Monday, August 09, 2010

Large protests over attempt to 'push aside' Cantonese

Photos: China Droll

There have been reports that thousands of people in the Cantonese-speaking southern Chinese city of Guangzhou staged a peaceful protest when the government announced it would switch most local television programming to Mandarin, the official national language of China.

Beijing has promoted Mandarin for decades to unite a nation with thousands of dialects and numerous minority languages.

Cantonese is still widely spoken in the booming southern province of Guangdong, thanks in part to the spillover influence of Hong Kong's wildly successful and racy vernacular pop culture, but some people fear for its future.

Chinese newspapers and Internet sites have reported on companies where employees are fined for speaking Cantonese at work, prompting anger.

"I support Cantonese. If we don't speak it, we are shaming our ancestors," wrote "Bright Star" on the popular Chinese internet portal

I have to say, even as a rubbish Canto speaker living in England, I feel quite proud that people are willing to stand up for our language like this.

Language preservation is a contentious issue; The Communist party and its supporters see language adoption as an important tool in promoting homogeneity and unity in China. But for those whose native dialect is not Mandarin, language is a vital part of their identity and heritage.

How can China protect and - dare I say - promote local diversity in language without conflicting with its goal of homogeneity? Is that even possible?

Source: Reuters via SkyscraperCity

Related: The Changing Sound of Chinatown


Anonymous said...

Apart from the political coercion aspect, is this really any different from Cantonese pushing aside a demographically weaker language, Hakka, in Hong Kong? Not even the younger generation of children of Hakka families speak Hakka anymore.

Another point is that, prior to the 1970s, Mandarin was the principal language of popular music & arts culture in Hong Kong, aside from Cantonese opera. The popular singers of the earlier decades in HK were Mandarin singers from China, Taiwan as well as Singapore. It is also worth noting how Mandarin has re-established itself in HK since the 1990s, with Cantopop singers going Mandarin.

I have little doubt that Cantonese will go the way of Hakka - increasingly pushed to the sidelines with successive generations. But that is just my opinion, I may be wrong. Kind regards.

burntbreadboy said...

Actually I do think it is different to the Hakka situation on Hong Kong, since Cantonese did not supplant an indigenous Hakka culture. It is clearly the social engineering, decreed-from-on-high aspect of this that has brought people out onto the streets.

And the case of Cantopop stars releasing records in Mandarin is about exploiting the new commercial opportunites opening in China rather than an abandonment of Cantonese culture (Just like a Chinese businessman doing business in English, for example).

Anonymous said...

Yes I agree that sociological changes cannot occur overnight by political diktat, hence the protests. It's a more subtle gradual shift with successive generations. We see this with evolution within a language, as well as between languages. There are interesting academic papers from Hong Kong researchers studying the sociocultural reasons for the decline of Hakka in Hong Kong, & what happens when two competing languages collide against each other. Another example may be Scottish Gaelic or Welsh versus English, here within the UK. It is a very interesting topic, thanks for drawing attention to it.. Kind regards :)