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Archive for November, 2013

Buy local, buy Ningbo goods

Posted by diynovice on November 18, 2013

While working in Yuyao, I ate at many local restaurants. One particular seafood restaurant, 天府鱼庄, had a wood sign on the wall. I noticed the 1,2,3,4,5, & 7 characters (from all the Mahjong) but I had no clue what the sign said. I asked my boss what it meant. He chuckled and said, “American goods are crap.”

一双皮鞋美国货 两块洋钿买来呵
三日穿过贼贼破 四穿凉棚洞眼多
五看罪过勿罪过 落起还要重买过
七世勿买美国货 百样东西拆烂呕
究竟要买什么货 要买宁波老牌货

Elaborating, the sign is a Ningbo-dialect parody (or limerick, 宁波话打油诗) from the 1946-1950 period called 宁波老牌货. This parody was created to help encourage purchasing local goods over new or second-hand U.S. goods. Confused? U.S. goods in China? Don’t forget, China was an American ally in WWII. Sparing much historical background, in short, the Japanese occupied many areas of China, especially the Zhejiang region (where germ warfare occurred) during, and before, WWII. They decimated the local economies. After the war, relief suppliers were badly needed. U.S. and International humanitarian aid had been flowing to the region since the start of WWII, through programs such as the U.S. Lend-Lease act, UNRRA/CNRRA, U.S. China Relief Mission (CRM)/BOTRA, and the ECA/JCRR. Unfortunately, most of the aid was traded on the black market instead of being distributed to those in need. Most goods would be re-sold second-hand multiple times as they were still highly valued. This hampered local economic growth of the region. Hence, this parody was created.

This is a typical 7-character Chinese parody with a rhyme-scheme at every seventh character. These characters have an ‘ou’ sound. Each line is loosely set-up as a couplet, however, this is not a typical use of Chinese couplets. To make it more fun, each verse starts with a number, 1 to 9, except the tenth. My father-in-law spoke the parody for your listening enjoyment.

Since the poem is spoken in Ningbo-dialect, the characters don’t completely make sense, but the rough translation is:

双皮鞋美国货 – One pair of U.S. made leather shoes
块洋钿买来呵 – Two dollars can buy you the pair
日穿过贼贼破 – Three days later they’ll nearly be unwearable
穿凉棚洞眼多 – Four days later, holes will be all over
看罪过勿罪过 – You must notice such a horrible product
起还要重买过 – Very soon you will need to replace
世勿买美国货 – Never again buy U.S. products
样东西拆烂呕 – Everything is bad about them and nothing is good
竟要买什么货 – After-all, what kind of goods do you want?
买宁波老牌货 – You want Ningbo local name brand goods

The numbers one (一), two (两), three (三), four (四), five (五), and seven (七) correspond to the correct Chinese number character. The character five (五) is used as a substitute for ‘you’, as they sound similar in Ningbo-dialect. The characters used to represent 6 (落 ‘replace’), 8 (百 ‘one hundred’), and 9 (究 ‘actually’) sound like the respective number in Ningbo-dialect. So, the overall effect is that the speaker is saying 1 through 9 at the start of each verse.

Just like in English, there is a lot you can do linguistically with the Chinese language. For more about Chinese poetry, check out Wikipedia. If you are interested in photos of relief aid given by the UNRRA/CNRRA, take a look at the links below.
Photo Links:
UNRRA Posters


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