If you’ve lived in China long enough, you’ve likely seen a 锦旗 (jǐnqí) hanging on a wall somewhere. You may not have realized what it was for or what it said. This article is going to discuss what a 锦旗 is and why they’re given. Then we’ll look at the characters to better understand the context in which they are given.
What is a 锦旗 (jǐnqí)?
A 锦旗 (jǐnqí) is a traditional Chinese banner. They typically have a red velvet background with yellow writing on them and will be hung from the wall. These banners are generally given in one of two situations.
- Award - These may be given as an award for winning a competition, in a similar manner that a medal or trophy are given in many Western countries. There are a variety of situations where a 锦旗 can be given as an award. Some examples might include winning a basketball championship, outstanding achievement in school, or being voted the best teacher.
- Gift - A 锦旗 may also be given as a gift to show appreciation to someone that helped you. As a teacher, I was given a 锦旗 not because I was voted “Best Teacher”. Instead, it was a way for parents to show their appreciation of my helping their children throughout the school year. While schools are a common place where you’ll see 锦旗 given, they’re not the only place. In a hospital, you’ll likely see several 锦旗, often hanging one on top of the other. A patient may give one to the doctors and nurses as a way of showing gratitude for helping them to recover from an illness. You may also see them given to volunteers or in government positions. I’ve even seen a few at barber shops and restaurants!
- So, what do they say?
While every 锦旗 is unique, they often follow a similar pattern. Let’s look at the general pattern and then a couple of examples. The characters are read from top to bottom.
On the left, you’ll find the date and the name of the person or organization that gave the 锦旗.
In the middle, you’ll find the context for which the 锦旗 was given. If the 锦旗 was given as an award, it’ll let you know what the competition was. If it was given to show appreciation, it’ll tell you more about what they appreciate. This part will be the hardest to translate and understand for people learning Chinese. Often times, 成语 (chéngyǔ), or an old saying, will be used in the middle section.
On the right, you’ll find more information about the recipient of the 锦旗. This will generally include both the name of the person, as well as the organization (school, hospital, etc.) that the person works for.
Now let’s take a look at a couple examples. This first one I saw while I was staying in a hospital in Beijing. There were around ten of them hanging in this one department.
- èr líng yī wǔ nián shí yuè sān shí rì
- October 30th, 2015
- 惠者 杨国成敬赠
- huì zhě yáng guó chéng jìng zèng
- Giver, Yang Guo Cheng (name), Respectfully
- yī shù gāo míng, yī dé gāo shàng
- Brilliant Medical Expertise, Refined Medical Ethics
- huà tuó zài shì
- Hua Tuo (A famous doctor at the end of the Han Dynasty) is alive
- miào shǒu huí chūn
- Chengyu that roughly means: Your brilliant skill brings the dying back to life
- zèng: jī shuǐ tán yī yuàn yǎn kē
- To give as a present: Ji Shui Tan (name) Hospital, Ophthalmology Department
- 刘炯 主任 刘爽医生
- liú jiǒng zhǔ rèn liú shuǎng yī shēng
- Liu Jiong (name), Head of the department, Liu Shuang (name), Doctor
- 唐少华 主任 董红医生
- táng shào huá zhǔ rèn dǒng hóng yī shēng
- Tang Shao Hua (name), Head of the department, Dong Hong (name), Doctor
- jí quán tǐ hù shì
- And all of the nurses
Here is another example from a school. This 锦旗 was given to me and my co-teacher by two of our students on the last day of the school year. Let’s look at what it says.
- 二0 一七年七月三日
- èr líng yī qī nián qī yuè sān rì
- July 3rd, 2017
- 学生：王梓涵 胡馨月
- xué shēng: wáng zǐ hán hú xīn yuè
- Student: Wang Zi Han (name), Hu Xin Yue (name)
- 育人永不朽 春蚕丝方尽
- yù rén yǒng bù xiǔ chūn cán sī fāng jìn
- From a famous ancient poem: The spirit of a teacher will never die, just as a silkworm sacrifices himself to give silk to others.
- 赠：汇佳学校一年级一班 郑慧老师 Nick老师
- zèng: huì jiā xué xiào yī nián jí yī bān zhèng huì lǎo shī Nick lǎo shī
- Give as a gift: Hui Jia (name) School, First Grade Class 1, Zheng Hui (name) Teacher, Nick (That’s me!) Teacher
As you can see, 锦旗 contain a dichotic combination of very simple and extremely difficult Mandarin levels. Most of the time, you’ll struggle to understand middle part of most 锦旗 -- even for very advanced students. However, taking the time to carefully translate the context can expose you to many parts of Chinese language and culture that you might not have discovered elsewhere. Hopefully, the next time you pass a 锦旗, you’ll be able to get a rough idea of the context in which it was given. Maybe you’ll even give one as a gift or receive one from someone!
Nick Dahlhoff is studying Chinese and works as a 1st grade English teacher in Beijing. He writes about his experiences and favorite resources for learning Chinese at All Language Resources. There, he tries to make it easier for others to figure out which apps, courses, websites, and other tools are the best for learning Chinese.