Playwright David Henry Hwang, a Chinese-American, is finding great success with his Broadway show, Chinglish, a comedy documenting the cultural differences between America and China. The protagonist, an American businessman, travels to a provincial city in China, where he tries to win a contract to create signage for public buildings. Chinese translations of Chinese signs into English are famous for their overly literal interpretations, and these mistranslations became Hwang’s muse. For instance, one sign for a fire extinguisher in China reads “Hand Grenade.” In another case, a warning for a wet surface reads “slip carefully,” while a request to keep off the grass reads “The grass is smiling at you. Please detour.” “Don’t feed the birds” becomes “The fowl cannot eat.”

According to Hwang, “Chinglish is about attempts to communicate across cultures and the barriers that separate us, and the most superficial of those is language…But then sometimes, even if you’re speaking the words literally, you may as well be speaking a different language because some of the underlying cultural assumptions are so different.”

Chinglish is a comedy about a real-world communication barrier. Take the first step to overcoming this obstacle by clicking on these links:

The Mindful International Manager

Rice Wine with the Minister

Leading with Cultural Intelligence

Comments are closed.