Censors wrong about 'purity' of language

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 February, 2011, 12:00am

The prosperity and cultural wealth of a nation or a city often depend on the ability to interact with the wider world. The opening up of China's economy to foreign investment and free-market principles in the late 1970s finally allowed its people to interact, learn and give back to the global economy. Within a short space of time, Chinese characteristics, customs and culinary tastes entered global mainstream culture, and ignorance of such customs is becoming a reflection of stubborn parochialism.

Similarly, life on the mainland has been transformed by its renewed interaction with the rest of the world with foreign brands and fast food stores in every major city. But while there is no doubt that Chinese life has been subjected to Western influences, it would be absurd to suggest that Chinese culture or language has somehow been diluted because of the prevalence of Western culture and its symbols in everyday life. In order to access the internet, it is inevitable that even Chinese users will have to make use of English letters, and yet the internet has provided the Chinese population with unprecedented opportunities to express their Chinese identity.

Nevertheless, the mainland's top censor, the General Administration of Press and Publication, has felt it necessary to ban the use of English words and abbreviations in the media, claiming the 'purity' of the Chinese language was under threat. It is also proposing a ban on the use of English characters in building names and addresses. If this were an attempt to universalise addresses or spelling, it would be understandable. But the censors are proposing these changes on the basis of their belief that there is such a thing as language 'purity' and that the Chinese language is somehow being defiled. If such 'purity' exists, then it would only be obtained by being no longer in use. Latin probably comes close to it. The assimilation of other cultures and linguistic characteristics into Chinese is a mark of China's modernisation and pluralism and this evolution of the language has encouraged, not diminished, people's ability to express their distinctly Chinese identity.