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    State Media Criticizes Chengdu Shop Signs in Romanized Chinese

    Shop owners say the move was part of the local government’s beautification initiative ahead of the now postponed World University Games.
    Jun 29, 2022#language

    A state media outlet has urged local governments to respect market laws and regulations after a video of a shop in the southwestern city of Chengdu showed signboards written in unflattering letters.

    The video, shot by a business owner and posted on short video platform Douyin, showed signboards written in pinyin, spelling out Chinese characters using the Latin alphabet based on their pronunciation. Last year, local authorities had asked businesses to cooperate for a “unified beautification” initiative and that Chinese characters would appear in a smaller size under the pinyin on signboards, a decision they backtracked upon Sunday.

    A commentary in the Workers’ Daily newspaper criticized the move, saying shop owners have no choice but to comply with the requirements of relevant departments, even when they know it could affect business. Shop owners also rarely speak out about the losses and additional operating costs resulting from them.

    “It is necessary to increase the punishment. Apart from apologizing and criticizing, it is also necessary to hold (local authorities) accountable for disorderly acts and arbitrary power,” the newspaper said Wednesday.

    According to relevant national law, words used in signboards should be based on the national “common characters.” Local rules in Sichuan province, where Chengdu is located, also emphasize that “when it is necessary to use pinyin, it can be added underneath Chinese characters.”

    In the short video, the noodle shop owner said that the authorities had changed the signboards to pinyin to make it “convenient for international friends” attending the World University Games. The sporting event was originally scheduled for 2021, then moved to the following year, and has now been postponed to 2023 due to COVID-19 concerns.

    The video showed some signs that read “HAO QI DENG SHI, KAI BING QING JU JIU DIAN, ER LIANG WAN ZA MIAN,” which correspond to a lighting store, a hotel, and a noodle shop, respectively. But the shop owner said it was difficult for customers to see the Chinese characters from far, with media reports saying the signs had also affected local business.

    In recent years, local authorities have made various attempts to reform street signs and signboards on shops as part of the beautification process. However, regulators have time and again launched campaigns to regulate the use of Chinese characters, asking not to use “ugly” or “weird” fonts or those that deviate from Chinese aesthetics.

    Beijing-based lawyer Wang Cailiang told Sixth Tone on Wednesday that the local government’s interference in the design of their signboards on the grounds of “uniform beautification” has violated the shop’s right to operate independently.

    “Store owners can protect their rights and refuse to carry out the orders,” Wang said. “But protecting their rights might come at too high of a cost.”

    The owner of the noodle shop who posted the video told Sixth Tone that the temporary signs were changed to the official version Wednesday morning.

    “Business is starting to return to normal,” she said.

    Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

    (Header image: Enlarged pinyin shop signs in Chengdu, Sichuan province, June 2022. From Weibo)