At the Wall Street Journal, Te-Ping Chen reports that the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), China’s main print and broadcast regulator, has ordered [Chinese] wordplay out of ads and off the air, claiming that linguistic quips are an affront to Chinese culture and a threat to the nation’s soft power reserves:
[…] Examples cited by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, or SAPPRFT – whose dim view of language abuse evidently doesn’t include any reticence about long-winded names — include slogans that have been previously used to promote tourism and medical treatment.
[…] As part of an antipun rationale, authorities also cited the need to improve China’s soft power abroad. Building soft power, the regulator said, required creating more cultural awareness and confidence. [Source]
The Guardian’s Tania Branigan quotes the SAPPRFT order on the cultural sanctity of idioms in the Chinese language, and an expert on the role that wordplay itself has long played in Chinese culture and his suspicion that this move might be politically motivated:
“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.
[…] “That’s the most ridiculous part of this: [wordplay] is so much part and parcel of Chinese heritage,” said David Moser, academic director for CET Chinese studies at Beijing Capital Normal University.
[…] “But I wonder if this is not a preemptive move, an excuse to crack down for supposed ‘linguistic purity reasons’ on the cute language people use to crack jokes about the leadership or policies. It sounds too convenient.”
Internet users have been particularly inventive in finding alternative ways to discuss subjects or people whose names have been blocked by censors. [Source]
Also see CDT’s Grass Mud Horse Lexicon, an ever-expanding resource explaining the language netizens use to discuss politically sensitive topics amid strict censorship in China.