Chinese language in The Wire

During the Shanghai lockdown, we took up watching The Wire for the first time. We even joked we were released too soon (after 61 days) because we only finished the final season a few days after our release.

We semi-binged it with Chinese Hanzi subtitles, under the guise of making it more educational. It’s interesting to read the translations, sometimes literally translating from English, other times writing down the intention. Sometimes an English idiom is swapped for a Chinese one, such as:

  • “Lambs to the slaughter here.” becomes “这是羊入虎口了啊” (Lambs entering a tiger’s den (口 here refers to a den, think about the 口 in 出口)).

Sometimes the translation is done pretty, such as:

  • “Man, money ain’t got no owners, only spenders” / “嘿 钱可没主人 谁能花出去出那才算数.” (Money has no owners. Only those who can spend it are counted for.)

Also the Chinese name of the series is 火线: Live wire.

Anyway, I went back and copied down the opening lines (epigraphs) of each episode, from the Chinese subtitles as well as English, as well as some other famous quotes and any Chinese characters I saw on the screen (mostly tattoos). Sometimes I had to look up the character to write out the sentences, but most characters used are fairly normal.

The Wire Chinese

Season 1

  1. “…when it’s not your turn” / “…多管闲事” — McNulty
  2. “You cannot lose, if you do not play.” / “不玩就不会输” — Marla Daniels
  3. “The king stay the king.” / “王者为尊” – D’Angelo
  4. “It’s a thin line ‘tween heaven and here” / “天堂和这儿一线之隔” – Bubbles
  5. “…a little slow, a little late.” / “…慢了点迟了点” – Avon Barksdale
  6. “…and all the pieces matter.” / “细节决定成败” – Freamon
  7. “A man must have a code.” / “做人得有操守” – Bunk
  8. “Come at the king, you best not miss.” /”你要敢动王 那就千万别失手”  – Omar
  9. “Maybe we won.” / “也许咱们赢了– Herc
  10. “And then he dropped the bracelets…”/ “然后他扔下了手铐– Greggs
  11. “Dope on the damn table.” / “他妈的毒品摆桌上” – Daniels
  12. “This is me, yo, right here.”  / “这儿才是我的地盘”– Wallace
  13. “All in the game…” / “一切都在游戏里” – Traditional West Baltimore / Baltimore老西区

The Wire Chinese

Also, D’Angelo has a Hanzi character tattoo: 力英 (Power /Hero)

The Wire Chinese

And so does Herc. I first thought it’s 恶 (Evil) rather than 恋 (love), but it’s a bad translation of “one love” with “一恋”. (You can’t say “One love” in Mandarin like you’d say it in English.)

Season 2

  1. “Ain’t never gonna be what it was.” / “不复当年咯” – Little Big Roy
  2. “They can chew you up, but they gotta spit you out.” / “他们可以吃了你 但总得吐出来” – McNulty
  3. “What they need is a union.” / “她们需要的是个工会”– Russell
  4. “If I hear music, I’m gonna dance.” / “听到音乐 我就要起舞”– Greggs
  5. “They used to make steel there, no?” / “那以前是炼钢的吧?”– Vondas
  6. “It don’t matter that some fool say he different…” / “有白痴说自己与众不同 有什么用” – D’Angelo
  7. “Don’t worry kid. You’re still on the clock.” / “别担心 小子 你还在上班” – Horseface / 马面
  8. “How come they don’t fly away?” / “他们怎么不飞起走呢?” – Ziggy
  9. “The world is a smaller place now.” / “世界是越来越小了” – The Greek
  10. “It pays to go with the union card every time.” / “雇佣工会会员干活就是好” – Ziggy
  11. “I need to get clean.” / “我要清白” – Sobotka
  12. “Business. Always business.” / “生意 总是生意” – The Greek

Other quotes:

  • “You know what they say, stupid criminals make stupid cops. I’m proud to be chasing this guy.” / “你知道他们怎么说 愚蠢的犯罪培养愚蠢的警察. 我很自豪能追捕这个家伙.” — McNulty
  • “I got the shotgun. You got the briefcase. It’s all in the game, though, right?” / “我有撒弹强,你有公文包. 都是游戏的一部分,对不?” — Omar
  • “We used to make shit in this country, build shit. Now we just put our hand in the next guy’s pocket.” / “我们曾在这个国家自力更生, 现在却要把手伸进别人的口袋里” — Frank Sobotka

Season 3

  1. “Don’t matter how many times you get burnt, you just keep doin’ the same.” / “不管中多少次招 你还是会重倒覆辙” – Bodie
  2. “There’s never been a paper bag.” / “从来没有过一个这样的纸袋” – Colvin
  3. “The Gods will not save you.” / “上帝不会拯救你” – Burrell
  4. “Why you gotta go and fuck with the program?” / “你们干嘛他妈的要破坏这个程序” – Fruit
  5. “I had such fucking hopes for us.” / “我本来还对咱们怀着期待呢” – McNulty
  6. “Just a gangster, I suppose.” / “我只是混帮会的” – Avon Barksdale
  7. “Conscience do cost.” / “良心是有代价的” – Butchie
  8. “Crawl, walk, and then run.” / “爬 走 最后才是跑” – Clay Davis
  9. “…while you’re waiting for moments that never come.” / “当你在等待永远不会到来的时刻”– Freamon
  10. “Call it a crisis of leadership.” / “就管是领袖危机吧” – Proposition Joe
  11. “We ain’t gotta dream no more, man.” / “我们已没有梦想 兄弟” – Stringer Bell
  12. “We fight on that lie.” / “我们为那个谎言而战” – Slim Charles

Other quotes:

  • I mean, you know what I’m saying, you can do some shit… and be like “what the fuck,” but, hey, just never on no Sunday, man./ 你懂得我的意思,你可以杀人, 管他妈的,但别在星期天闹事了

The Wire Chinese

Another Hanzi tattoo spotted, with Snoop with 危 (dangerous).

Other quotes:

  • “You know the difference between me and you? I bleed red and you bleed green.” / “你知道我和你的区别吗?我流出来的血是红的,你流出来的是绿的— Avon Barksdale

Season 4

  1. “Lambs to the slaughter here.” / “这是羊入虎口了啊” – Marcia Donnelly
  2. “I still wake up white in a city that ain’t.” / “我却依然以白人的身份 苏醒于一个黑人城市中” – Carcetti
  3. “I love the first day, man. Everybody all friendly an’ shit” / “我真爱开学第一天 每个人都真他妈的友善”– Namond Brice
  4. “No one wins. One side just loses more slowly.” / “没有赢家 只是一方输的慢一罢了” – Prez
  5. “If you with us, you with us.” / “如果你跟我们一起 那就是一起了” – Chris Partlow
  6. “Don’t try this shit at home.” / “别自己在家里瞎忙” – Norman Wilson
  7. “Aw yeah. That golden rule.” / “嗯 这可是金科玉律” – Bunk
  8. “We got our thing, but it’s just part of the big thing.” / “我们都有自己的角色 可是和大局比起来只是一个棋子” – Zenobia
  9. “Might as well dump ’em, get another.” / “你也可以丢了买台新的” – Proposition Joe
  10. “World goin’ one way, people another.” / “世界忘一个方向 人往另一个方向” – Poot
  11. “You play in dirt, you get dirty” / “常在河边走 哪能不湿鞋”– McNulty
  12. “That all there is to it?” / “这事儿就这样了?” – Bubbles
  13. “If animal trapped call 410-844-6286″ / 如果有动物被困住了 打410-844-6286” – Baltimore, traditional / 巴尔的摩传统

The Wire Chinese The Wire Chinese

Hanzi tattoo designs in season 4 as well! Namond says 心 & 虎 mean ‘heart’ and ‘lion’, although also the Chinese subtitles point out the latter is ‘tiger’.


The Wire Chinese

Ok, stretching it but “生意兴隆” in season four of The Wire (“thriving business”, Pleco even lists it as a sample sentence).

The Wire Chinese

Other quotes:

  • “So what, man? You earned that buck like a motherfucker.” / “那又怎么样? 你一副热络的蠢样不就是为了挣钱嘛” — Snoop
  • “Yeah, now, well, the thing about the old days, they the old days / 那是啊 说到以往的时候, 那都已经是以往了— Slim Charles
  • “Man, money ain’t go no owners, only spenders” / “嘿 钱可没主人 谁能花出去拿出诶算数.” — Omar

Season 5

  1. “The bigger the lie, the more they believe.” / “谎撒得越大他们越信以为真” – Bunk
  2. “This ain’t Aruba, bitch.”  / “这儿又不是Aruba婊子” – Bunk
  3. “They’re dead where it doesn’t count.” / “他们没死在对的地方” – Fletcher
  4. “Buyer’s market out there.” / “现在是买家市场– Templeton
  5. “Just ’cause they’re in the street doesn’t mean that they lack opinions.”/ “住大街上又不代表他们没有想法 – Haynes
  6. “If you have a problem with this, I understand completely.” / “你要有不满我完全理解– Freamon
  7. “They don’t teach it in law school.” / “反正法学院里可没教过这个– Pearlman
  8. “A lie ain’t a side of the story, it’s just a lie.” / “谎言不是事实的另一面 他就是谎言” – Terry Hanning
  9. “Deserve got nuthin’ to do with it.” / “跟活不活该没关系” – Snoop
  10. “The Life of Kings” / “…国王的生活”– H. L. Mencken

Other quotes:

  • “Ain’t no shame in holdin’ on to grief. As long as you make room for other things, too.” / “心怀悲伤并不是可耻的事情,只要你还为其他向往留出空档” — Bubs