The True Language Barrier (Picture Not Worth 1,000 Words Dept.)


A friend walking through Beijing's (lovely) Ritan Park last week sent this picture of a warning sign there. I know it means "Don't do [something]," but what the something is I couldn't say.


Update: Ah, I think I've now guessed what it is. Once you "see" it, it's "obvious." Sort of. It's much easier if you've lived in China than if not.

Gala prize of an Atlantic subscription to the first reader who doesn't already know, and doesn't ask a Chinese person, but can figure out through semiotics what the sign might convey.
CONTEST UPDATE: We have a winner! It's Alex Woods, whose birthday it also is today. Happy Birthday! Several other people have also written in with the correct answer.

Announcement of the "real" meaning tomorrow, plus a variety of amusing (if inaccurate) guesses. Eg, "Don't get caught in the zipper." Feel free to keep sending them in.

After the jump, another recent pic of a warning sign in Beijing. This one appears to mean, "no car bombers."

From Guanghua Road in the Central Business District of Beijing, last week. Whatever the sign means, it certainly looks like a nice day!

Thumbnail image for CarBomb.jpg

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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