Chinese Writing in Noonien Soong's Labs

by Lin Jingqiu

Identifying the WritingAbout Soong's Name and Ancestry


Dr. Noonien Soong's deserted lab on Omicron Theta can be seen in TNG: "Datalore". The hideout of Data's creator appears in TNG: "Brothers". While the first features various scientific equipment, the latter is notable for its many eccentric exhibits. What the two places set up by Soong have in common is a number of graphics, labels and other writing. It was already known for a long time that these were Chinese, but only the HD version of TNG allows to identify many of the smaller ones.

All of the labels are Traditional Chinese characters, instead of Simplified Chinese characters currently used in the Chinese Mainland, Singapore and Malaysia. Some of them are too blurred to be readable, though.


Identifying the Writing


Two types of labels with identical writing can be seen outside the lab, on both sides of the round door and on the casket-like box with the two lateral consoles on Omicron Theta in TNG: "Datalore". For a long time, these have remained the only ones that could be identified. We can see the characters 化驗所 (huyn suǒ), which I previously translated as "chemical examination room", but now I think "chemical examination place" or "chemical examination lab" would be more accurate translations, since the character 所 indicates a place or a kind of institution (either academic, scientific or political). "Chemical examination room" should be 化驗室 (huyn sh).

In HD, some labels remain too small or blurry to decipher. However, in a close shot we can recognize the blue characters next to the leg on the anatomical diagram behind Data, Geordi and Riker. They read 消化系統 "digestion system". 消化系統 (xiāohu xtǒng) refers to the digestive system in human/animal bodies, so I am not sure why it is labeled here. It is possibly a mistranslation (or was it actually meant to denote the android's digestive system, perhaps as an in-joke, and was moved around?).


Unlike in "Datalore", the doors and the equipment on Terlina III in TNG: "Brothers" are not labeled. But there is a hexagonal panel in "Brothers" with Traditional Chinese characters on it.

Most notably the big blue characters 化驗所 for "chemical examination lab" on the left and on the right side are the same as in "Datalore". Aside from that there are red or pink characters on the upper left:

On the upper right side, there are the following pink characters:

The words on the right side are somewhat broken. I guess someone in the production team, who knew Chinese, wrote them down for the prop designers or set designers to use, but the designers did not understand them and mistakenly ripped them apart. When put together, they possibly meant to be 感應系統 "induction system", 化驗系統 "chemical examination system", 超低溫系統 "ultra-low temperature system" and 消化系統 "digestion system" (the latter as already in "Datalore").

On the lower right, we can recognize the following:

Finally, we can read this on the lower left:

In Dr. Noonien Soong's book, 感應系統 (gǎnyìng xìtǒng) "induction system" appears again, together with another unknown "system" (I cannot identify the first two characters).

In another scene, next to Dr. Soong's blackboard, there a piece of paper with many sentences written on it, apparently all in Chinese, but they are too blurred to be read. We can only recognize the 化驗所 (huàyàn suǒ) "chemical examination lab" symbol on the paper.

It seems this whole place is named "chemical exmination lab" and has its own logo. However, this lab is for making androids, and chemical examinations don't seem to be the major purpose. I guess it was originally intended to be 實驗所 (shíyàn suǒ) "experimental lab", but the person who wrote Chinese characters for the production team mistakenly translated it to 化驗所 (huàyàn suǒ).

On the blackboard, among the formulae, there are three Chinese characters too: 星小川. When put together, they are meaningless. In the real world, Chinese characters would not appear in mathematical or physical formulae.

Overall, 星小川 are probably just three random Chinese characters, but 星 and 小川 can be Japanese personal names, so maybe a crew member of Japanese descent (such as Mike Okuda) included them as an in-joke.

Additional diagram

Star Trek The Next Generation: The Continuing Mission depicts a graphic that was supposedly created for "Datalore" and may show up in "Brothers" in some fashion, perhaps in Soong's book. It shows three diagrams of an android with labels.

The following Chinese characters can be identified:

Some of the above Chinese characters may look a bit different from those in the picture, because the picture used variant forms that can't be typed on computers or mobile phones.

Two words here (偱廻 and 伺助) are strange or archaic, so strange that I can't even find a single appearance of them on the Internet. However, they are not meaningless or mistranslated. I have tried to approximately translate these two words.


About Soong's Name and Ancestry

Soong is the Chinese family name 宋 (Sng, often spelt as Sung in Hong Kong, Taiwan and among overseas Chinese, and, before the 1950s, in the Mainland, too). This is pronounced like "Soong" in English. That is why Noonien Soong uses Chinese language labels in his labs. The famous Song Dynasty and the family name both come from a place name.

Noonien sounds like Chinese, too, though I have not heard of any Chinese people with a name like that. Since the name Noonien has been used for unrelated characters in Star Trek, I think it is not Chinese.

In real life, the name of Data's creator Noonien Soong came to pass for the same reason as that of supervillain Khan Noonian Singh some 20 years earlier. Gene Roddenberry reportedly tried to contact a fellow pilot from WWII by the name of Kim Noonien Singh, which sadly failed. This explains the odd similarity of the two names (with Khan being a common last name in Pakistan, which is also hinted at in TOS: "Space Seed"). Only in the most recent years, the two are also linked in-universe, in PIC: "Farewell" and SNW: "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow". In some TNG scripts and even on screen in Data's personnel file in TNG: "Conundrum", the spelling of Soong's first name was "Noonian" like that of Khan. The latter was switched to "Noonien" for the remastered episode.

As an alternative to having Brent Spiner play three roles in "Brothers" (Data, Lore and Dr. Soong with heavy make-up), the production began casting elderly male actors of Chinese ancestry, to conform with the name Soong and his use of Chinese writing.

Rick Berman: "Keye Luke [who had played Donald Cory from TOS: "Whom Gods Destroy"] was one of the people we were thinking about, but we ended up finding a way production-wise we could do it. It would have been a lot less expensive to have done it with another actor, but we ended up doing it with Brent and that made it a little more fun." (Captain's Log, p. 209)

Spiner went on to play Noonien Soong and various other male members of the family, but now without any indication that they were meant to be Chinese.


See Also

Observations in TNG: "Datalore"

Observations in TNG: "Brothers"


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