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.
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.
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.
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.
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.