From online discussions to adverts, Chinese culture is full of puns. But the country’s print and broadcast watchdog has ruled that there is nothing funny about them. It has banned wordplay on the grounds that it breaches the law on standard spoken and written Chinese, makes promoting cultural heritage harder and may mislead the public – especially children.

The casual alteration of idioms risks nothing less than “cultural and linguistic chaos”, it warns. Chinese is perfectly suited to puns because it has so many homophones. Popular sayings and even customs, as well as jokes, rely on wordplay.

But the order from the State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television says: “Radio and television authorities at all levels must tighten up their regulations and crack down on the irregular and inaccurate use of the Chinese language, especially the misuse of idioms.”

Programmes and adverts should strictly comply with the standard spelling and use of characters, words, phrases and idioms – and avoid changing the characters, phrasing and meanings, the order said.

Though the notice conedes that “idioms are one of the great features of the Chinese language and contain profound cultural heritage and historical resources and great aesthetic, ideological and moral values,” the agency fears their continued use in media will create public misunderstandings, especially amongst children, and will corrupt the purity of the Chinese language.

The idea of linguistic purity in China is not new- The People’s Daily strongly protested the incorporation of English terms such as “wifi” and “CEO” into the Chinese language earlier this year.

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