The magazine wanted to do a focus on China, and wanted a nice "neutral" and "non-offensive" Chinese calligraphy of a poem as its cover. Unwittingly, the calligraphy chosen was a sex-ad in Chinese.
SMH: One of Europe's most prestigious scientific research institutes has had to issue an apology after discovering that the calligraphy used on the cover of its flagship publication to illustrate a special China edition was in fact an ad for a Hong Kong strip joint.
The institute hastily replaced the cover - which advertises "hot, young housewives" - from the online and English edition of the publication, Max Planck Research, but not before the German language version of the periodical had been dispatched to subscribers.
The calligraphy, which was vetted by a sinologist before publication, was believed to have "depicted classical Chinese characters in a non-controversial context".
Instead, the text was identified by many Chinese internet users as similar to wall posters found in the red light district of Mongkok in Hong Kong which spruik strip clubs and brothels.
The exact translation is open to interpretation.
According to the general translation, the text begins:
"We spend a lot of money to have [girls] to be in house during daytime.
"Our mama sans, Ga Mei and KK, present you with young and beautiful girls. Stylish and good mannered beauties from the North [of China]. Sexy and hot, young housewives. Flirty and enchanting, available today."
A Taiwanese reader on the University of Pennsylvania's Language Log blog provided a more formal translation:
"With high salary, we have sincerely employed [lots of strippers/girls] to stay in our daytime show.
"Jiamei as the director, she will personally lead young girls who are as pretty as jade.
"[We have] beauties from the north who appear in all their glory with thousands of deportments.
"[We have] young housewives who have hot body that will stir up your [sexual] fire.
"They are sexy, horny and enchanting. The performance will begin in few days!"
In its apology, the institute - which is named after the German physicist credited as the founder of quantum theory - said the Chinese text "had been chosen by our editorial office in order to symbolically illustrate the magazine's focus on China".
"Unfortunately, it has now transpired that this text contains inappropriate content of a suggestive nature," the apology states.
"To our sincere regret, however, it has now emerged that the text contains deeper levels of meaning, which are not immediately accessible to a non-native speaker."
The replacement calligraphy on the cover refers to a book written by the 16th century Swiss Jesuit, Johannes Schreck, titled Illustrated Explanations of Strange Devices.
p/s: left was mistake, right is the new cover