Street Banner Exhortations

Authorities in China use distinctive red banners with white lettering to urge the public to behave better

Throughout China’s capital are red street banners with white lettering urging people to be more civilized, root out dark forces, not smoke, and engage in better behaviors.

These banners are so prevalent you can almost always see one somewhere within view when outdoors. They line street fences, apartment buildings, and even the local Walmart entrance. After a while I came to appreciate seeing them on my commutes and visits to the grocery store. There is no equivalent to this in the US, in style and tone. I can’t help but agree with many of the messages, as well as the concept of using uniformly-styled banners to promote a sense of community.

I snapped photos of some of them on the fly, usually while riding a bicycle to work. I paid a colleague to translate them. His notes are included at the bottom of the page. The translations can be seen in the captions of the photos themselves.

The translations are funny to Western minds, but I keep them as they are, not (entirely) to mock them but to keep their spirit intact. This is part of the experience here.

Even Walmart has red banners greeting customers as they enter the building.

Notes on Banners

1. In the Chinese language, abstract concepts are not defined along the same lines as in English. Some ideas can be used as catch-all terms and mean many things. For example, being civilized may mean to be a good citizen.

2. In slogans, grammar rules tend to be dropped, such as in the absence of punctuation except for the space between phrases/clauses. Plus, it’s not always clear who shall take the action, since there’s no subject and no distinction between the indicative/statement and imperative/command.

3. Also, slogans tend to forgo the use of conjunctions and leave the readers to figure out the relationships between the clauses. Usually, the action would be followed by the purpose, such as: “Sweep away the black and evil forces; Clean up the social environment; [in order to] Ensure stability; Enhance security.”

4. In slogans, there’s a preference for parallelism to sound punchy and firm, such as making several clauses of the same length in characters. I think it might be a side effect of forgoing punctuation.