The Original Original Poem (in Turkish)

OK, so here’s the thing… That “original” English poem was not by Shakespeare, and it’s actually a translation into English from Turkish. There’s a reason it doesn’t see too “Shakespearean” (especially in word choice). Below is the original word choice:

> Yağmuru seviyorum diyorsun, yağmur yağınca şemsiyeni açıyorsun…
Güneşi seviyorum diyorsun, güneş açınca gölgeye kaçıyorsun…
Rüzgarı seviyorum diyorsun, rüzgar çıkınca pencereni kapatıyorsun…
İşte,bunun için korkuyorum; Beni de sevdiğini söylüyorsun…



This little experiment certainly doesn’t prove any superiority or “pwnage,” and the English translation was clearly chosen because it matches existing Chinese poem forms, but… Chinese is still pretty awesome.


John Pasden

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


  1. Your words claim your love for the rain, while you shelter your face from its drops

    Your words provide praise for the sun, yet you run from the touch of its rays

    Your words claim you relish the breeze, while you shutter your window against it

    Those words also say that you love me, and that is what makes me afraid.

    I can’t read Turkish, but there are dozens if not hundreds of ways you could reword the initial English version going off the translation alone.

  2. How about the opposite direction?

    How very young was I so long ago
    When I departed from my home that day
    But years have passed and I am aged so
    An old man now I have returned to stay
    And still I speak the language of my kin
    My tongue has never changed its native tone
    Although with time my once thick hair’s turned thin
    The inky black to grey and white has gone
    Now sometimes as I go a-rambling ‘round
    I pass the local children out of doors
    But they don’t seem to know I’m from this town
    And they don’t recognize me anymore
    They never fail to greet me with a smile
    And ask me, “Whence does this fair stranger hail?”

  3. Or maybe a limerick?

    There was young man who left home
    and returned long after he’d grown.
    His accent had stayed,
    But his hair had all grayed.
    Kids these days don’t even know ‘im.

  4. I actually had a book once that did a similar thing with a lot of different texts.
    It would take classical Chinese texts and rewrite them as super slangy modern Chinese. It would likewise take traditional Western fairy tales like the Little Red Riding Hood and re-translate it into classical Chinese.
    It also did a similar thing with Japanese porn star Sora Aoi’s biography, rewriting it into an ancient Chinese chronicle.

  5. In this case, the poem is rather plain and simple with almost nothing of interest. You can’t say the translations are bad, because there’s nothing in the English version that you’d miss. A real Shakespeare sonnet is a different kettle of fish. For example, the first two lines of Sonnet 141:

    “In faith I do not love thee with mine eyes,
    For they in thee a thousand errors note;”

    Now, let’s go find one of the most popular translations (by 梁實秋):


    It’s disappointing, right? The content is there, but the beauty is missing. Of course I imagine it’s equally disappointing reading Chinese poetry when it’s translated into English.

    It reminds one of the claim that ‘poetry is what is lost in translation’. What we can all agree on is that both Chinese and English are awesome in their own ways.

    • honestly, i think the translation crazy over this particular poem just serves to flaunt the sheer quantity of synonyms that mandarin has to offer.

  6. Orig
    You say that you love rain, but you open your umbrella when it rains.
    You say that you love the sun, but you find a shadow spot when the sun shines.
    You say that you love the wind, but you close your windows when wind blows.
    This is why I am afraid–you say that you love me too.

    Four words
    You say love rain, yet rains open umbrella.
    You say love sun, yet shines find shade.
    You say love wind, yet blows shut windows.
    You say love me, yet I am afraid.

    Five words
    You claim to love rain, yet you open the umbrella.
    You claim to love sun, yet you find the shade.
    You claim to love wind, yet you shut the windows.
    You claim to love me, yet afraid I am everstill.

    Five words
    You say you love rain, yet rains you open umbrella.
    You say you love sun, yet shines you find shade.
    You say you love wind, yet blows you shut windows.
    You say you love me, yet I am left afraid.

    Six words
    You say you love the rain, yet if rains you open umbrella.
    You say you love the sun, yet if shines you find shade.
    You say you love the wind, yet if blows you shut windows.
    You say you love only me, yet I am only left afraid.

    Six words
    You say you love the rain, yet rains you open the umbrella.
    You say you love the sun, yet shines you find the shade.
    You say you love the wind, yet blows you shut the windows.
    You say you love only me, yet afraid is all I am.

    Six words
    You profess you love the rain, yet when rains open the umbrella.
    You profess you love the sun, yet when shines find the shade.
    You profress you love the wind, yet when blows shut the windows.
    You profess your love for me, yet only afraid it leaves me.

  7. upon taking a closer look at the 七律压轴 version of this poem, it has been rightfully described in the 七律 format but lacks the description in the 压轴 or 压韵/押韵 stylistic approach. 压轴 refers to the second last in terms of chronology, although it could also refer to the last in this case since the use of this term has taken on a modern meaning through misuse by the press (but that’s another story). 压韵/押韵 describes the use of phonics to produce an effect similar to rhyming.

    江南三月雨微茫,(1 2) mang
    罗伞叠烟湿幽香。(1 1) xiang
    夏日微醺正可人,(3 2) ren
    却傍佳木趁荫凉。(1 2) liang

    霜风清和更初霁,(1 4) ji
    轻蹙蛾眉锁朱窗。(1 1) chuang
    怜卿一片相思意,(1 4) yi
    犹恐流年拆鸳鸯。(1 1) yang

    I’ve marked out the phonics of the last 2 characters with numbers and the pinyin of the last character beside it. if we liken it to a sonnet, the first 4 lines follow the A B C A rhyme scheme while the last 4 lines follow the A B A B rhyme scheme.

  8. 愛的反語


  9. LOL @ the 女汉子版

  10. Alain Chang Says: November 13, 2015 at 11:39 am

    The Turkish version is in no way original, it’s a faithful translation of the English one.
    Anyone who can read Turkish, like your humble servant, can easily discover that there are dozens of Turkish websites that quote the Turkish version as a translation from Shakespeare. So who wrote the stuff in the first place, is still an open question.
    Instead of creating fake English words like PWN, you guys should rather learn real languages like Turkish.

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