In a seemingly bizarre announcement, the People’s Republic of China’s State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television announced that all wordplay, including the use of puns and idioms, is to be banned.
The state’s position is that the continuous use of wordplay is contrary to the laws put in place to protect the cultural heritage and language of China, going on to add that the casual alteration of idioms risks nothing less than “cultural and linguistic chaos”
Those with any knowledge of Mandarin and Cantonese will know that it’s well suited to puns due to the amount of homophones inherent in both languages. In fact, wordplay is deeply entrenched in Chinese culture so much so that the authorities also recognised the cultural importance of wordplay while simultaneously banning it.
The edict as it stands now is solely pointed towards radio, television and print, warning that they must crack down on any infractions immediately.
While it seems unlikely that the ruling will have much of an effect on the populous for whom puns and wordplay is simply a way of life, it will be highly unlikely that publishers and broadcasters won’t heed the ruling.
While Beijing’s ruling may seem in keeping with current policy to protect and preserve Chinese culture and language, many commentators believe Beijing’s motives to be somewhat more self-serving than the official line.
The Internet age has brought about the perfect platform for wordplay and puns to develop poking fun and undermining the leadership. The speed and uptake of many puns and wordplay used subversively against the ruling party has angered and worried party officials for many years.
Perhaps the most famous of these is the Grass Mud Horse meme, which has become the battle cry of those opposed to Internet censorship in China. The meme has been widely used since 2009 and has taken on a life of its own, appearing on clothing and cartoons.
What seems to have sparked this announcement was a fairly innocuous pun poking fun at the self styled term of affection Daddy Xi and Mama Peng used to refer to President Xi Jinping and first lady Peng Liyuan.
By combining the first charactes of Daddy and Mama, you get Dama – which is a homonym of marijuana. A solitary Internet user writing “And so we enter the Dama [marijuana] Era,” caught on very quickly, much to the anger of Beijing officials.
The difficulty for the authorities will be convincing the citizens of China to comply. Wordplay is so entrenched in Chinese culture that it would seen an impossible task to convince the Chinese citizens to abandon it when so much of their culture comes from the use of wordplay. A few examples are:
In the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), many of the traditions enjoyed are a direct result of homophonous fun.
Fish are eaten and used as decoration as the common Spring Festival wish of “There will be an abundance every year” is homophonous in Mandarin with “There will be fish every year.”
A black, hair like algae is often eaten as its name, Fa cai, is a close homophone of the word for prosperity.
The word for lettuce, shēngcài, is near homophonous with the phrase shēng cá meaning to make money ensures that the first meal of the New Year is always served with lettuce.