Out of Character: Brows Raised Over Chinese Script in Hong Kong Police Newsletter

February 5, 2015 Updated: February 6, 2015

Hongkongers who read the latest police newsletter were shocked to find certain small, but potentially significant “errors.”

In an article about new traffic policing equipment in the online edition of Offbeat, netizens spotted a handful of words that didn’t look quite right.

The Chinese characters for “after,” “technique,” “plans,” and “range” were written in simplified script, the system of writing in mainland China. Hong Kong and Taiwan still use the traditional script.

Written language differences might seem like a minor issue to English speakers. For instance, differences in American and British English spelling—extra “r” or “u”; “realize” instead of “realise”—can be easily overlooked because they involve single letters.

With Chinese characters, however, it’s a whole other ball game.

While the simplified script retains some characters from the traditional writing, many have been “simplified” by as many as half a dozen strokes. This means that simplified characters immediately stand out to readers, even if they are speed reading.

And in Hong Kong’s current political climate—Hongkongers are increasingly wary of mainland Chinese encroaching on their way of life, Beijing’s not-so-subtle limiting of their civil liberties, and raising instances of police violence—the appearance of some simplified characters on a police newsletter is enough to set off alarm bells.

In particular, pro-democracy lawmaker Gary Fan wonders if mainland Chinese were tasked in the editorial process, and if that is yet another sign of Chinese influence in Hong Kong’s administration. Under the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the city is allowed a “high degree of autonomy” to rule itself.

According to local media Metro News, the Police Public Relations Bureau explained that a glitch occurred while the printed version was transferred to the online edition. The web version has since been amended, a police spokesman said, and the police thank those who noted the mistakes,

But at least one person in the force is not buying the “glitch” theory.

A veteran police officer told online news website Stand News that the force has actually been using simplified characters in its internal memos for quite a while.