Foreign place names dilute culture: experts

By Ji Jin and Luo Wangshu in Chongqing ( China Daily ) Updated: 2014-02-07 11:00:42

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.

Tan Yingzi and Deng Rui contributed to this story.

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