China Cracks Down on Pesky Names

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Remember Tiki Tiki Tembo, the story of the unfortunately named Tikki Tikki Tembo-No Sa Rembo-Chari Bari Ruchi-Pip Peri Pembo, the Chinese boy with a name so extensive it was hazardous to the boy’s health?

Well, China’s had it with the unique names. Earlier this month Mother Jones reported on the wacky story of Texas legislator Betty Brown, who recommended that Asians adopt names that are “easier for Americans to deal with.” Now China itself thinks it’s time to simplify its citizens’ names. According to Monday’s New York Times, the People’s Republic of China is upgrading the country’s identity cards; its Public Security Bureau will replace the handwritten one currently used with a new card with color photos and embedded microchips that can be read by a computer. As the article explained:

The bureau’s computers, however, are programmed to read only 32,252 of the roughly 55,000 Chinese characters, according to a 2006 government report. The result is that… some of the 60 million… Chinese with obscure characters in their names cannot get new cards — unless they change their names to something more common.

So people saddled with unusual characters must essentially choose new given names. The trouble is that many parents delight in choosing unique or obscure historical first names for their children, at least in part because the country has so few last names. About 85 percent of Chinese citizens share only 100 surnames.

Like so many things Chineseindustrialization strategy, the one child policy—the name change plan seems rational at first but, given its implications, destructive and tyrannical. While I have to admit I’d find it refreshing to avoid hearing people tell me they’ve decided to give their children essentially made-up names like Kayden and Colton or Aubrey and Sienna, the new China policy is, well, creepy.

Though not quite as baffling as Taiwan’s toilet restaurant.

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is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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