Learn how to read important signs in Chinese

Seen regularly around town, many foreigners will notice signs featuring the Chinese characters “禁止 (jìnzhǐ).” From street signs near buildings and public offices, or even on the side of the road these characters are very important to know! They may even save your life one day.

1. 禁止吸烟 (Jìnzhǐ xīyān) No smoking
No Smoking

This sign will look familiar to anyone who has been in a public building before. Expats will certainly recognize the symbol denoting that smoking isn’t allowed. But what do the Chinese characters mean? Let’s show you an easy and effective way to remember the meaning.

No Smoking

The red circle with the line through it is the first part of the sentence, meaning something is “banned” or “not allowed,”  which we call “禁止 (jìnzhǐ)” in Chinese.  The next two characters “吸烟 (xīyān)” mean “to smoke,” so the phrase translates as “smoking is not allowed.”


Shìnèi jìnzhǐ xīyān.
室内   禁止   吸烟。
No smoking indoors.

2. 禁止拍照 (Jìnzhǐ pāizhào) No photos
No Photos

This picture is similar to the previous one. You may see this sign at a movie theater or an art museum. Can you guess what it means ? Use the pictures below for help:

No Photos

That’s correct! The characters “禁止拍照 (jìnzhǐ pāizhào)” will tell you that taking photos is not allowed!


Bówùguǎn jìnzhǐ pāizhào.
博物馆       禁止    拍照。
You can’t take pictures in the Museum.

Now, it’s your turn to practice! Check out the picture below and tell us what it means, in both Chinese and English:

No Parking
HSK 3 quiz

1. A sign marked “禁止停车 (jìnzhǐ tíng chē)” would mean:
A. Do not park here
B. No entry
C. Do not make noise here
D. Do not drive drunk
2. A sign marked “禁止拍照 (jìnzhǐ pāizhào)” would mean:
A. Do not park here
B. Do not use your cellphone
C. Do not make noise here
D. Do not take photos

Keep learning more signs in Chinese:

What to be careful of when you are in China

Chinese Popular Words
General Chinese (Beginner Level) 
General Chinese (Intermediate Level) 

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