Recently I mentioned the winsome advertising-panda of the Dongsishitiao subway stop in Beijing. (Cameo reminder photo below; previous post here, with link to larger picture.)
I asserted that the English version of the slogan -- "More Freedom, More Happiness" -- was ambiguous in a subtly provocative way. Was the beloved symbol of the Chinese nation really saying, "the freer you are, the happier you will be"? Or saying that only to visitors who could read the English translation? Or saying it inadvertently via mistranslation?
As for the Chinese version of his slogan, 更多自由, 更多欢乐 -- that is, the version that 99.9% of the passersby would pay attention to -- I (wisely!) declared myself agnostic on how that should be read. And I had no explanation for the oddity of a panda talking about freedom in the first place.
The wisdom of the readers:
1) Many people, Chinese and otherwise, said that the ad was really a way of stressing that the pandas of Chengdu and greater Sichuan province now enjoyed bigger, freer enclosures than before and therefore are happier. Sounds like a stretch to me, but: OK. More on the pandas of Sichuan and the now-destroyed Wolong Panda Reserve in this article and this slideshow and these posts.
1A) One man suggested that it was an ad for tea. The cup in the panda's
hand paw in fact says "tea."
UPDATE 1B): John Zhu and some other native-speakers of Chinese have said that the "freedom" implied by the term 自由 really implies the ease, leisure, and kicking-back approach to life with which Chengdu is associated. By this reasoning, the ad is speaking neither about bigger enclosures for pandas, nor wider political liberties for people, but simply a nice-and-easy vacation in Sichuan.
2) I have had a delightful and instructive introduction to the mysteries of language via emails like the two I list after the jump. Basically the pattern has been this: an expert on the Chinese language who is not a native speaker (linguistics professor, long-time resident, etc) writes to say: "Obviously the Chinese phrase means X..." The meaning of X varies from one expert to another. Then a native Chinese speaker will write in to say, "I dunno... could mean one thing, could mean the other."
3) And, with gratitude to all who wrote, my favorite reply was from reader KS who said that Subversive Panda "will be the name I suggest for my son's rock band, when he's old enough to have a rock band."
Illustrations of point 2, below.