In Mandarin Chinese, the character for “hair” is pronounced as “fa/fà”, while the character for “law” is pronounced as “fǎ”, as in the words below. The two characters have the same pronunciation, with slightly different tones.
(The two screenshots are from Pleco.)
Moreover, there is a Chinese chengyu (traditional Chinese idiomatic expression, most of which consist of four characters) – “wu fa wu tian”, which literally (word-for-word) reads as: “no law no heaven”. It means:
(This screenshot is from Pleco.)
Literally (word-for-word) the sentence “我可以无发，但你不能无法!” reads like this: “I can no hair, but you can no law.”
It means: “I can go without hair, but you can’t be lawless.”
The creative highlight of the original Chinese sentence is the use of homophones: words pronounced the same but differing in meaning. Mandarin Chinese, as a tonal language, is really good at formulating this kind of homophonic puns.
So, to better preserve the ingenuity of the phonetic pun or the end rhyme of the source text, here are some different versions of English translation I can think of by far:
- I can go hairless, but you can’t be lawless.
- I can go without hair, but you can’t treat me unfair.
- No hair I can go, but nowhere the law should be absent.
- I can go without hair, but you can’t make justice so rare.
If you have other solutions, please be sure to let me know. Thank you.