Pic of the Week: Bu Zheteng!

photo by John Brennan

The art galleries of Beijing have reopened after the long New Year’s break, chilled by how much their ranks have thinned since the Year of the Rat. Artzinechina.com has calculated that some 36 have closed their doors around Beijing since the financial crisis began and those that remain have stripped their programs to the bone. None of this adds up to a very jolly atmosphere in the streets of 798. Visitors have been used to finding the zone festooned with banners advertising a multiplicity of art openings and events, but last weekend only Nike seemed to have something to crow about. The whole sad scene could obviously do with a pep talk, and one gallery has taken on the responsibility of rallying 798’s spirits.

The slogan may seem baffling unless you know that the poster quotes from a speech by President Hu Jintao last December on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of China’s reform and opening up. In the speech President Hu enunciated three key principles for China’s continuing success, which he encapsulated in three Don’ts: 不动摇不懈怠不折腾. No one seems to have had any problems translating the first two Don’ts, with consensus around Don’t waiver, Don’t slacken in various forms, but with the third, which in pinyin reads Bu Zheteng, translators have been stumped.

This is not because anyone Chinese fails to get his meaning – the original audience “chuckled in understanding” according to an official spokesman from the State Council Information Office - but is rather due to the fact that the phrase is drawn from popular slang and there is simply no agreed translation. Ever since the web has been humming with analysis and discussion see Paper Republic and Danwei for two learned discussions - as experts seek the mot justes which will catch the President’s meaning.

Suggestions have included everything from “Don’t flip flop” to “Don’t toss about”. One learned sinologist told me that Zheteng is what you are doing when you come face to face with another pedestrian in the street and both of you keep moving to the same side to let each other past. Highly un-desirable indeed.

Whatever, the three Don’ts and especially the un-translatable third have become a popular toast at banquets and private dinners over the New Year’s Holiday as Beijing girds its loins for another year. I would like to applaud the efforts of this 798 gallery who decided to make it their new year’s wish to their compatriots in 798 and to us, while also admiring the wisdom that prevented them from attempting to translate “Bu Zheteng” at all!


Great post! (And nice pic).

Seems to me the translators are guilty of zheteng. Whatever it means.

Great principle of almost everything that you have to do.

Forget Bu Zheteng, who is that cute cow that Fu Niu Lele is hanging out with?

The cow of 2009? Lele's new gf?

how do we get the rest of 798 to go under?

That's one of the things I love about language: sometimes things just can't be summed up in a word or two, some things just don't translate.

'don't equivocate'; 'don't shuffle, wander or waffle'
不折腾 IMHO is not a common chinese behaviour. Mostly the chinese i have met want to avoid 'yes' or 'no' by chattering into the middle ground and thus they fail to answer the question. I think this attidude has been developed over thousands of year as the people felt, and continue to feel, fear of the leader, and adopt a non-offensive stance. It is good of Prez Hu to tell the masses stand up staight, not lie down on the job or tell falsehoods. But his words will never alter reality.

bu zheteng means "CCP wont rape its citizens like before"

my name is booby!

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