Is This Pun Illegal?

This pun:


The punny text reads:

> “码”上了解
[punning on 马上, “right away,” using the character , which refers to “code,” in this case, the QR code]

It’s been widely reported that Beijing is banning wordplay in attempt at pun control. This seems ridiculous, especially considering the Chinese penchant for giving the reader zero credit, and always putting the punned character in quotations marks (see above example).

David Moser’s quote on the issue:

> It could just be a small group of people, or even one person, who are conservative, humorless, priggish and arbitrarily purist, so that everyone has to fall in line. But I wonder if this is not a preemptive move, an excuse to crack down for supposed ‘linguistic purity reasons’ on the cute language people use to crack jokes about the leadership or policies. It sounds too convenient.

I’ll be watching to see if punning in advertising stops…


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. I’m in total agreement with David Moser: One of the most wonderful things about this ridonculously wonderful language is the punnability of it all – half of the idioms are puns in and of themselves (sigh). Just another layer of complications that I’m going to have to consider when prepping for my radio show… (sigh)

  2. I think (or read somewhere) that the quotation marks around the pun character are not because the writer is worried that the reader won’t get it, but to show that the writer made this ‘mistake’ intentionally.
    (Although that might be almost the same as underestimating the reader.)

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