China / Society

Expats fear the loss of road signs in English

By Zhou Wenting (China Daily) Updated: 2016-08-25 10:26

Expatriates are worried that authorities in Shanghai may remove road direction signs in English.

Foreigners say this would cause problems, especially for drivers from overseas, as most of them cannot read Chinese characters.

The Shanghai Road Administration Bureau is considering the removal of road signs bearing English-language interpretations-pinyin in most cases.

These signs are usually hung above the center of major roads or close to exits on ring roads and elevated highways.

The bureau is seeking public opinion on its website and the WeChat account of "Shanghai Transport" until Tuesday. The survey is being conducted in Chinese.

The bureau stressed that pinyin on signs in and around scenic spots, central business districts and transportation hubs will remain, as will street signs in pinyin at all junctions.

Dong Hui, a spokeswoman for the bureau, said the signs in English appeared at least 20 years ago. If the pinyin was removed, this would leave more space for Chinese characters, which would be bigger and more convenient for drivers.

However, there are more than 170,000 foreigners living and working in Shanghai, and hundreds of expatriates have applied for driver's licenses every month since 2012, according to police.

Many foreigners said that any change to the signs could make life difficult for expatriate drivers.

Radek Gebiz, who comes from Germany, said: "There's no requirement for foreigners to know Chinese characters when we get a driver's license here.

"If there is no pinyin on the signs, I imagine I will have to take photos of characters on the signs and use a smartphone app to try to find what the characters mean when driving. ... It's really dangerous."

Gebiz, who has lived in Shanghai for three years and has driven there for two years, added: "When I take a taxi, I use the signs to ensure the driver's going the right way."

Jay Thornhill, an Australian-American, said it is important to keep pinyin on the signs in cities such as Shanghai.

"Even if I don't know French, I can pronounce and understand French street signs, but with Chinese characters, most foreigners are helpless," Thornhill said.

Other expatriates said the road signs in Shanghai are excellent and that navigation in the city is easy.


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