Pinyin as subversive subtext

« previous post | next post »

B JS sent in this interesting example of using Pinyin (“spelling”) as a subtext for notional meaning rendered in characters from Baidu tieba [Post Bar] (though sometimes when I look for this post it seems to get scrubbed by the censors):

Here’s the overt text:

Zhè shì guójì zhǔyì de jīngshén, zhè shì gòngchǎn zhǔyì de jīngshén, měi yīgè gòngchǎndǎng yuán dōu yào xuéxí zhè zhǒng jīngshén.

这是国际主义的精神,这是共产主义的精神,每一个共产党员都要学习这种精神。

This is the spirit of internationalism, this is the spirit of communism; every member of the Communist Party should learn this spirit.

Here’s the subverted text:

Zhè shì guójì zhǔyì de jīngshén, zhè shì gòngchǎn zhǔyì de jīngshén, měi yīgè tǔfěidǎng yuán dōu yào xuéxí zhè zhǒng jīngshén.

这是国际主义的精神,这是共产主义的精神,每一个土匪党员都要学习这种精神。

This is the spirit of internationalism, this is the spirit of communism; every member of the Bandit Party should learn this spirit.

When I lived in Taiwan from 1970-72, I constantly heard the expression “gòngfěi 共匪”, which is short for “gòngchǎndǎng tǔfěi 共产党土匪” (“communist bandits”).

It’s not unusual for people to use Pinyin to substitute for Chinese characters when they forget them or for special effects, e.g.:

Instances of using Pinyin mixed in with characters to avoid censorship are less common, but increasing in number as more and more netizens realize how effective it can be, e.g.:

For many other uses of Pinyin, see:

When people employ Pinyin in the sophisticated, clever way illustrated at the beginning of this post, you know that digraphia is not just “emerging” (often mentioned on Language Log, e.g., here, here, here, and here), it is already in process of arriving.



2 Comments

  1. BJS said,

    March 17, 2017 @ 3:36 pm

    Worth adding perhaps that this is not just present in order to evade censorship: for example, this is an image from a box that has xin1yi4 (心意) as a subtext for “回家”, perhaps to indicate that sending the package is a way to convey the sentiment of wanting to go home.

    These usages are definitely a potentially interesting way Pinyin can add value to the language without too much disruption. It would be good to see examples of this begin to appear in more formal contexts.

  2. JB said,

    March 17, 2017 @ 10:14 pm

    It would be even more subversive to render the offending characters as, say, Zhuyin or Wade-Giles instead of the communist-created Pinyin…

RSS feed for comments on this post