July 18, 2007 - by Adam Feeney
Shanghai city officials recently required all Shanghai businesses with foreign-language-only signs to add Chinese characters. The ostensible reason is that foreign-language-only signs violate the country's language law and obstruct access to Chinese residents. However, I believe this policy is misguided for a number of reasons.
The claim that a foreign-language-only name is a major impediment to Chinese-only speakers is dubious. Even if potential customers cannot say the name, they can refer to it in other ways, for example "that pizza place on the corner of Taicang Lu and Huangpi Nan Lu." As for access by taxi, unless you are going to the Shanghai Museum or some other such well-known landmark, names are useless. Whether you say City Diner or a Chinese name, you're going to have to tell the driver "intersection of Nanjing Xi Lu and Tongren Lu" to get where you want to go.
Moreover, in a free market, businesses should be allowed to name themselves whatever they want to. Choosing a name is a key business decision. The entrepreneurs who are taking the risk should thus be given the autonomy to make the decision. If customers cannot find the business, or are put off because of a foreign-language name, it is the business that is hurt. If businesses are hurt enough, they will change their tact.
Finally, foreign-language-named businesses add to the cosmopolitan air of a city. As one strolls through the streets of New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, one will see many Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese or other foreign-language-named businesses without English translations. One sees these businesses and feels the city offers an authentic multiculturalism. Because Shanghai is unique in Mainland China as an international and cosmopolitan city, this diversity should be celebrated, not hindered.
You can read the AP article about the policy here.