Seems the language purity police in Beijing are going after anyone having fun with words. (Nowhere to Pun Amid Crackdown on Wordplay)
The official target seems to be advertising copy that plays on famous Chinese idioms. The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television calls these puns and twisted words an affront to Chinese culture.
The problem is that wordplay is a classic form of Chinese humor.
For example, a standard greeting in Mandarin for the New Year is Gong Xi Fa Cai (Wishing you wealth.) But by making a small change to Gong Xi Bai Cai (Wishing you white cabbage), you can bring down the house. (And it works in Cantonese as well.)
Of course, the real target might be the millions of Netizens who use puns to attack government officials and policies.
One of the classic plays is using May 35 (5/35) to denote June 4, the day in 1989 of the brutal crackdown in Tiananmen Square. (Of course, eventually the censors began blocking “May”, “35”, and “35th”.
The Grass-Mud Horse is a great example of how the Netizens in China started wordplay to express their feelings toward the government.
One of my favorites is bird anus. This one is dedicated to government spokesman Qín Gāng.
Because the names of government leaders and officials often become sensitive words, netizens frequently invent creative (and pejorative) homonyms to sidestep scrutiny and censorship. A career diplomat, Qin Gang (秦刚) has held a number of official posts at China’s Foreign Ministry since 1992. He is currently a ministry spokesperson and head of the ministry’s information department. The characters in his name are homophonic with those meaning “bird anus.” A netizen explains why this nickname fits Qin:
The anus is from where one farts and shits. In other words, if the bird wants to fart, the anus must let the fart pass—the anus cannot decide what kind of fart to fart. That is why he is called “Bird Anus.” [In Chinese “to fart” can also mean “to speak nonsense.”]