Home | China | Chinese Signs #2: Please throw toilet paper into rubbish bin

Chinese Signs #2: Please throw toilet paper into rubbish bin


Qǐng bǎ shǒuzhǐ diū rù lā​jī​tǒng nèi. Xiè​xie!

Sign number two of our ongoing series concerns Chinese bathroom etiquette. Now, depending on the type of establishments you frequent in China, you may think bathroom etiquette is of such little concern that a sign would, at best, seem slightly redundant to your average user. But ignore this one at your peril.

You see, there’s a reason that little rubbish bin has been provided for your use. And if you’re one of those who prefers to gamble that all will remain well after you attempt to flush that vast wad of u-bend-clogging tissue paper down, I can assure you from my own unpleasant experience, there are some lessons you would rather not want to learn the hard way. So let’s have a look what it says.

Qǐng bǎ shǒuzhǐ diū rù lā​jī​tǒng nèi. Xiè​xie!
Invite toilet paper throw into rubbish bin inside. Thanks!

The grammar of this one is a little less straightforward than that of our previous sign.

Again we have the polite invitation to do something with the use of 请 (qǐng). Then comes what is most often referred to as the 把 (bǎ) construction. This is used a lot in Chinese when we want to use, handle, discard, or otherwise act upon an object. To speakers of English, the 把 (bǎ) construction can appear a little complicated to put into practice at first because of the unfamiliar word order, but it is actually pretty easy to understand from a reader’s point of view.

Essentially, when we want to talk about ourselves, or someone else, physically interacting in some way with an object, ordinarily we would use the subject + verb + object form, just as we do in English. For example, we could say 我吃了饭, I ate the rice, and this would work perfectly if we simply wanted to state the facts of what happened.

When using 把, however, the verb and the object change places in the sentence (subject + 把 + object + verb), adding a subtle shift of emphasis to the object and what was done to it, like so: 我把饭吃了. Maybe this is like saying the rice was eaten by me in English. But as with many of the subtleties of Chinese grammar, there really is no English equivalent.

In our sign, the 手纸 (shǒuzhǐ), the toilet paper, is the object, and the emphasis is on the throwing 丢 (diū) of the toilet paper into the rubbish bin 垃圾筒 (lā​jī​tǒng), lest we be met with a messy surprise. So, please 把 toilet paper throw into the rubbish bin’s interior”, is telling us, using the 把 (bǎ) construction, exactly what we should physically do with the paper.

Incidentally, the small sign above it, 禁止抽烟 (jìn​zhǐ chōu​yān), prohibit smoke tobacco, is one sign that doesn’t seem to get much notice taken of it in China.

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