Banning foreign-language signs in China

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The title of an article in International Business Times proclaims:  "'Chinglish' Signs To Be Wiped Out: Ban On Foreign Names Soon To Go In Effect".

While getting rid of Chinglish signs may be an admirable goal (though not in the eyes of everyone!), banning English on signs altogether is an entirely different matter.

The city of Shenzhen in the south is encouraging citizens to report substandard English signage and will even reward them for doing so.  In contrast, the centrally located province of Henan

has announced a new ban, effective Oct. 15, on the use of foreign person and place names in the Chinese-language names of buildings, streets and other locales. According to the Global Times, the new regulation was introduced as a remedy for the “chaotic situation of place naming,” where buildings or developments “deploy vulgar nomenclature,” the publication said.

Such campaigns and threats have been made countless times in the past.  Nevertheless, neither will English disappear from signs beginning on October 15 (three days from now!), nor will Chinglish be significantly diminished in Shenzhen in the coming weeks and months.  The authorities may wish that these things would happen, but they do not have the resources nor the means to enforce their policies concerning the use of English on signs in areas under their jurisdiction.

[h.t. Jerry Friedman]


  1. Bruce Rusk said,

    October 12, 2013 @ 7:46 pm

    A very snide commentator might notice that Zhengzhou University, in Henan's capital city, has an Institute of Marxist-Leninist Thought (郑州大学马克思主义学院). Presumably the use of two foreign personal names is highly unacceptable.

  2. Mo Chen said,

    October 12, 2013 @ 8:27 pm

    "banning English on signs altogether is an entirely different matter"

    No, I think both the IBT article and Prof. Mair misunderstood a bit about the Henan ban.

    The ban is not so much about displaying English on signs, but rather "ban the use of foreign person or foreign place names in the Chinese-language names of buildings, streets and other places. "

    The Global Times also wrote that "But the situation of names written in their original language is not specified by the new regulation, "

    So Chinese names like 曼哈顿广场 will be banned, while signs displaying "Manhattan plaza" may well be tolerated.

    Frankly I don't know if they have made allowances for 马克思 (Marx) to stay.

  3. Jean-Michel said,

    October 12, 2013 @ 10:42 pm

    Presumably Marx (the Chinese name doesn't include Lenin, hmm) will be grandfathered in. Hopefully Norman Bethune will be too, otherwise 郑州白求恩医学院 (Zhengzhou Bethune Medical College) is gonna be in trouble.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 8:05 am

    If "Manhattan Plaza" is allowed, but Mànhādùn guǎngchǎng 曼哈顿广场 (which, after all, means no more and no less than "Manhattan Plaza") is NOT allowed, how, pray tell, are Chinese going to refer to "Manhattan Plaza"? Will Chinese be allowed to say / write "Marx", "Lenin" and "Bethune", but not Mǎkèsī 马克思, Lièníng 列宁, and Báiqiú'ēn 白求恩? What, after all, is the ultimate intent of these new regulations?

  5. Mr Punch said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 12:54 pm

    They'll probably just take a lot of apostrophes out and maybe insert extra hyphens, as in Quebec.

  6. Mo Chen said,

    October 16, 2013 @ 12:34 am

    "Chinese movie director Feng Xiaogang critizing Chinese real estate developers giving their estates foreign names"

    (link in Chinese)

    That was Sept 26.

    So the Henan decree could be seen as a direct response to that.

  7. Poop Dick said,

    November 8, 2013 @ 1:43 am

    Quebec anyone?

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