For­eign place names di­lute cul­ture: ex­perts

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA - By JI JIN and LUO WANG­SHU in Chongqing

Cau­tion should be taken in us­ing the names of for­eign land­marks or places for build­ings in Chongqing, a lo­cal po­lit­i­cal ad­viser has sug­gested, as do­ing so runs the risk of di­min­ish­ing cul­tural her­itage.

“There are so many new build­ings in Chongqing that have for­eign names, mostly ‘bor­rowed’ from world-fa­mous ar­chi­tec­tural land­marks, streets, dis­tricts, scenic spots, even cities, such as Mediter­ranean, Man­hat­tan, New York, Ori­en­tal Ginza and so on,” said Yan Zhan­bin, a mem­ber of the Chongqing Mu­nic­i­pal Com­mit­tee of the Chi­nese Peo­ple’s Po­lit­i­cal Con­sul­ta­tive Con­fer­ence.

Yan pro­posed in­tro­duc­ing a reg­u­la­tion as soon as pos­si­ble to stan­dard­ize place names in Chongqing to make them re­flect the city’s her­itage.

Feng Xiao­gang, a lead­ing film di­rec­tor, agreed and said some com­mu­ni­ties, which called them­selves Cal­i­for­nia Bank or Provence among oth­ers, re­flect a lack of con­fi­dence in lo­cal cul­ture.

It is quickly ap­par­ent when walk­ing in Chongqing just how wide­spread the prac­tice is.

For­eign names iden­ti­fy­ing ma­jor build­ings are com­mon in the busi­ness area. For ex­am­ple, one build­ing is called “New York, New York” in the city’s busi­ness center Jiefang­bei, which is in­tended to in­di­cate how pros­per­ous the down­town area is.

How­ever, in Yan’s eyes, the wide­spread use of for­eign names does not evoke a sense of pride, but rather one of em­bar­rass­ment.

“A mega-city like Chongqing at­tracts a lot of for­eign visi­tors, but when my for­eign friends visit me and see some of the build­ings with for­eign names, I feel em­bar­rassed,” Yan said.

Bus stops and metro sta­tions use names that rep­re­sent lo­cal cul­ture and re­gional fea­tures.

“I am con­fused as to why we can­not name our own streets with our own lo­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics,” Yan said. “I think this phe­nom­e­non shows dis­re­spect to our tra­di­tional cul­ture.

“Tra­di­tional names, al­though they may sound a lit­tle rus­tic, such as kan (ridge, pit or hole), ba (flat­land, dam or sand­bank) or ya (a strip of land be­tween hills), none­the­less re­flect the lo­cal en­vi­ron­ment,” Yan said.

Li Yong, a re­searcher at the Re­gional Eco­nomic Re­search Center of the Chongqing Academy of So­cial Sciences echoed Yan’s re­marks, say­ing lo­cal gov­ern­ment de­part­ments should stan­dard­ize place names. Li also sug­gested a com­mit­tee of ex­perts should be es­tab­lished to reg­u­late the names real es­tate de­vel­op­ers can use.

“In some cases us­ing for­eign names may be en­tirely suit­able, but the names could not be used un­less they are ap­proved by the com­mu­nity,” Li said.

De­vel­op­ers are tempted to use names that sug­gest, in their eyes, suc­cess, pros­per­ity and style, as this, they hope, will make the build­ing or com­mu­nity more at­trac­tive to po­ten­tial buy­ers.

Yan high­lighted the cul­tural fac­tor in his pro­posal.

“It al­most feels like I am nam­ing my own chil­dren with for­eign names like Wil­liam, Ge­orge and Christina,” he said, adding Chi­nese should not bor­row or copy other cul­tures but re­search their own more deeply.

It is hard to imag­ine any other coun­try do­ing this, Yan said.

Yan men­tioned sev­eral build­ings with Chi­nese names that were syn­ony­mous with qual­ity and style.

There are ex­am­ples from other cities like Bei­jing, Shang­hai and Shen­zhen, that show how easy it is to pro­mote our own city im­age by mak­ing use of our own her­itage, he said. Con­tact the writ­ers at luowang­shu@ chi­ Tan Yingzi and Deng Rui con­trib­uted to this story.

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