Mainland censors mull banning English characters

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 February, 2011, 12:00am

Beijing's plan to ban the use of Roman alphabetical characters - like those used in English - even in the names of tower blocks has angered critics.

A month ago, the General Administration of Press and Publication banned the use of English words and abbreviations like WTO and 'e-mail' in the media as it threatened the 'purity' of the Chinese language. Now the mainland's censor wants upmarket buildings to lose English characters on their signs. The move would especially target buildings in Beijing and Shanghai by banning names such as Block A or Room 2B.

One proposed rule by the Beijing Bureau of Quality and Technical Supervision says 'foreign language characters' must not be used for labelling buildings or flats. Only Arabic numbers - 1, 2, 3 and so on - should be used.

The proposal also seeks to ban the practice of omitting certain floor numbers, such as 4 or 14 (which sound like the word 'death' in Chinese), in commercial buildings. This also happens in Hong Kong.

However, the notice on the government's official website invites people to send their comments to the bureau by 'e-mail'. It uses the English word, instead of the Chinese equivalent. Critics said the recent restrictions on foreign language show a rise in cultural prejudice.

Li Gongming, a culture critic, said efforts to suppress cultural trends were 'contrary to [the trend] of cultural openness and the sharing of universal values'.