There's been a (coincidental?) influx of requests for seal translations recently.

Soapstone Seal Translation

Seal marks on a little pot (Characters identified: 吳祥君)

What does this mark mean? (Characters identified: 周桂珍制)

Although it is the site-wide policy of language stacks to close questions which don't show research effort, a while back we had

relaxing the rule of "asking for translations are off-topic"

which I interpret to allow questions that ask for & of seals or cursive calligraphy.

Admittedly, the character identification tutorial page hasn't been set up, and I suspect that this won't happen anytime soon. However, now that we have graduated from beta, should we continue allowing such requests?

If we do allow these types of questions to persist, I suggest that we add a small statement to the on-topic page.

  • One reason a lot of things don't get set up is that we often begin discussions and then they usually just fizzle out and people move on. Coming up with a character identification tutorial page should be a fairly simple endeavor, especially compared to something like ruby text support, and as long as we can come to some sort of a consensus then it should be something that we can get done fairly pain-free.
    – Mou某 Mod
    Nov 23, 2019 at 7:30
  • @user3306356 Character identification tutorial page for seal and cursive calligraphy is a huge amount of work. I personally don’t even know where to begin. Ruby text is something that’s already there at Japanese SE, it just needs to be reimplemented here.
    – dROOOze
    Nov 23, 2019 at 7:36
  • Oops! What I was referring to was our proposed chinese.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1553/… Character identification FAQ page. It might be a good way to quickly throw in commonly asked characters.
    – Mou某 Mod
    Nov 23, 2019 at 7:39
  • @user3306356 oh that! Yes, I agree that’s fairly easy. /r/translator has something like that, we can use examples that we already have at Chinese SE to make a similar page. I’ll see what I can pull off.
    – dROOOze
    Nov 23, 2019 at 7:43
  • Awesome. Let me know.
    – Mou某 Mod
    Nov 23, 2019 at 7:51
  • @user3306356 well, here's an attempt: chinese.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1626/… - I'll add 福 later, it isn't easy to do this well.
    – dROOOze
    Nov 23, 2019 at 10:51

2 Answers 2


This situation reminds me of Movies.SE and "identify this movie" requests. Here, it's always going to cause heartache to close questions about the Chinese language off-topic on a site about the Chinese language. It makes me feel we should avoid it if we can.

I have a rather intermediate attitude towards this.

Cons to allowing such posts:

  1. The site wouldn't be of much interest if the majority of questions were "what does this say?" "what does that say?"

  2. We don't want the site to turn into a bulk translation service.

  3. These questions are of minor (if any) academic interest, and limited future interest.

In short, it's quality control. (It's also an issue for me that Imgur is blocked in China, so I get nothing from these questions.)


  1. We're not in real danger of being swamped by such questions currently, but it is a future concern.

  2. You've demonstrated in your answers that they can have some value beyond simply "it says ABCD".

  3. By answering the questions, we circumvent the arguments and disruption caused by closing posts. Indeed, we don't really have enough active users casting close votes, so answers appear before closure anyway.

  4. My experience is that "first post = worst post" on StackExchange, so I advocate leniency towards new users, which is where these questions mostly come from. (But it seems many of these users don't return, so this is not a strong point.)

  5. It's not at all easy to envisage a means of inputting Chinese writing (especially if you've never done it before). In fact, particularly for seals, I'm not sure I'd even be able to figure out a way to convert it to a computer format. (Also, this information could be included in an answer.)

  6. They might be useful for giving new users an opportunity to write answers.

In short, they're questions about the Chinese language and we want to be welcoming.

I've seen too many disputes over "you didn't show effort" (PSQs) over at math.SE. I feel there's a reasonable argument either way. It wasn't until math.SE encountered a large numbers of effortless questions that everyone got together and said "nah, this has to change".


Temporarily allow these questions until we feel they are becoming too much for the site. It's so much simpler to just answer them and move on.

And changing the title afterwards to include the answer seems like a good approach to resolving: What can we do about the useless titles of "what does this say?" translation questions?

I also encourage upvoting questions you'd like to see more of at the site, to make sure that users see the kind of content we're looking for specifically.

It might also be worth thinking about tagging them consistently, so people who don't like them can ignore the tags.

  • To clarify, you're for these types of questions being exempted from the same treatment as "simpler character identification requests" (i.e. in regular script)? Thanks for the detailed feedback, I did not wish to annoy this community by answering spammy seal script questions.
    – dROOOze
    Nov 22, 2019 at 6:09
  • 1
    Saying I'm "for" them might be a bit strong. It's more like "for practical reasons, I'm currently not strongly against them" (the cure is worse than the disease). For seals and calligraphy in particular, it's especially hard to search for them from an image alone. For regular script? If it's something they can copy/paste into a search engine, and they haven't even done that, it's probably too low effort for me. If it's a physical text, maybe it's an issue, maybe not; it's near the boundary.
    – Becky 李蓓 Mod
    Nov 22, 2019 at 6:20
  • Sorry, I should have said "you're currently okay with" :) thanks again
    – dROOOze
    Nov 22, 2019 at 6:24

i suggest answering these type of questions, about seal & calligraphy.

my rationale is:

  • no OCR software can recognise these characters properly
  • for "non-chinese", recognise the character, then input it "as text" into phone / computer is, an unsurmountable task. if one can't input the text, how can he/she search?

that's why such questions would seem like poster didn't put any effort. the process of "recognising character and input it into phone / computer" is extremely difficult for foreigners.

i agreed with the post: Stack Overflow Isn’t Very Welcoming. It’s Time for That to Change.

be kind to newbie :)

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