In these past few months, I couldn’t help but notice the ads for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW.org) in the subway stations in Beijing. The first one that caught my attention was this one for whales:
The design is simple, quiet and calming. The water splashes and sun’s rays forcefully shining through the clouds guides one’s attention to the whale’s tail, formed by the Chinese character for “whale.” By itself, I find the picture to be serene and aesthetic. But it’s really the message at the top and the way it’s phrased that makes me appreciate this poster, and others I began to see by IFAW.org. Fortunately, my Chinese has improved enough to read what it says: “Qing bie rang ta men zhi liu xia ming zi.” In English, I’d translate it as: “Please don’t leave them with just a name.” In a smaller font on the bottom, it says: “Dui bu jing shuo ‘bu,'” meaning, “Say ‘no’ to whaling.”
The combination of the message, the gloomy colors, the single Chinese character used to make up the whale’s body, and the positioning of the whale is highly effective. The whale’s tail is up in the air, inclined to go back down, but when, or whether it will come up again, you do not know. This is something beautiful I think could only be done in Chinese, because the written language started out as pictographs, and so there’s an organic feel to it. The way I see it, if you took away a stroke, it’d be like erasing the whale’s tail, but if you took away one letter from the word “whale,” it would be a misspelling. When I see the poster and take in what the message says, my surroundings blur, and I’m somewhere in the ocean, admiring the whale’s majesty. This ad might be more effective in person.
I couldn’t find an English version of the whale poster by IFAW.org, only one without a message, but here is one I found online for elephants:
Compare it to the Chinese version:
They basically have the same concept down but are carried out in their own way. Although I find the Chinese version to be more polite, with its beginning “Please…” I have to say that the phrasing, “Will only words remain?” for the ELEPHANT is more fitting. However, it’s another example of how the Chinese version is more organic: they refer to the character, or embodiment of the animal, as a name, whereas the English version refers to the animal as a word (which is made up of several letters), which doesn’t really capture the bond we humans should have to it. We don’t give our children or pets words or numbers, we give them names. Perhaps the English version could have used the word “names,” but it’d be inherently awkward because in English, elephant is a word, not a name.
Anyhow, here is a third poster I’ve seen in China from the organization, for polar bears:
In my opinion, the Chinese versions of these posters truly do the magnificence of the animals justice compared to the English versions. I admire the dedication put into sending out this very important message about animals like the whale, elephant, and polar bear. They really are endangered because of human activity. I have to give the Chinese government points for trying. Too bad they are being let down by people like this lady my friend Stacey and I ran into last night, selling small fish and turtles in plastic bags filled with colored water like keychains for 15 kuai ($2.20 USD):
My friend says the number of turtles here are low in number now, so they actually have to be imported, but I’m not sure if that’s a fact. There are also the puppies, hamsters, rabbits and reptiles that are squished into tiny compartments together that are always on sale in Wudaokou…maybe I’ll take pictures next time. Who to save first, the puppies or the whales, right?