Recently, T-shirts with Chinese printed on them have been popping up in many different Western countries worn by everyday people, just as clothes with Chinese elements have appeared in major fashion shows for a long time.
However, clothes that Chinese people would actually wear aren’t made just from throwing together literal translations of words into Chinese characters, or picking random characters because they seem to have “deep meanings” – just like with any language, there are design elements and thought that goes into the words if you’re looking for something that’s truly representative (and that you won’t be laughed at for when someone who speaks that language passes by on the street). This is especially important when choosing clothing for your child!
1. Which Chinese words should you not let your child wear?
Some popular clothing designs include the words “Parisian pretty girl 巴黎靓女 (bā lí liàng nǚ)”, “very cool 非常酷 (fēi cháng kù)”, “funny 滑稽 (huá jī)”, or “most handsome 最帅 (zuì shuài)” all convey pride, or hubris, something that would be very “un-Chinese” to display openly when walking around.
Another design often found on beginner Chinese students or people new to China is one with the words “a foreigner is here 老外来了 (lǎo wài lái le)” on the front and “a foreigner is leaving老外走了 (lǎo wài zǒu le)” on the back; while it’s a funny concept to some, the self-denigrating nature of it might make Chinese people who see it chuckle, but also see the person wearing it as, at best, very silly.
There are some idioms on these clothes that are inappropriate, such as ” 纸醉金迷 (zhǐ zuì jīn mí) dazzling with paper and gold” that describe a materialistic life based around luxury goods and indulgences. Of course, someone who sees this written on clothing won’t be offended, per se, but they won’t feel very warm towards whomever is wearing it.
Inappropriate text on clothes in China is actually quite common – with English words. Imagine how you might feel if you saw an adult wearing curse words or English nonsense words out in public? You might think it’s funny, but you probably wouldn’t respect that person and would assume they’re not very cultured! And if a child was wearing such clothing? You’d probably have a pretty strong opinion about their parents. Remember, it’s the same in Chinese.
2. Which Chinese words should you let your child wear?
Here are some examples you might consider giving your child to try, and there are a few “deep cuts” in here that will be appreciated given how rare it is to see non-native Chinese speakers display them. Also, you’ll notice that in these pictures there is more than just elements of Chinese language, but design elements as well, giving a deeper impression that the wearer appreciates more than Chinese characters.
xǐ shàng méi shāo
喜 上 眉 梢
tiān tiān xiàng shàng
天 天 向 上
“喜上眉梢 (xǐ shàng méi shāo)” in Chinese means “joyful all the way to the eyebrows”, a nice, wholesome expression for a child to have on their clothes. The term “young warrior 少侠 (shào xiá)” is a Chinese name for a heroic character in ancient Chinese novels, a fun nod to classic Chinese culture and appropriate given the “少 (shào)” (young) – it shows that you’re aware the person wearing the clothing is a child.
Finally – and, full disclosure, it’s one we’re very fond of here at eChineseLearning… can you guess why? – is the phrase “天天向上 (tiān tiān xiàng shàng)”, or “always improving” that is the back half of an expression that conveys a good and serious attitude towards learning and self-improvement. Who wouldn’t want their children to be proud of their own growth?
3. Chinese style has become a style – and Chinese language has, too! From Chinese people’s perspectives, the rising popularity of Chinese styles in clothing, pop culture, and cuisine is long overdue! For us, seeing Chinese characters printed on clothing warms our hearts, as it reflects the popularity of Chinese learning.
If you want to your child to learn about a different language and culture, or if your child themselves is interested in exploring Chinese, we suggest finding an online class, format, materials, and teaching professionals who are best suited for your child. Remember, the most important thing is that they enjoy the process and want to come back each time!