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Good English™

Photographs of transliteral interpretations.

I first traveled to China in 2016. I was scared out of my mind, having never been out of my home country before and unable to speak the language. What brought me around, however, was something other than your more traditional solutions. Not food nor education nor good company (though I had lots of all three), but laughter.

China’s people are friendlier to strangers than any other group I’ve encountered. On top of everything they did for me in both of my trips there, they also have provided me with hours of joy based solely around their use of my mother tongue. English, the language of the Queen and legendary Chicago Bulls small forward and seven time NBA All-Star Scottie Pippen, is an art of progress on the Chinese mainland. And that art is a beautiful one.

As the two major economic powers on the world stage, China and the United States are forced to butt heads and eventually accept one another. This process is a tiresome one that will surely play out in unexpected ways in my lifetime. China is a sleeping giant that is coming to its awakening and the rest of the world will recognize her power. In our long and complex history together, the English language has been a language of education, of foreign power, of oppression. But it has also been a voice of friendship. Of building a cultural bridge between our two nations. Chinese children in many cities learn English as part of their regular curriculum and many primary schools in America have begun adopting Mandarin language programs as well. The Confucius Institute, an organization based in Beijing with ties to the Chinese government, exists on many college campuses in America as a cultural and language-learning resource for older students.

What follows are photographs taken in four Chinese cities and a couple villages. They were taken with an iPhone 6 or Google Pixel 2. The convenience and speed of these devices made them perfect for the project, as it was imperative I document each sighting of Good English™ quickly and efficiently. Most of these are photographs of signage: directions or names of businesses. They are the street language, words of and by the people, so using a camera much like the one an average person would have easiest access to was an important element of the project.

I do not share these photographs, the best of a litany I have taken in my travels, to mock. I share them to spread the sheer wonder and curiosity sparked within me with you.