street signs of beijing

I’m now catching up on the huge backlog of posts that I have built up in my unexpected two month break from this blog.


(Ritan Park forbids visitors from everything.)

Beijing has a number of interesting street signs. To be honest with you, I can’t really explain why I am interested in them. Part of it is that I just love street signs; they are a special language unto themselves.

Another part is that how things are rendered graphically is fascinating. How things are reduced to the bare minimum to represent what they are and still get the meaning across.

For instance, a firehose is represented here, beautifully represented in a simple and elegant illustration:

Street signs accomplish any number of things:

1. They are informative; signs inform the viewer that there is an emergency exit here, a firehose there, and the difference between a freight elevator and a regular elevator.

2. They mediate everyday life between the context and the viewer so that the points of interaction are regulated. Street signs often have safety rules and points of etiquette on them: don’t smoke, let elders and children sit down in the subway, and that you should only go 5 km/hr in this zone.

Below is my favourite justapositions of street signs in Beijing. The first one is relatively clear: no flatbed trikes and no rickshaws. The second one, I cannot understand and so as far as I’m concerned, it fails in its purpose. What does it mean? No smoking in cars? (Unlikely in China.) No steaming rice or dim sum in your car?

We decided that the most likely answer was “No car bombs” as this sign can be found repeatedly in the embassy district here in Beijing–though it is also likely found elsewhere.

However, another source, who has lived here for many years in the diplomatic district, says that the sign means “No carrying fireworks inside your car.”

I still like “no car bombs.”

Trackback URL

5 Comments on "street signs of beijing"

  1. Cedric
    25/06/2008 at 3:05 pm Permalink

    Actually, my photo of the “exploding car” sign on Flickr has had quite a few theories thrown around by netizens:

  2. Ed
    02/07/2008 at 5:16 am Permalink

    is that no car bomb? I thought it is no exploding car, but you can’t stop someone who has a car that’s about to explode. unless cars explode frequently in beijing.

  3. nao
    17/07/2008 at 3:52 am Permalink

    i love signs that you can’t decipher. also, i saw a sign in tokyo, reminding people that a cigarette is sometimes held at the height of a small child’s head. and then david sedaris wrote about it in his new book! he lived in tokyo for 3 months, and i had NO idea. ugh, all the places that i could be stalking him in.

    anyway, yeah, signs.

  4. Jetso
    28/07/2008 at 6:01 pm Permalink

    You should have noted that most Beijingers need a COMPLETE and DETAILED list of common-sense instructions in order to fully comply … hence, the avalache of “dos and don’ts” signs.

  5. Peter
    30/07/2008 at 7:25 pm Permalink

    Aw… no jazz music at Ritan Park?

Hi Stranger, leave a comment:


<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Subscribe to Comments