China Bans Wordplay in Attempt at Pun Control
A “grass mud horse” in ChinaIn their ever-continuing efforts to make Chinese media as bland as fresh, uncooked tofu, government censors have told media outlets to ban puns and other wordplay, supposedly to retain the purity of the Chinese language.
It may also be an effort to control witty criticisms of the government, and to quash word substitutions for banned language. One popular substitution on the web has been the phrase “grass mud horse” — cǎonímǎ (草泥马) — which sounds like the characters for “fuck your mother” — cào nǐ mā (肏你妈).
Netizens have used similar substitutions to refer to China’s leaders when their names are otherwise blocked or censored.
Chinese is perfectly suited to puns because it has so many homophones. Popular sayings and even customs, as well as jokes, rely on wordplay.
But the order from the State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television says: “Radio and television authorities at all levels must tighten up their regulations and crack down on the irregular and inaccurate use of the Chinese language, especially the misuse of idioms.”
Programmes and adverts should strictly comply with the standard spelling and use of characters, words, phrases and idioms - and avoid changing the characters, phrasing and meanings, the order said.
“Idioms are one of the great features of the Chinese language and contain profound cultural heritage and historical resources and great aesthetic, ideological and moral values,” it added.
Considering China has age-old puns in its language and culture, one can only conclude the fuddy-duddies in Beijing want to suppress criticism of Chinese society and politics.