When one deals with a foreign language, there is always a chance to produce (sometimes hilarious) errors. This blog has cautioned readers against the danger of relying on automated translation services. Now it seems consulting with a human expert does not necessarily guard one from embarrassment either.
The Max Planck Society in Germany recently released an issue of its research magazine with a theme “Focus China”. The editorial office wanted something Chinese on its cover and the result was the one shown above. However, that Chinese text is really an advertisement for a club of an adult nature. It is also most likely from either Hong Kong or Taiwan instead of the mainland China because of the classical Chinese characters used and its up-and-down, right-to-left arrangement.
The magazine sent out an explanation/apology after, I imagine, some interesting feedback. The cover, meanwhile, has been updated online.
The cover of the most recent German-language edition of MaxPlanckForschung (3/2008) depicts a Chinese text which had been chosen by our editorial office in order to symbolically illustrate the magazine’s focus on “China”. Unfortunately, it has now transpired that this text contains inappropriate content of a suggestive nature. Prior to publication, the editorial office had consulted a German sinologist for a translation of the relevant text. The sinologist concluded that the text in question depicted classical Chinese characters in an non-controversial context. To our sincere regret, however, it has now emerged that the text contains deeper levels of meaning, which are not immediately accessible to a non-native speaker.
By publishing this text we did in no way intend to cause any offence or embarrassment to our Chinese readers. The editors of MaxPlanckResearch sincerely regret this unfortunate error and would like to offer an unreserved apology to all of their Chinese readers for any upset or distress they may have caused.