China / Society

Millions of ethnic people bedeviled by a dot in names

By MAO WEIHUA/CUI JIA (China Daily) Updated: 2016-02-02 07:47

Inconsistent use of punctuation mark makes shopping online, especially via cellphones, difficult

Inconsistencies in the way a punctuation mark is used in official documents is increasingly hampering the efforts of some members of China's ethnic groups as they struggle to engage with e-commerce and mobile banking systems.

The problem stems from a form of punctuation known as the middle dot, which is used to separate the Mandarin surnames and given names of the Uygur, Kazak and Tibetan peoples, among others.

However, bank tellers and other officials will regularly use different forms of punctuation in place of the dot-or sometimes, omit it altogether-leaving consumers such as Murat Mamut, a Uygur, facing great difficulty when trying to shop online.

"I feel as if I have wasted half of my life dealing with this dot," said the 29-year-old.

"Everything is fine if you're opening a bank account for the first time, but you will have difficulties later with interbank transfers, paying for a mortgage, or accessing online payment platform Alipay."

When working in Shanghai four years ago, Murat said he had to spend a whole month trying to standardize the dots used on his bank cards. "I went to all the big banks, but they just didn't understand what I was talking about," he said.

The middle dot problem has only really become an issue in the wake of China's e-commerce boom, said Xu Taizhi, head of the population management detachment of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region's public security bureau.

"Many e-commerce developers know little about ethnic names and the format of the dot used in ID card registration," he said.

"Some platforms don't even include the dot in their input system, which has created problems for users who need to verify their ID when trying to use online services."

Some websites and smartphone apps have even limited the number of characters a customer is allowed to enter in the name field on forms, which causes problems for people from certain ethnic groups whose names can be up to 16 characters long, according to Xu.

He said that he hoped the State Ethnic Affairs Commission would standardize the input format of the middle dot across ID cards, e-commerce, mobile banking systems and other platforms to solve the problem for good.

Banks in Xinjiang are already familiar with ethnic names and all Bank of China branches nationwide adopted a standardized format for the middle dot in 2011, said Palidan Turson, deputy director of the business department at Bank of China's Xinjiang branch.

"The problems often occur when customers try to use the services on their smartphones," she said, adding that the input system on a phone was often different from that on a computer and may not include the right dot.

Palidan said that last year the Xinjiang branch had filed a suggestion with Bank of China's headquarters to update their mobile banking system so that it would better accommodate the needs of ethnic users.

Mutalip Mametmin, 38, said that this insignificant-looking dot affects almost all of the millions of Uygurs in China, who represent a "bigger population than that of some countries".

It has been suggested that the dot should be replaced with a space, or removed altogether-a policy that has already been adopted by many Chinese airlines and is favored by Krygyz student Ayqurek.

"The surname and given name can be written in a way that even computer illiterate or less-educated people would be able to understand," he said.

Xinhua contributed to this story.

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