China’s government is worried about a new threat to Chinese cultural heritage: the use of wordplay.
An order announced last week by China’s State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television says,
“Radio and television authorities at all levels must tighten up their regulations and crack down on the irregular and inaccurate use of the Chinese language, especially the misuse of idioms.”
In no uncertain terms, the officials warned against the casual alteration of idioms (ie. figures of speech) in the Chinese language, saying it could lead to, “cultural and linguistic chaos.”
The announcement added that idioms are,
“…one of the great features of the Chinese language and contain profound cultural heritage and historical resources and great aesthetic, ideological and moral values.”
But it’s this very fact that has so many people up in arms about the new regulations.
“That’s the most ridiculous part of this: [wordplay] is so much part and parcel of Chinese heritage,”
says David Moser, who works in CET Chinese studies (a language department) at Beijing Capital Normal University.
The Guardian cites a few examples of Chinese wordplay:
“When couples marry, people will give them dates and peanuts – a reference to the wish Zaosheng guizi or “May you soon give birth to a son”. The word for dates is also zao and peanuts are huasheng… “
“In a tourism promotion campaign, tweaking the characters used in the phrase jin shan jin mei – perfection – has turned it into a slogan translated as “Shanxi, a land of splendours.”
Wordplay and puns have also become increasingly popular on Chinese social media as a way to avoid China’s internet censors.
So why is China making this move now? Well, the government cites complaints from TV viewers and radio listeners, but David Moser has his own theories:
“It could just be a small group of people, or even one person, who are conservative, humourless, priggish and arbitrarily purist, so that everyone has to fall in line. But I wonder if this is not a preemptive move, an excuse to crack down for supposed ‘linguistic purity reasons’ on the cute language people use to crack jokes about the leadership or policies. It sounds too convenient.”
Whatever the reason, it will be interesting to see how China will go about enforcing these rules – filtering all that wordplay will pundoubtably be one heck of a pundertaking. See what I did there?? Ok sorry I’ll stop…
Read the original story from The Guardian.