Beijing’s call to ban foreign words in Chinese media meets with mocking satire

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 April, 2014, 6:10pm
UPDATED : Monday, 28 April, 2014, 8:52am

The Chinese authorities' recent call to banish foreign words in Chinese publications and broadcast has soon met with scathing sarcasm and mockery online.

The Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily has been waging a war on the direct use of non-Chinese words such as “iPhone” and “Wi-fi” in the Chinese language. The paper has published two editorials in the past week, claiming that “mingling foreign words in Chinese has damaged the Chinese language’s purity and undermined communication”.

The concerns come at a time when popular English terms and expressions have become more commonly used in the daily life of the Chinese than ever, as they embrace western cultural products such as Hollywood blockbusters and British TV dramas like Downton Abbey and Sherlock

The articles question why the Chinese language had to include English abbreviations while similar terms borrowed from other languages, for example “kung fu”, are always translated into English letters in English-speaking nations.

Guangming Daily, another major newspaper run by the Communist Party, on Sunday urged the authorities to step up their efforts in providing official Chinese translations for imported foreign words before they become widely used by the public.

However, members of the online community say they find the idea ridiculous and implausible, as substituted Chinese translations are almost always longer, more convoluted, and harder to get used to.

Many defiant internet users have published pretend online conversations substituting unwieldy translations for commonly-used English terms and abbreviations, mocking what they perceived as unnecessary official concerns.

By Sunday afternoon, the Weibo topic "Grand competition to keep the purity of the Chinese language," a jocular term coined by online users as they poke fun at the official campaign, had received almost 130,000 hits. 

“Excuse me, do you know where the Very Important Person lounge is?” one online user wrote, envisioning how a conversation would sound without using the English term VIP.

Another wrote: “Today’s level of ‘atmospheric particulate matter with diameter of 2.5 micrometres or less’ has broken the record again,” in a mock media report that avoids the use of PM2.5, which has become a household term amid China’s soaring air pollution.

Some observers say the latest campaign is part of Beijing’s renewed efforts to curb the growing foreign influence in the nation’s tightly-regulated media and popular culture. Chinese media reported during the weekend that top online video sites including Sohu Video have stopped providing online streaming of popular US TV dramas such as The Big Bang Theory and The Good Wife

In 2012, the Chinese government formed a linguistics committee tasked with standardising the use of foreign words. Last year it approved and published the first 10 standardised Chinese translations for popular English terms like the WTO, Aids, and GDP, and ordered all media outlets to adopt the new terms. It is expected to roll out the second and third batches of official translations this year.

In one of the earlier efforts to reduce the use of English abbreviations in public, the state television network CCTV in 2010 banned its news anchors from using the term “NBA” during broadcasts, asking them to instead use the term “US professional basketball association”.

But this provoked an overwhelming backlash from audiences and basketball fans who over the years had become used to hearing and using the terms, calling the measure awkward and clumsy, and largely a formalism.

“‘CCTV’ itself has been used as a label on television for years, shouldn’t it change to its Chinese name as well?” asked one critic in response, echoed by many other users.