Siting Yao’s bilingual dictionary translates Chinese lesbian slang

The London-based graphic designer illustrates unique language expressions and humorous anecdotes in her colourful, graphic guide to queer code.

4 July 2024

Made for: “Chinese speakers who are interested in but unfamiliar with queer culture, English speakers who are interested in Chinese queer culture, and Chinese lesbians who want to celebrate their own culture”, Siting Yao’s publication Lesbian Slang in Chinese collates 40 amusing anecdotes and phonetic translations into a pocketable A7 dictionary. Presented in a bilingual format, with visualisations of each slang term or expression to “enhance connections between diverse audiences”, the publication aims to bridge cultural and linguistic divides through creative publishing methods.

The idea for the creation of the tiny but mighty Chinese dictionary “comes from my own experience as a Chinese lesbian”, Siting tells us. Realising that there was no systematic record of the Chinese slang terms she used every day, the designer wanted to create a way to share colloquial phrases to new audiences and document some of the language surrounding Chinese lesbian culture. “Our community has developed a unique culture and a lot of slang”, she says “Some of this slang has evolved as a way to avoid censorship, while others have origins in famous anecdotes and stories within the community”.

Not simply a translation of terms, the bilingual publication contains a colour-coded editorial system, tailoring the illustrated stories to both English and Chinese audiences: “When writing the Chinese sections, I focused on explaining the meanings and origins of the slang terms. For the English sections, I made sure to clarify the puns and phonetic nuances in the slang and included references to similar expressions in English to aid understanding,” Siting explains.

The dictionary’s distinct orange and green colour combo is inspired by the colours of “the lesbian pride flag” and one of the dictionary’s slang phrases: (橘里橘气) which translates to “the smell of citrus aroma” – Siting explains that the phrase connotes the scent of oranges and is often used to “describe a flirtatious vibe between two women”. So by going all out on orange, the designer intended to “create a visual cultural symbol exclusively for Chinese lesbians”.

Her visuals on the other hand took from screen printed protest posters by the See Red Women’s workshop. “The feminist print collective’s use of visual media in activism greatly influenced my approach to visualising and communicating queer-feminist ideas,” Siting shares, leading her into the use of Risograph printing for the production of her book and accompanying one-page zine. As a print ephemera enthusiast, she tells us that the project may have also taken from the various “tickets and leaflets, to hardcover books and independent magazines”, that the designer always seems to find herself collecting.

GallerySiting Yao: Lesbian Slang in Chinese (Copyright © Siting Yao, 2024)

Hero Header

Siting Yao: Lesbian Slang in Chinese (Copyright © Siting Yao, 2024)

Share Article

About the Author

Ellis Tree

Ellis Tree (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a junior writer in April 2024 after graduating from Kingston School of Art with a degree in Graphic Design. Across her research, writing and visual work she has a particular interest in printmaking, self-publishing and expanded approaches to photography.

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.