food / travel

"Chicken Without Sex" Becomes "Spring Chicken" - State Meddling In China's Menus

Chinese bureaucracy will soon deprive us of one of life's immense pleasures: ordering 'drunken shrimp', 'happy meatballs' or 'chicken without sex' from a menu. These inventive, often poetic translati

Poetic license (Sarah Collings)
Poetic license (Sarah Collings)

The clammy hand of Chinese bureaucracy is once again cracking down on liberty: the freedom of a restaurant to write what it likes on a menu.

Restaurants in China are famous for their original use of English in describing the dishes offered, but if the bureaucrats get their way, the idiosyncratic pleasure of reading their eccentric menus will be just a memory. Dishes will be assigned standard names. Of course, using these normalized names will not be compulsory, but how many restrictions start out in life as "advisory," "proposed," or "suggested" to later become "statutory" or "obligatory"?

The Beijing Municipality Foreign Affairs Office and the "Beijing Speaks Foreign Languages Office" have just publicized a unified translation of Chinese food names. They found time to rename 2158 dishes!

So out goes "Chicken without sex," which will be replaced by "Spring chicken." That's downright Orwellian.

Among the various translations, some are extremely tasty: "Four happy meatballs" sound rather inviting and the "Drunken shrimp" has a certain poetic resonance for something that is just shrimp cooked in rice wine.

You could say the same thing about English translations of Chinese dishes. Most Chinese have never heard of it but "General Tso's Chicken" is particularly popular in America, while Kung Pao Chicken and Chow Mein (fried noodles) are simply Chinglish.

Some names found on Chinese menus sound as if the writer was relying too heavily on a computer translation program. How else could "Fried sole" become "Blow up of flatfish with no result"?

The boundaries of what are considered acceptable ingredients in Chinese cuisine go far beyond those of Western cooking. The private parts of the deer or tiger (politely called the "whip") are a delicacy. And in the spirit of sexual equality, ovaries can be ordered as well.

The naming of Chinese dishes can be very literary and freehand. Mandarin ducks and emeralds can put in an appearance where the English equivalents sound rather pedestrian. My particular favourites are : Ma yi shang shu: "Ants climbing the tree," ground pork with green soya noodles. Close your eyes and imagine your dish is a Chinese painting. You long xi feng: "Gambolling dragon and playing phoenix," stir fried prawns and chicken. There's more than a hint of sex in the name. Fo tiao quiang: "Buddha jumped over the wall," an elaborate potage of ten ingredients including shark fin, so delicious the venerable ascetic monks escape from the monastery to get some.

Read more in E.O. in Chinese.

Photo - Sarah Collings

*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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