Gotta Love Chinese Play On Words

One of the things I learned in China way too many years ago is how much they love word play and play on words. (With just a quick switch of like-sounding words you can go from wishing someone a prosperous new year to wishing someone white cabbage. Trust me, it had my Shanghai friends rolling on the floor.)

The Chinese language depends on tones and pronunciation. At the same time different characters have similar sounds. So it makes sense that some of the more creative people would come up with ways to use homonyms to poke fun at official pronouncements.

Besides making the joke, the change in words (and characters) makes it more difficult for the Chinese censors.

The latest in the lexicon is “monkey-snake“. I’ll let China Digital Times explain:

hóu shé 猴蛇

Creature of Chinese Internet mythology representing state media and propaganda; homophone of “mouthpiece” (hóushé 喉舌).

The role of the media, according the Chinese Communist Party, is to serve as the Party’s mouthpiece. China Media Project traces the origin of this duty to the founding of the CCP itself. A test for journalists to obtain press cards, released in 2013, explains, “Unlike Western countries, the most important function of news media in our country is to be the ears, eyes, throat and tongue for the party and the people.” The Mandarin word “mouthpiece” breaks down to the characters hóu喉 (throat) and shé 舌 (tongue).

Netizens evoke the “monkey-snake” to satirize state media and the propaganda apparatus.

You will note that just a few years ago China tightened its rules as to who can be a journalist. And thanks to The New York Times, you can find out if you qualify as a journalist under the rules of China. (I like the answer to question 10. Kinda sums up the whole difference.)

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Filed under Censorship, China, Press Freedom

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