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Martian language (Chinese: 火星文; pinyin: huǒxīng wén; lit. 'Martian script'), sometimes also called brain-disabled characters (simplified Chinese: 脑残体; traditional Chinese: 腦殘體; pinyin: nǎocán tǐ), is the nickname of unconventional representation of Chinese characters online. "Martian" describes that which seems strange to local culture. The term was popularised by a line from the 2001 Hong Kong comedy Shaolin Soccer, in which Sing (Stephen Chow) tells Mui (Zhao Wei): "Go back to Mars. The Earth is so dangerous."
In the 2006 General Scholastic Ability Test of Taiwan, students were asked to interpret symbols and phrases written in "Martian language" based on contexts written in standard language. Controversies which followed forced the testing center to abandon the practice in future exams.
In 2007, Martian language began to catch on in mainland China. The first adopters of Martian language mainly consisted of Post-90s netizens. They use it in their nicknames, short messages, and chat rooms in order to demonstrate personality differences. Later, they found that their teachers and parents could hardly figure out their new language, which quickly became their secret code to communicate with each other. Chinese online bloggers followed up the trend to use Martian language, because they found that their blog posts written in the new language can easily pass Internet censorship engines, which are currently based on text-matching techniques. The Martian language became so popular in cyberspace that software were created to translate between Chinese and Martian language.
The Martian language is written from Chinese by means of various substitution methods. Just like in l33t, where the letter "e" is replaced by the number "3", in Martian, standard Chinese characters are replaced with nonstandard ones, or foreign scripts. Each Chinese character may be replaced with:
- A character that is a (quasi-)homophone
- A character that looks similar, such as one with a shared radical
- A character with the same or similar meaning
The character used for substitution can include not only Chinese characters, but also Latin script, Cyrillic, hiragana, bopomofo, katakana, the IPA, other unicode symbols, SMS language, etc. For example, the 星 in 火星文 huoxingwen (星 is literally "star"; 火星 is "Planet Mars") can be replaced by "☆", a Unicode symbol that visually represents an actual star. 的 is commonly replaced with の, as it has the same intended meaning in Japanese. 火 can become 吙 just by adding a 口 radical, which alters very little in terms of sound and visually maintains the 火 image, even though this changes the meaning. In the same principle, 文 wen (language) can be replaced with 魰 by adding a 鱼 fish radical, which makes the character still look similar. Also, 的 is sometimes replaced with "d" due to its sound, as with 比 being replaced with "b"; Cyrillic can be used in a similar manner.
There is not a universal way of encoding standard Chinese to Martian language, though some substitutions are popular and have even leaked into the standard language and the spoken language, such as 河蟹 (lit. river crab) for 和諧 (harmony), 葉佩雯 (lit. leaf jade essay, also having the format of a person's name) for 業配文 (advertisement placement).
Below is one example of the nearly infinite number of possible ways to substitute the Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Note that this is an extreme example, as it is uncommon to write entire paragraphs in Martian language.
Jiànyú duì rénlèi jiātíng suǒyǒu chéngyuán de yǔ shēng jù lái de zūnyán jí qí píngděng de hé bù yí de quánlì de chéngrèn, nǎi shì shìjiè zìyóu, zhèngyì yǔ hépíng de jīchǔ,
Jiànyú duì rénquán de wúshì hé mièshì yǐ dǎozhì yěmán bàoxíng, zhèxiē bàoxíng jīnùle rénlèi de liángxīn,
Jiànyú duì yīgè rén rén xiǎngyǒu yánlùn hé xìnyǎng zìyóu bìng miǎn yǔ kǒngjù hé kuìfá de shìjiè de pànwàng, yǐ bèi xuānbù wèi pǔtōng rénmín de zuìgāo yuànwàng,
Jiànyú wèi shǐ rénlèi bùzhì pòbùdéyǐ dìng'érzǒuxiǎn duì bàozhèng hé yāpò jìnxíng fǎnpàn, yǒu bìyào shǐ rénquán shòu fǎzhì de bǎohù.
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,
Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,
Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations...
- Education in the Republic of China
- Faux Cyrillic
- Heavy metal umlaut
- Internet slang
- For example, when commenting on the possible blocking of Hotmail, one is quoted as "I can only conclude that the person in charge of this is considering it from a Martian point of view."  Archived 2007-02-13 at the Wayback Machine
- Sun, Christine (March 6, 2006). ""Martian language" banned in Taiwanese college entrance exam". Taiwan.com.au. Archived from the original on 2009-10-24. Retrieved 24 May 2019.
- "Exam body agrees to omit 'Martian' from college exam". Taiwan Headlines. September 27, 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 24 May 2019.