An off-color joke about misreading Chinese characters

A friend in Paris sent me this story. True I guess. Any other misreading stories that you have heard about. In any lanugage…

This one’s for Taiwan:

Occasionally, Chinese characters in compound words can be transposed., and in Japan this happens sometimes. Both
‘‘heiwa’’ and
‘‘wahei,’’ for example,
both mean “peace.”

But there are other cases where reversing the order
give a very different meaning, and on occasion this can lead to comical

In Taiwan, a couple of years ago, a couple of Chinese ladies,
the story goes, were walking down the street one day in Taipei and spotted a sign written
horizontally that they thought read
pibao (leather

A word of explanation here. When Chinese is written vertically, no
question arises about the order in which it is read. But this rule does
not apply to characters written horizontally, which might be written
either right to left, or left to right.

“Let’s go upstairs and take look at the handbags,” one suggested, and
up they went. Upon opening the door, however, they were mystified to
see no handbags, but a woman dressed in white behind a counter who
appeared to be a nurse.

“Can I help you?” the woman asked.

“Yes, we’ve come to look at your handbags,” she replied.

“Handbags? What are you talking about? This isn’t a store!”

“Well what is it then?”

To their horror, they were informed it was a clinic for treatment of

sexually transmitted diseases. As one of his other services, the doctor

performed circumcisions, and indicated so in a small horizontal

signboard over the street. The ladies had misread the characters

baopi (literally

wrapping skin but meaning foreskin of an uncircumcised penis) as

pibao (leather


The ladies apologized and beat a hasty retreat.

Heard a similar tale but this time it’s a visiting professor from the US that’s misplaced his wallet. Wallet - wrong order = foreskin. You got the drift.

I think that was from a book of great Beijing street slang called ‘Mutant Mandarin’ Was there another boook called rude Chinese - seem to think so.


This is an absolutly true story.

Ten years ago, I was just traveling through Taiwan, vistiting an ABC friend from Chicago. She had been here about 6 months studying (beginner) Chinese.

I was at her apartment when she came in, all flustered. She belts out, “What the hell does ‘baopi’ mean?” Her two Taiwanese flatmates burst out laughing. She told us the following:

She was sitting on the 220 bus going north to Tien Mu. She dozed off. When she woke, she saw out the window that the bus was right at her stop. She pulled the cord and jumped up to hurry to get off the bus out the front door. As she hit the bottom step, she really woke up and realized that she had her bookbag but not her purse. She turned quickly and kinda yelled at the bus driver, “Wait!”.

The bus driver glared at her with a “Ga-ma?” My friend was now searching her brain for the Chinese for ‘I want my purse’.

She got it almost right. The ‘I want my’ was easy. But when she got to ‘purse’, she remembered ‘pi’ and ‘bao’. But not in that order. When she said ‘Wo yau woda baopi’, the bus driver’s eyes got as wide as saucers. My friend got back on to a dead silent bus, all eyes on her. When she arrived at her seat and picked up purse, the people on the bus cracked up. One older lady tried to help her by pointing to the purse and saying, “Pibao. Bu sher baopi.”

My first day in Taiwan and I could say ‘purse’ AND ‘foreskin’ in Chinese. Day 2, I learned ‘dandruff’.

Can we shut this forum down before it gives me a headache?

Maybe taking an aspirin and switching to a different forum could be
an alternative solution for you.

I think the jokes were interesting and informative. It is so easy to
get word order confused, especially when one is learning the
language. Even though the joke was “off-color”, it did not give
me a headache!