Chinese Bureaucracy: Regulators Crack Down On The Use Of Puns!

Chinese Bureaucracy: Regulators Crack Down On The Use Of Puns!

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In a move right out of George Orwell’s ‘1984’, Chinese media regulators have issued a strange warning to the nation’s humorists and writers: abandon the use of the pun. Last week, the State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television issued an edict restricting the use and application of puns and “irregular wordplay” on TV and in all forms of advertising.

A common online character for the grass-mud horse containing three elements cǎo (as the grass radical), mǎ as a semantic component, and ní appearing to give the pronunciation

A common online character for the grass-mud horse containing three elements cǎo (as the grass radical), mǎ as a semantic component, and ní appearing to give the pronunciation

The invasive and socially corrosive order places a severe limitation on the imagination and humour of Chinese citizens. But, according to commentary published on the web, it is necessary in order to save the basics of Chinese culture. According to the Government, the use of deceptive and humorous language may eventually mislead young Chinese readers and result in “cultural and linguistic chaos”. In order to cut off the advance of such “chaos”, the administration has produced a guide to the standard use, idiomatic phrasing and meanings of characters.

In recent years, Chinese authors have found freedom of expression online. The language itself is open to inventive tinkering, given that slight changes in the written characters can often result in phrases that are not significantly different from the original phrase. An example provided by the Government highlights the potential for confusion; a single character change in a standard four-character idiom meaning “brook no delay,” can result in the very different phrase “coughing must not remain.” The two phases would be pronounced identically.

Culturally, the clampdown represents an attempt to pivot back to “traditional Chinese values”. As language is often used to make light of a serious situation, the Chinese have developed their brand of mischievous and often anti-establishment wordplay. For example, the idiom for “river crabs” is strikingly similar to the word for “harmony”, which subtly implies state censorship. In an effort to stamp out these (and other) kinds of dissident terms, the Chinese Communist Party has attempted to strike back.

But how successful will the Orwellian regulations prove to be?


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