Spoiler: the answer is “No.” But a Telegraph story has been making the rounds that features Huang Youyi, chairman of the International Federation of Translators, allegedly proposing to “ban [Chinese] publications from using English names, places, people and companies.” Actually, according to syz in the Language Log thread on the topic:

I *have* read a bit of what Huang actually said, as opposed to what the headline writers are hyping. In this Chinese article, for example, he seems to say that he just wants things to be written in the local script, Chinese characters: “国际上通用惯例是把外来语变成自己的语言吸纳进来,而不是生搬硬套地直接嵌入。”
Very roughly: “The international standard is to absorb foreign borrowings into one’s own language, not to copy them over unchanged.”
Hardly the language of a xenophobe rooting for a China where residents are “no longer … permitted to speak of ‘lion’ dances, ‘honey’ and ‘honeymoons’…”

So once again what appears to be a loony proposal by a wacky scholar turns out to be another case of hype and misrepresentation by a sloppy journalist.

But the thread did bring forth this great anecdote from Ray Girvan, quoting J.J. Pierce’s introduction to The Best of Cordwainer Smith:

While in Korea, Linebarger masterminded the surrender of thousands of Chinese troops who considered it shameful to give up their arms. He drafted leaflets explaining how the soldiers could surrender by shouting the Chinese words for ‘love’, ‘duty’, ‘humanity’ and ‘virtue’ – words that happened, when pronounced in that order, to sound like “I surrender” in English. He considered this act the single most worthwhile thing he had done in his life.

Ray adds: “My employer’s daughter (who is fluent in Mandarin) confirmed that this makes sense in Mandarin”: ài zé rén dé. (Incidentally, for those not familiar with Cordwainer Smith, a pseudonym of Paul Linebarger, he was not only one of the most remarkable writers ever to grace the field of science fiction, he had an amazing life as well, starting with his godfather being Sun Yat-sen.)


  1. Linebarger used to wear a tie with his Chinese name on it, and anyone wondering how many syllables his name had was answered by pointing to the tie, which said 林白乐, Lín Báilè. He liked to translate that as as “Forest of Incandescent Bliss”, and later used a variant of this translation, Felix C. Forrest, as a pseudonym. There are several variants extant of what the pamphlet actually said, but probably 爱责仁德 is the right thing (you often find 愛則人徳, and I have propagated that in the past).

  2. J. Del Col says

    The only Cordwainer Smith work I’ve read is “The Game of Rat and Dragon,” and that was a long time ago. The notion of the telepathic link between cats and humans is intriguing.

  3. This particular case may be a case of misrepresentation, but China is actually relatively “purist”, and this gentleman’s proposal is pretty much in line with the purist streak of his country.
    For instance, I know that some years ago the “Bossini” fashion brand, a Hong Kong brand (not Italian as you might think), had to have a Chinese name for the Mainland. The name chosen was 堡狮龙 (Bǎoshīlóng). In Hong Kong they call it “Bossini” and nobody knows what you’re talking about if you call it “Bǎoshīlóng”.
    The requirement that foreigners in China should have a Chinese name is another interesting phenomenon, one where the desire to force conformity with Chinese ways often clashes with legal realities.
    When I came to China in 1993, a foreigner was required to have a Chinese name (I’m not sure if this still holds), and was given an alien residence card both the English and Chinese names. It was then possible to do things like open bank accounts in that Chinese name, which I did.
    Fast forward to the early-to-mid aughties, and suddenly the alien residence card was abolished. This meant that proving you were the legal owner of a bank account became more difficult (although not impossible, because the Employment permit still shows the Chinese name). Moreover, banks had also been instructed not to allow bank accounts in foreigners’ Chinese names. This meant closing all my old accounts and opening new ones in my English name, using my passport as ID.
    When you buy property, in China, however, you MUST use a Chinese name. Moreover, your Employment Permit is not accepted as sufficient proof of this. What is required is a notarised document (from a law office) certifying that xxx Chinese name is the translation of your English name. (The only basis for declaring that the translation is correct, of course, is your own say-so. It would be theoretically possible to come up with a new Chinese name each time you obtained a notarised document.) What is more, a new notarised document is required EVERY time you transact any business relating to the property with the Housing Office.
    If you feel that the Chinese stance is somehow “normal” or “reasonable”, you should contrast it with the situation in Japan, where you continue to use your English name (in English, not Japanese order), transposed into katakana.

  4. My guess would have been 爱孝仁德.

  5. With regard to “Bossini”, the Chinese required that it should have a Chinese name. The sign outside the shop had to be in Chinese. This requirement may have been relaxed in more recent years, as you do see shops with English names displayed prominently and no Chinese name in sight.

  6. 爱孝仁德 seems better to me. 责 isn’t particularly Confucian (although 爱 isn’t, either).

  7. J Blakeslee says

    Bathrobe, in terms of the Chinese name requirement do you mean an actual two- or three-character Chinese name, or something phonetic like 杰弗里·布莱克斯利?

  8. From what I understand, either will do.

  9. Put it this way, most foreigners I know in China seem to have “authentic” Chinese names, but I have seen some who have names like 杰弗里·布莱克斯利. The ones who have names like the latter have no intention of using it as a normal name; they don’t speak Chinese and don’t plan to use their Chinese name. Whether such people have such names due to official requirements or simply because they need something that Chinese people can read on their business card, I really can’t say.

  10. Leaving my usual haunts to thank you for mentioning Cordwainer Smith, since I was trying to remember what the name of that guy who wrote the science fiction of which I could only find one copy, and that in Chinese, was.

  11. Bathrobe: I don’t know if it’s actually from Confucius or Mencius or whoever, but the ROC and Neo-Confucians love 爱 (of course not in the sense of sexual love). It’s a prominent part of moral education. There are 仁爱 streets all over Taiwan, for instance.

  12. Leaving my usual haunts
    You mean you no longer consider LH one of your usual haunts? I feel strangely empty…

  13. Empty ? Why is he masquerading behind Chinese characters ? What’s going on here ? Empty sit-com, is more like it.

  14. Linebarger also had to make sure the leaflet could be read correctly by ordinary Chinese soldiers in the 1950s, who weren’t going to be Confucian experts. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Linebarger was recycling an actual tetragram, but rather concocting a new one to suit his purposes: honorable high-mindedness on the Chinese side, “I surrender” on the English side. It didn’t have to be perfect.

  15. Moreover, banks had also been instructed not to allow bank accounts in foreigners’ Chinese names.
    I wonder if this applies to overseas Chinese, who more or less legitimately do have Chinese names already.

  16. As to whether common soldiers in the 50s could read any of these, well, I really can’t say. But 孝 is a pretty common word in Chinese; it’s not an arcane Confucianist term at all. Neither are 爱, 仁, or 德. As for 责, it’s also common, although it could also occur in 责怪 ‘to blame’.

  17. At a guess, I would say that Overseas Chinese from Chinese-speaking areas can use their Chinese names. The main criterion is whether their Chinese name is listed in their official ID, i.e., their passport. Of course, this opens up the curly problem of the Japanese, who have names in Chinese characters recorded in their passports but are not Chinese.

  18. And there are also Japanese names that use hiragana (or in the past, katakana).
    Plus there are Japanese characters that don’t match current Chinese characters properly. For instance 浜, equivalent to Chinese 滨, but 浜 also exists as a separate character in Chinese; and 芸, which is equivalent to Chinese 艺, but 芸 also exists as a separate character in Chinese. Of these, the first is most likely to be encountered in Japanese names.

  19. Funny, for a purist, he writes in simplified characters…. that’s a major bit of language change.

  20. GT renders 林白乐, Smith’s name, as “Lindbergh music”. Or at least it did: now it just says “Lin Bai Le”.

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