Planet China

All jokes aside

In a move straight out of the pages of George Orwell’s 1984, China’s media regulators banned puns last week. Why? Because they are “contradictory in spirit to the promotion of and continuance of excellent, traditional Chinese culture”.

Lest anyone doubt the seriousness of the campaign, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio and Film was kind enough to provide examples of the kind of thing that might induce “linguistic chaos”.

For example, a promotional slogan for Shanxi province had tweaked the first and third characters of Jinshanjinmei – an idiom meaning “perfection” – so that it read “Shanxi, land of splendours”.

An advertisement for cough medicine had played around with the well known phrase Keburonghuan –  “brook no delay” – so the characters read “cough won’t linger”.

The Chinese language, with its wealth of homonyms, lends itself to punning, which has been a part of traditional culture for centuries. But of course, it’s not puns like this that the authorities care about. They are more focused on the stuff online that has been created to get round Beijing’s censorship rules. Hence one pun likely to go through the regulatory wringer is “marijuana era”, a reference derived from combining the nicknames of President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan, and generally alluding to the personality cult around the Chinese leader. Expect all references to the marijuana era to disappear from the web forthwith.

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