a headline

August 24th, 2008

I have absolutely no intention of reading, let alone translating, this article, but the headline grabbed my attention:


Why can’t the Bicycle Kingdom produce a cycling champion?

Why indeed? But what struck me was the phrasing, and for a slightly convoluted reason: Correct me if I’m wrong, but my impression was the nickname “Bicycle Kingdom” came from a Western play on Middle Kingdom (as a direct translation of 中国) and the vast numbers of bicycles and almost total absence of cars on Chinese city streets in the early days of Reform and Opening up. Now, if I’m right on this, we’ve gone 中国 – Middle Kingdom – Bicycle Kingdom – 自行车王国.

This struck me because of the inclusion of the character “王” in “自行车王国”. If it were a purely Chinese wordplay, wouldn’t it go directly from 中国 to 自行车国? I mean, it seems to me that the Chinese don’t consider 国 to mean specifically ‘kingdom’, but more generally ‘country’- hence its use in such words as 共和国 (republic),联合国 (United Nations),国内 (domestic),国外 (foreign (as an opposite to 国内)),外国 (foreign (as an opposite to中国)),and so on.

And yes, if you read this far, you really did need this insight into the shallow and tangential wanderings of my brain.

2 Responses to “a headline”

  1. Arctosia Says:

    Actually I think it’s not… 王(king)can also mean “the greatest” or “the best”. An example of this I can think of is the phrase “王中之王”, which means the best of the best.

    Therefore in this context 自行车王国 means the country with the greatest number of bicycles.

  2. wangbo Says:

    Good point. I should’ve thought it through a bit more, but that headline reminded me of all those dumb “Bicycle Kingdom” t-shirts I’ve seen on sale in tourist traps.