Joe: Hello everyone! And welcome to Cultural Check. I’m your host Joe Willetts. And this is our new friend Daniel.
Daniel: Hey everyone, I just arrived in Beijing. I’m originally from North Carolina in the USA. Nice to meet you.
Joe: We were just talking about Beijing’s cultural attractions. And perhaps the most well-known is the Palace Museum. Have you heard of it?
Daniel: Yeah, I’ve heard of it. I heard about the first light show during the night of Lantern Festival. But what’s so special about this place?
Joe: Well, it was home to emperors from the Ming and Qing dynasties, and today it’s the world’s largest imperial palace.
Daniel: Wow! The emperors lived in a museum?
Joe: No, no, that’s just the modern name for it. It was called “Zǐ Jìn Chéng,” which literally translates to “Purple Forbidden City”.
Daniel: Oh, cool! I’ve never seen a purple city before. Let’s go check it out!
Daniel: Hey Joe. What gives? I thought you said this place was purple?
Joe: No no, that’s just the translation.
Daniel: The translation ... but this place is really old. That name has to mean something, let’s go in and find something purple.
Joe: Okay, but if you get lost, call me on WeChat. This place is massive.
Daniel: Don’t worry, I got GPS in my head.
Joe: Hi, Daniel, are you lost already?
Daniel: Hey Joe. I don’t see anything purple here. I just see red walls and yellow rooftops.
Joe: Well that’s because, in China, yellow stands for fertile earth and a good harvest, which were important to emperors at the time. And red is a symbol of good fortune, which symbolizes Chinese royalty.
Daniel: Oh, that’s funny, because in Europe, purple is the royal color.
Joe: Well, you’re not in Europe anymore.
Joe: Where are you anyway?
Daniel: Emmm ... actually, I’m not sure.
Joe: I thought you said you had a GPS in your head.
Daniel: Well the GPS in my head tells me I’m near a red building with a yellow roof.
Joe: OK. I’ll come and find you.
Joe: Hey, you all right?
Daniel: Hey, where have you been?
Joe: Dan, I thought we’ve got to give this up, there’s nothing purple here.
Daniel: What? Are you kidding me?
Joe: No, I just overheard a tour guide. Apparently the character “Zǐ” has two meanings, on its own it means purple, but originally it came from “Zǐ Wēi Xīng”, which translates to the North Star. And just as the North Star was the most important star, the emperor was the most important person.
Daniel: Ahh, okay that’s interesting. But that means we’ve walked round here for nothing.
Joe: Kind of, yeah.
Daniel: Oh well. Never mind, at least I got a good souvenir for my mom.
Joe: So, Daniel, what have you learned?
Daniel: Well for one thing, don’t take everything literally in Chinese. Yesterday my neighbor gave me a “big red robe” to drink.
Joe: Ahh, you mean “Dà Hóng Páo”?
Daniel: Yeah, that’s what he said, then he brought me a cup of tea. I was so confused, I really wanted a bathrobe.
Joe: Now you know how I felt when I first started learning Chinese.
Daniel: Yeah, I hope I’ll figure it out.
Joe: Well, that’s it for this episode of Cultural Check. Can you guys think of any Chinese phrases with confusing word-for-word translations? Feel free to share them with us in the comments section below.
Daniel: Thanks for watching and we’ll see you next time.