Hangzhou’s Morning Express, a commercial spin-off of the official Zhejiang Daily [view on the China Media Map], reported on April 6 that the State Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARFT), China’s top broadcast authority, had banned the use of English-language acronyms in television and radio broadcasts.

The news quickly spread through the Web, and the official English-language China Daily, a newspaper for foreign consumption published by the State Council Information Office, reported on April 10 that “Chinese people, both ordinary viewers and linguists, are split over the matter.” The paper, which reported that a “heated debate is underway,” said the action had been taken to “alleviate the concern [that] too many English abbreviations have mixed with Chinese and soiled the purity of the Chinese language and Chinese culture.”

On April 15, SARFT deputy inspector Gao Changli said the notice from his ministry had been “misunderstood.” The intention, he said, was not to ban certain language usages, but rather to standardize the practice.

“[We] don’t rule out alien culture,” Gao was quoted as saying.

Nevertheless, the supposed acronym ban provided media commentators an occasion to discuss such the importance of rule of law and criticize the often arbitrary and intrusive nature of governance in China.

Writing at Guangzhou’s Southern Metropolis Daily [view on the China Media Map] on April 9, CMP fellow and Renmin University of China professor Zhang Ming (张鸣) said that China’s inundation by these official bans showed that it remained predominantly a nation of “rule by men”, or renzhi (人治), rather than rule of law. [See a full translation in our “CMP Fellows Column“.]

“These bans that vary according to human caprice can be seen everywhere,” Zhang wrote. “For example, in this ban against the use of English-language acronyms.”

We’ve been shouting “NBA” for I don’t know how many years, and Yao Ming is so hot his temperature can’t rise. Suddenly, we’re not allowed to say it. Our leaders rack their brains and another ban comes into the world. After a while there will be a change in leadership, and this ban will become a ghost of the past. Then along will come the next new face with his own bans.

Writing on April 7 in Shaanxi’s commercial Huashang Bao [view on the China Media Map], columnist Jiang Debin (江德斌) said a “ban like this really leaves people speechless.”

“Foreign language abbreviations like ‘NBA,’ ‘F1,’ ‘GDP’ and ‘CPI’ have become conventional grammar habits, and they even appear in official English-Chinese dictionaries,” Jiang wrote. “Why must we have this ban saying they cannot appear in television programs?”

If acronyms were no longer acceptable for household staples like the NBA, Jiang said, then the acronyms commonly used to refer to China’s own state broadcasters should by rights get the axe too.

“If we want to get rid of these, then we should be consistent about it. ‘CCTV’ is also [an English] acronym for ‘China Central Television’. So should we put a stop to that too? That would mean the abbreviations for all television stations across the country would have to be changed.”

MORE COVERAGE:
Should Acronyms be Banned or Not?” [in Chinese], Sanqin Metropolis Daily, April 15, 2010
SARFT Ban on English Acronyms ‘Amuses’ the People” [in Chinese], Phoenix Online, April 17, 2010

[Frontpage image by Joe Gratz available at Flickr.com under Creative Commons license.]