Ahead of the Winter Olympics, English names in Beijing subway replaced with Romanized Chinese

And in some cases, English station names such as Olympic Park and Beijing Airport Terminal 2 have changed to “Aolinpike Gongyuan” and “2 Hao Hangzhanlou” – although English translations are still displayed in parentheses below. .

While there is no suggestion that the redesign is linked in any way to the Winter Games, some have contrasted it with Beijing’s efforts to improve English translations of traffic signs ahead. to host the world for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

And the campaign has already caused a stir online, with many questioning the rationale for such replacements, as foreign visitors who do not speak Chinese are unlikely to understand Pinyin.

Beijing Metro said in a statement last week that the changes were part of the city’s “continued efforts to unify translations of metro station names in accordance with existing regulations.”

But that hasn’t convinced many on Chinese social media.

“English translations are meant to be read by foreigners. Why don’t you only have Chinese? This type of translation is redundant, ”said a comment on Weibo, China’s response to Twitter.

The state-run Guangming Daily also intervened last week, questioning the practicality of the move and how much these new translations would actually help the target audience.

“For the Chinese, the vast majority don’t need the help of pinyin to read Chinese, and in fact, more people may know Chinese characters than pinyin,” he said. in a commentary, adding that some elderly Chinese and foreigners might not understand Pinyin, which was developed in the 1950s and taught in primary schools in mainland China.

“For foreigners, the overwhelming majority probably do not recognize Pinyin … Therefore, this kind of translation can fall into a sticky situation: Chinese don’t need it, foreigners don’t understand it.”

Alistair Baker-Brian, a British national who lives in Beijing and speaks Chinese, says the changes do not affect him personally as he can read most station names in Chinese.

“I think in some ways it might actually be better for non-Chinese speakers, and especially for people who may not be very familiar with China,” said Baker-Brian, editor. head of That’s Beijing, an English-language digital media platform. at the service of the Chinese international community.

“Maybe when the tourists come back and they have to tell the taxi driver where to go, (the drivers) are more likely to understand Beixinqiao Zhan, rather than Beixinqiao Station,” he said.

But for others, the move heightens fears that the ruling Communist Party in China will increasingly push back English, amid its ongoing ideological war against Western influence.

“They are starting to get rid of English. The craze for learning English around the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing seems to be an eternity,” lamented a user on Douban, a site popular for criticizing movies, books and music.

Widely regarded as China’s “coming out party” on the world stage, the 2008 Olympics inspired a generation of Beijing residents to learn English as they welcomed tens of thousands of foreign guests.

Ahead of the event, the Beijing government launched a campaign to correct poor English translations on road signs and the names of public places. The effort has even been called a “mass movement” to raise awareness of “Olympic consciousness” and improve “the city’s level of English and civilization,” state broadcaster CCTV said. reported at the time.
New English names of subway stations have been pasted on a map inside a Beijing subway train.

But things took a different turn under Xi Jinping, who since coming to power in 2013 has ardently promoted “cultural self-confidence” and traditional Chinese culture. At the same time, Western books, films, and other forms of perceived influence are viewed with growing suspicion, and some government policies have raised concerns that English may be next in the crosshairs.

In August, education authorities in Shanghai, widely regarded as China’s most international city, banned local primary schools from holding final English exams. As the policy came amid broader government efforts to ease school pressure on Chinese children, the move sent shockwaves among the country’s middle-class parents, who feared their cities would soon do. the same.

In March, a government adviser suggested that English should be downgraded as a subject in schools, making it less important than Chinese and maths and no longer compulsory in entrance exams to school. ‘university.

And in 2020, the Education Ministry announced a ban on foreign textbooks in all primary and secondary schools, a move widely seen as an attempt to tighten ideological control over students across the country.

Perhaps not surprisingly, all of these concerns entered the minds of some when they learned of the changes to English names at Beijing metro stations.

For now, these new signs are unlikely to make a difference for the Winter Games, which will take place in a hermetically sealed Covid-safe “bubble” – meaning all participants and participants will be anyway. forbidden to enter the city freely.

But when foreign visitors, including tourists, return to Beijing at some point in the future, after China finally reopens its borders, they might be faced with a slightly more confusing metro system to navigate.

“As a country open to the outside world, it is our duty to provide comfort (to foreign visitors),” the Guangming Daily commentary said. “We live in an era of irreversible globalization and exchanges between peoples have become essential. How to make installations and panels more useful, how to better unify standards, all this requires our reflection. “

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