Clamp down on English

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In media reporting on current events in China, two of the most conspicuous terms one encounters are "clamp down" (qǔdì 取缔, qiābā 掐巴, qiánzhì 钳制, etc.) and "crack down" (yánlì dǎjí 严厉打击 / 嚴厲打擊 [to show how different simplified and traditional forms of the characters can be]).  There are also numerous other similar terms with related meanings in common use, such as those for "ban; forbid; outlaw; suppress; repress".  These clamp/crack downs and bans can be directed toward Islam, Christianity, feminism, human rights advocates / lawyers, any form of dissent, and so forth.  Yet no other clamp down has occasioned so much spontaneous and widespread opposition from those representing a broad spectrum of a large segment of the general population as the recent announcement of the new rules governing online video games.

"Mobile game devs are very pissed about China’s new censorship rules", by C. Custer, Tech in Asia (7/6/16)

For a sense of the overall context in which these new rules have been issued, check out some of the links (most are in English) as you read through the article, and for those who read Chinese, don't miss this one.

There we learn that the new rules imposed by SAPPRFT (State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television) include the following:

1. content cannot touch upon national leaders, sensitive personages, political matters, religion, superstition, crime, international affairs, etc.

2. can only use approved historical allusions that are well known

3. the game cannot have anything to do with gambling

4. artwork cannot present anything terrifying, violent, bloody, or sexually suggestive

5. no traditional characters, only simplified

6. no English whatsoever — this is where most developers are getting their new games rejected by SAPPRFT; there is to be no use of English — any English — in online video games; considering the current prevalence of English in online video games, it is hard to imagine that the government will be able to implement this rule and still allow for a flourishing culture of online video games

If a proposed game does not meet these standards, it will not be permitted to go online.

For the role of SAPPRFT in earlier language clamp downs, see, for instance:

"Punning banned in China" (11/29/14)

"It's not just puns that are being banned in China" (12/7/14)

Compared to the outrage over these new prohibitions against English in online video gaming, the dissatisfaction over complaints about Angelababy's English name was a mere flap, not a furor.

If the government is successful in enforcing these new rules, it will lead to the virtual death of creativity in online video gaming.  But maybe that's precisely what the government wants.

[Thanks to David Moser]


  1. Dick Enzyan said,

    July 7, 2016 @ 5:23 pm

    The "etc" in Rule 1 seems rather sweeping. I wonder if it is a deliberate catch-all.

  2. David Moser said,

    July 7, 2016 @ 7:57 pm

    What is SAPPRFT thinking? If you want to politicize a group of usually apolitical youth, this is the way to do it. Disrupt their source of escapism and remind them of the threats to their own personal liberty and way of life, and watch what happens.

  3. Michael Watts said,

    July 7, 2016 @ 10:12 pm

    Do these apply to all online games or just cell phone games? The other linked coverage seems pretty specific to cell phones.The relevant text appears to be here: . That defines "mobile games" as 以手机等移动智能终端为运行载体,通过信息网络供公众下载或者在线交互使用的游戏作品, which I can't fully translate but I would guess refers to games which (1) use "cell phones, etc." as a transportation medium (??), and either (2a) are offered for public download on any information network, or (2b) feature online multiplayer. I'd really appreciate clarification of that point (1).

    I was under the impression that chinese video games will use traditional characters if they want an old-timey feel, along the same lines as having an in-game clock showing earthly branches 地支 rather than arabic numerals. That seems like an odd thing to ban.

  4. Michael Rank said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 4:31 am

    The Techinasia story that Victor Mair mentions refers to "mobile games", so apparently this ridiculous ban only affects games for what we Brits call mobile phones and Yankee imperialists call cell phones.

  5. liuyao said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 7:22 am

    @Michael Watts

    运行 = "to run" as in running a computer program.

  6. Eidolon said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 1:51 pm

    "What is SAPPRFT thinking? If you want to politicize a group of usually apolitical youth, this is the way to do it. Disrupt their source of escapism and remind them of the threats to their own personal liberty and way of life, and watch what happens."

    Most likely, nothing will happen, and gamers will simply move back to pirating all the games from underground websites; and trust me – the Chinese government is not afraid of modern China's nerds, who are accustomed to censorship yet so apathetic to actual protests/political organization that they're not even comparable to the generation that forced the tanks to roll into Tiananmen.

  7. Eidolon said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 2:23 pm

    On the topic of English being banned specifically, it would seem that the Chinese government under Xi is making a serious effort to prevent just the sort of emerging English digraphia that is often discussed here on this site. A source, describing SAPPRFT's motivation, states that SAPPRFT believes "direct use of English words or abbreviations in games seriously damages the Chinese language’s purity and standards while destroying the harmony in the language environment, resulting in adverse social impacts." Hence the ban is not only targeted towards Chinese developers but also targets foreign developers who want to release their games in China, who are now required to translate their games into simplified Chinese.

    This is not the first time English digraphia and/or bilingualism in Chinese media has been attacked by the censors. In 2010, for example, Chinese news casters were ordered to stop using English acronyms in broadcasts. There is obviously political desire and will within the CCP to slow and/or stop the spread of English digraphia and/or bilingualism in China. This recent move, however, is more significant than previous moves in that it demands that a hugely popular medium of entertainment follow the same rules.

    That said, it won't stop piracy of English-language and foreign media/games, which is how Chinese have done for decades on computers. It also runs against the general goal of promoting English as a second language in China, but perhaps there is a movement within the CCP to *stop* promoting English as a second language, which have only begun to make itself felt.

  8. Matt said,

    July 9, 2016 @ 1:25 am

    What's the deal with rule 2 ("Can only use approved historical allusions that are well known")? Are they afraid that extremely well-read game companies will create sly political allegories based on historical references too obscure for the censors to catch?

    (I was thinking it might be a way to say "No, you can't release a game about a disrupted student demonstration in a certain Beijing square, that historical allusion isn't well enough known or approved", but it seems like rule 1 banning national leaders, political matters, etc. would be enough for that sort of thing.)

  9. Natalie Solent said,

    July 9, 2016 @ 12:19 pm

    Matt writes, "Are they afraid that extremely well-read game companies will create sly political allegories based on historical references too obscure for the censors to catch?"

    I've read in several memoirs by Chinese writers that there is a tradition in China of using historical references to make political points it would be dangerous to make explicitly.

  10. Eli said,

    July 9, 2016 @ 5:16 pm

    @Eidolon: While your comments about bilingualism are definitely relevant to the post, I'm not sure this relates to the concept of "digraphia." As far as I understand, digraphia is used to describe the multiple writing systems that are used in monolingual contexts; i.e. in the Chinese context the emerging digraphia would be the use of pinyin or non-standard characters such as "Q" alongside Chinese characters.

    I haven't been able to find out if the new SAPPRFT rules prohibit the use of pinyin to represent Chinese words in mobile games.

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