Shanghai mulls removing English from street signs

A major street in Shanghai with road signs in both Chinese and English Image copyright iStock
Image caption Some expats are worried about negotiating Shanghai's streets without the help of English signs

The authorities in Shanghai are considering whether to remove English from road signs, to the alarm of some foreign residents.

Many of the city's signs feature either English or pinyin, a writing system that turns Chinese characters into words using the Roman alphabet. But Shanghai's Road Administration Bureau has started a public consultation on whether that should change. In a lengthy survey on the city's highways, one question asks if signs should use only Chinese characters in future. The survey itself is also written entirely in Chinese.

According to the China Daily newspaper, the bureau says it wouldn't remove English or pinyin signs around major transport hubs, junctions or the city's business district. A spokesman says the idea would create more space for a larger font, so Chinese characters would be easier for drivers to see.

But many expats are still worried they would end up getting lost, with one German pointing out that getting a driver's licence in Shanghai doesn't require knowledge of Chinese characters. An Australian expat tells the paper that "with Chinese characters, most foreigners are helpless".

Social media users are divided on the issue - some on microblogging site Weibo don't see why English or pinyin should feature on the signs anyway. "When in Rome, do as the Romans do, why do people who cannot speak a word of Chinese come to China if not to learn?" asks one user. But another points out that many expats can understand pinyin - usually the first stage of learning Chinese for foreigners - but can't read the characters. Some voice concerns over the cost of any change and one person thinks it would be a step backwards, asking: "Is Shanghai no longer an international metropolis?"

Image copyright Alamy
Image caption Most Chinese street signs use pinyin, as above, but some use English

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