Amusing Max-Planck fauxpas: Inappropriate Chinese text on the titlepage

I was glad, discovering that the current issue of „Max Planck Research / Max Planck Forschung“, the monthly magazine of the Max Planck society has a focus on China. After forcussing issues of Nature, the German magazine Wirtschaftswoche, Zeit, and some others during the last months. But the really amusing fauxpas, apart from really nice to read and interesting articles, as expected, in Max Planck Forschung is:

The editorial staff chose a completely inappropriate text for illustrating the cover of the magazine. Nice to see though that they are not completely resistant against advice; the title picture was now (in the digital issue  retrospectively and for the not yet printed English language isse) changed from this calligraphically nicely written but in content inappropriate advertisement to some ancient archaeological Chinese text.

The German language issue was of course already printed and distributed e.g. on all our corridors, where we found it and a Chinese colleague of mine after the whole institute’s Chinese fellows were laughing or indignant (the latter fortunately was the minority), wrote a short letter to the editor.

The ashamed back pedalling answer of the editor:

The cover of the most recent German-language edition of MaxPlanckForschung (3/2008) depicts a Chinese text which had been chosen by our editorial office in order to symbolically illustrate the magazine’s focus on „China“.
Unfortunately, it has now transpired that this text contains inappropriate content of a suggestive nature. Prior to publication, the editorial office had consulted a German sinologist for a review of the relevant text. The sinologist concluded that the text in question depicted classical Chinese characters in a seemingly non-controversial context.
To our sincere regret, however, it has now emerged that the text contains deeper levels of meaning, which are not immediately accessible to a non-native speaker.

And the moral of the story: 1. Also quality journals are not infellible, 2. Pictures should be taken as serious as texts. Especially but not only when containing texts, 3. Be careful when dealing with Chinese.

4 Kommentare

  1. I just recieved the MPI’s apology myself and also find it a little funny, especially as the title had been reviewed by a german sinologist. Beside the obvious sinologist’s failure which could easily be excused by the language’s complexity, it seems a bit disregarding if not arrogant that nobody even bothered to let a native speaker glance over it for a few seconds. Obviously, it hadn’t occurred to anyone, as the availability of chinese co-workers is surely not the reason for this screw-up.
    Nevertheless, I’d find the whole story much more amusing if you could give a hint as to what actually was the hidden meaning in the title…

  2. I’m not sure. I would never ever claim that I could proof read a text like that. But a sinologist who is self conscious enough to say, he can do it… I think someone like that should not proof a text to be OK if he is not sure… However :-)

  3. Um i accidentally stumped upon this hilarious story

    well in short, this is a piece of advertisement for a whorehouse/brothel (most likely from Hongkong or maybe Macau) that roughly reads:

    „this club has spent a ton of money to invite some great girls for our daytime business lead by Canadian and American pimps: Young and hot girls capable of all sorts of positions, Northern (meaning mainland china) beauties with extremely hot bodies, flirtatious housewives willing to spend a great time with you! Coming Soon!“

    I was literally laughing my butt off

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