By Shivani Patel, Staff Writer
Being punny may not seem like a federal crime, but lawmakers in China say otherwise.
On Nov. 24, the Chinese State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television banned “the irregular and inaccurate use of the Chinese language, especially the misuse of idioms.” From headlines to advertisements, the use of wordplay and idioms is considered a cornerstone of Chinese culture.
The reason for the popularity of wordplay has to do with the language itself.
For example, a travel tourism campaign changed the phrase “jin shan jin mei” (which roughly translated into “perfection”) and tweaked a character to make it mean “Shanxi,” a land of splendors. Similarly, the tweak of a character or two in other phrases has the capability of changing the meaning entirely.
A possible reason for the ban could be the abuse of puns in dealings of political unrest. With so much censorship surrounding the Internet, Chinese citizens have been using these small tweaks as a loophole to talk about what they wanted without being censored. The censorship in China tracks certain words or phrases. By using the loophole, protesters were able to condemn actions by the government without fear of consequences.
SAPPRFT’s Nov. 24 press release stated all media should adhere to the traditional spellings and words in the Chinese language. This, according to their reasoning, would help maintain the purity of the language.
This ban is especially confusing because SAPPRFT admitted toward the end of the release that the idioms reflect the importance of Chinese culture and heritage. Why ban that which makes the culture unique? The rest of the world may never know.
Reactions to the ban have ranged from the incredulous to the furious, with due reason. The idea of banning puns seems so ridiculous, but it’s a very real policy in China.
With protests booming in Hong Kong over recent government leadership issues, there’s speculation over whether or not the government enacted this change to help stem the protests from going viral and reaching the rest of the world. The Chinese government is clearly worried that the pun is mightier than the sword.