back to top

Non-Chinese People Try To Figure Out 10 Very Chinese Things

"Obviously Chinese people have mastered the art of making gold out of thin air."

Posted on


We sent 10 uncaptioned photos of very Chinese things, phenomena, and traditions to BuzzFeed offices in New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, London, Toronto, Russia, Spain, Mumbai, and Australia, and asked them to write down the first thing that came into their heads. Twenty-five people replied with over-the-top answers:

1. What do you think is happening here?

Chinafotopress / Getty Images

Alexis (New York): This is a very extreme water park. Not everyone survives the day. Passes are very expensive.

Sarah B. (New York): Tsunami? But like, a baby tsunami that's kind of fun to play and run from.

Andrew Richard (New York): The fountain didn't like when these kids kept throwing coins in it.

Andy (Los Angeles): The annual Running of the Kraken? Do they have the Kraken in China?

Morenike (London): Triumphantly escaping from the sea, these mer-people have emerged with legs and are ready to rule and enslave the land people.

In reality, it's the world's largest tidal bore.

People have gathered to watch the spectacular tidal bores by the Qiantang River during Mid-Autumn Festival, a harvest festival, for centuries. Many bystanders are so willing to risk their lives for good spots that they actually get swept away, getting injured. People, be careful!


2. What do you think this delicate Chinese porcelain is used for?

Anon.: You put a boiled egg on top and then crack it with a spoon and eat it out of the shell like you are in Downtown Abbey.

Shayan (Mumbai): This is most definitely a him-and-her pair of cups for the loving couple's morning coffee.

Scott (New York): Storing the remains of loved ones?

Jenna (Sydney): Definitely drinking wine. This is what Cersei Lannister would use if she was Chinese.

Maggie (New York): Barf bucket?

HIlary (United Kingdom): Weeing. I bet its weeing. If so, that has to be the prettiest toilet I ever saw.

Turns out, Hilary was right: these delicate pieces of porcelain are chamber pots, and even today are an essential part of southern Chinese dowries for weddings. Just 20 years ago, pumping toilets were still not in every Chinese house. Further back, these pots were used for Chinese women to deliver babies, so they remain good-luck charms for couples to conceive lovely babies.

3. What's going on in this picture?

John (New York): Someone is turning Super Saiyan. Wait, no, that's Japanese, right?

Andrew Richard (New York): Men gently tending the land at night as fireworks guide illuminate their path home.

Shayan (Mumbai): Obviously Chinese people have mastered the art of making gold out of thin air.

Crystal (Los Angeles): Magic, OBVIOUSLY.

Morenike (London): The sun is leaking and the Chinese people are covering up this secret.

In reality, this is a gorgeous —  but dying — form of Chinese fireworks. "Poor blacksmiths in the town of Nuanquan, in Hebei’s Yu county, found that if they hurled molten iron at the old city wall, it exploded in a shower of sparks in the cold night air. They donned sheepskins and straw hats to protect themselves, and used spoons made of hard willow wood to hurl the iron," the Wall Street Journal's Max Duncan explains. The practice is called "dashuhua (打树花)," which means “throwing tree fireworks.”

4. What do you think this Chinese character means?

CCTVNEWS/FACEBOOK / Via Facebook: cctvnewschina

John (New York): Since I know each character is a representation of something real, this is Chinese for "guy pulling a lot of crap inside a chest," which in Simplified Chinese means "Street Vendor."

Sarah (Toronto): Pickles.

Scott (New York): It means "inception."

Crystal (Los Angeles): "He who spends too much time reading this, clearly does not know how to read this."

Marcos (Madrid): "The red dragon sleeps under a very ornated window".

Victor (Russia): It means "simple."

This is "Biang" — the most complicated character of all time — and it contains at least 56 strokes. (Well, Chinese themselves still have arguments over how to write it correctly, understandably.) It's an unofficial word created to represent a popular Shaanxi noodle, Biang Biang Noodle. A Chinese professor recently opted to punish tardy students by having them repeatedly write this word. World's worst punishment, ever.

5. Why is this woman in every Chinese house?

Alexis (New York): She is like Aunt Jemima, which is to say she probably appears on a box of pancake mix or butter or syrup or something.

Shayan (Mumbai): She is the apron queen who stares down at you if your apron game isn't strong enough. Look at her apron. Flawless.

Mikey Nicholson (Australia): She is a celebrity chef who all Chinese people aspire to cook food like.

Victor (Russia): Because she is the default picture of an unknown woman that you can buy with a photo frame.

Lyle (London): Her face is the logo for something ubiquitous. Is it eggs? Is it Chinese eggs?

She's Tao Huabi, the woman who invented China's most celebrated chili sauce, Lao Gan Ma, or Old God Mother. Students call the 68-year-old billionaire a "goddess" for making affordable meals possible. Tip: don't mix it up the genuine article with counterfeit products such as Lao Gan Die (Old God Father) or Lao Gan Niang (also translated into Old God Mother).

6. What do you think this building is?

Jianan Yu / Reuters

Anonymous: The storage facility where China keeps all the US debt it owns.

Crystal (Los Angeles): The lovechild of the White House and the U.S. Capitol building.

Maggie (New York): More importantly are those palm trees? Are there palm trees in China?!

Andy (Los Angeles): Either a big important government building or a really cool library.

Laura (United Kingdom): The US Embassy

HIlary (United Kingdom): Hey China, why did you steal the White House? So rude.

Turns out this is just another district government building, this one in Yingquan District, Fuyang City, Anhui Province. Despite how fancy it looks, the Yingquan district is pretty much actually a relatively impoverished place, located in one of China's most backwater province. Long story short, the official who spent $3 million on this building was sentenced after a former friend turned whistleblower called attention to the monstrosity. The building is still in use, according to latest Weibo research.

7. Why do you think so many excavators are working?

Sarah (Toronto): There was a sale on excavators.

Shayan (Mumbai): It appears a dog has hidden something important somewhere. Like, super important. Look at all the goddamn excavators.

Scott (New York): Those are graves for the dinosaurs from China's Jurassic Park.

Morenike (London): It's the monthly Excavator Anonymous meeting, where excavator enthusiasts can dig to their hearts' content without being shamed by their loved ones for their perverse desires.

Mikey Nicholson (Australia): Trying to dig to Australia. :)

Students of Shandong Lanxiang Vocational School are trained to drive excavators.

Each year, 30,000 mechanics, barbers and welders are trained by the massive Shandong Lanxiang Vocational School, whose overadvertised slogan "Meet the king of (excavator maneuver), find Lanxiang in China Shandong" was turned into a popular internet catchphrase.

8. What do you think is happening here?

Anonymous: The end of The Bachelor: Beijing.

Sarah B. (New York): I think they got confused about what apple-bobbing is.

Andrew Richard (New York): Psst. That apple's been soaking in Bacardi for days.

Sheera (San Francisco): The world's worst first date.

Guillermo (Spain): It's traditional for newlyweds to share an apple?

Apples are traditionally considered good luck in Chinese wedding tradition. In case you're wondering, the bride and the man holding the apple are pretty big deals in Chinese TV variety show world, hosting Hunan TV's evergreen show Happy Camp.

9. What do you think this little girl is doing?

Anonymous: Double Dutch, obvi.

Andrew Richard (New York): She's actually not little. She's a giant who tried playing jump rope with a telephone wire and obviously failed.

Morenike (London): She is ascending to a higher plane of consciousness and waving goodbye to these mere mortals.

Mikey Nicholson (Australia): Chinese people can fly? This changes everything.

Marcos (Madrid): Dancing to House of Pain. JUMP AROUND! JUMP AROUUUUUND! JUMP-JUMP-JU-JUMP, JUMP AROUND!!! OH! OH! OH! OH!

Chinese jump rope, which is what's going on here, can get extremely intricate and physically demanding, yet it's about teamwork and rhythm. Chinese kids in the 1980s were obsessed with it, especially the girls. Would children today still be up to this this?

10. And last but not least, this is one of the most popular cartoons in China — what do you think it's about?

Creative Power Entertaining

Alexis (New York): The Great Sheep-Cat War of 1867, trivialized for children's entertainment.

Scott (New York): A family of goats who tour the countryside as a musical theatre troop, and are bankrolled by a kind-hearted but absent cat (who has her millions from a family fortune).

Andy (Los Angeles): Those look like sheep and cats, but my real question is why there's poop in the title. Is it about sheep that poop a lot?

Mikey Nicholson (Australia): The joys of getting a perm.

HIlary (United Kingdom): It's about some sheep that are bad at surfing and regularly get ridiculed by cats.

So this is actually a cartoon called Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf.

TL;DR: It tells an absurd ongoing story about how Grey Wolf fails to please his wife Red Wolf by catching a single sheep in 1,342 episodes but hasn't starved to death, miraculously. Red Wolf is smarter but never bothers to hunt. The sheep have even been thrown into boiled water repeatedly but of course came out unscathed. And the poop? WE HAVE NO IDEA. Here's the link to a sample episode with English subtitles.

Beimeng Fu is a BuzzFeed News World Reporter covering China and is based in New York.

Contact Beimeng Fu at

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.