Robinsons' 'broken' Chinese on CNY decorations has people scratching their heads

[UPDATE: Jan 17]

A Robinsons spokesperson clarified that the five-character greetings 'Cai Bao Shu Dao Fa' and 'Huan Le Shu Dao Xiao' were the original greetings. There was an "error in the adaption of the original message" that was rectified on Wednesday (Jan 15) evening.

Robinsons also apologised if the production error had caused any misunderstandings.


Robinsons' Chinese New Year decor isn't the only thing that's red.

The department store chain was also left red-faced after netizens took to Facebook on Wednesday (Jan 15) to call it out for the nonsensical Chinese phrases it had on display as part of its festive decorations.

Photos shared on the Facebook page SinChineseSg showed two banners that appeared to be displayed at the entrance of a Robinsons store at Raffles City.

The banners read 'Cai Bao Dao Fa' and 'Huan Le Dao Xiao' which loosely translate to 'Wealth treasure arrives prosper' and 'Happiness joy arrives smile'.

Confused? You're not the only one.

The awkwardly phrased greetings which made little sense left many Mandarin-speaking netizens scratching their heads.

The problem? The wording is grammatically incorrect, "very localised" and may be difficult for foreigners to understand, a Chinese Studies lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic told Shin Min Daily News

新加坡的华文到底怎么了?为什么每年的农历新年都会出现这类的贺词?

Posted by 新加破华文 on Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Some of the more optimistic netizens could not resist taking a gander at trying to figure out what message Robinsons was trying to get across.

"Happy until siao (crazy)."
PHOTO: Screengrab/Facebook
"I tried to break up each sentence into a 'three plus one' phrasing. Maybe if you force it, it makes sense: 'Wealth and treasure are here, prosperity! Happiness and joy are here, smile!'"
PHOTO: Screengrab/Facebook

But other commenters weren't convinced, taking to the comments section to chew Robinsons out for its abysmal command of the Chinese language.

"The marketing departments in these big companies are all made up of 'bananas' who don't know anything about the Chinese language. The upper management also doesn't speak Mandarin. Of course, they can't tell if it's right or wrong, leaving it to their employees to make a mess of it. This truly is an embarrassment to Chinese society."
PHOTO: Screengrab/Facebook
"Their Chinese is bad, yet they have no self-awareness and insist on being creative. They are embarrassing themselves."
PHOTO: Screengrab/Facebook
"After being educated in English, people no longer know how to speak Mandarin. Pitiful."

Following the criticism online, a Shin Min Daily News reporter visiting the store today (Jan 16) found that the banners had been updated to include a 'shu', meaning mouse or rat, a reference to the Year of the Rat.

The word 'shu' is also a homonym for the word 'count'. 

PHOTO: Shin Min Daily News

The new and improved banners now read 'Cai Bao Shu Dao Fa' and 'Huan Le Shu Dao Xiao' which (more or less) translates to 'count wealth and treasures until prosperous' and  'count happiness and joy until smile'.

Nice try, Robinsons. But it's still a little awkward. 

Robinsons did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

But it isn't the only retailer that could benefit from some Chinese lessons. 

Local supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice pulled a Chinese New Year T-shirt from stores earlier this week after netizens pointed out how a single Chinese character transformed it from a regular red shirt to a 'funeral' outfit. 

kimberlylim@asiaone.com