[lg policy] China's south protests language policy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Jul 29 14:27:15 UTC 2010

China's south protests language policy
Ananth Krishnan

When the Chinese government reportedly suggested this month that
Mandarin, China's official language, would begin to slowly take the
place of Cantonese in local television programming, Ms. Zhao, like
thousands of others in her native Guangdong province, formerly known
as Canton, felt a mixture of anxiety and outrage. Anxiety that her
language would, like many other dialects spoken in China's far
corners, fade away. Outrage that Beijing had little interest in
preserving the diversity of China's many cultures. “The government
wants everyone to speak the same language,” said the 27 year-old
Cantonese. “But they don't understand that Cantonese isn't just a
language. It's part of our culture. It's part of our identity.”

She was not alone in her anxiety. This past weekend, more than 1,000
young Chinese in Guangzhou, Guangdong's capital, carried out an
unprecedented protest, calling on the government to protect the
Cantonese language. Cantonese is spoken in Guangdong province and in
Hong Kong, but not in the rest of China. It is officially regarded as
a dialect of Mandarin, though given its strikingly different
intonations and sounds, is considered by some scholars to be a
different language altogether. Sunday's protest was sparked by
unconfirmed reports that a local official of the Chinese People's
Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the top political advisory
body, had proposed that television channels in Guangzhou stop
programming in Cantonese and switch to Mandarin.

In a country where public protests are rare, almost a 1,000 young
Guangdong residents briefly marched through the heart of the city.
They wore t-shirts with slogans saying “I love Guangzhou”, written in
Cantonese, and “Protect Cantonese, Love Guangzhou”, according to media
reports. Many sang popular Cantonese songs.“I stand for
multiculturalism, and I strongly oppose the government's plan to
promote Putonghua [or Mandarin] with administrative means,” an Editor
at a local publishing house told the official Global Times.

Ms. Zhao said the anxiety behind Sunday's protests went beyond a
local-level decision to change television programming; it was, she
said, rooted in the region's complicated, and often awkward,
relationship with China's centre, even hosting a brief separatist
movement. Indeed, Cantonese, which is ubiquitous in China's far south,
faces little real prospect of dying out, with a strong presence in
southern cinema, music and culture. She also pointed to concerns
derived from the experiences of nearby Shanghai and Fujian province,
where local dialects, according to many, are dying out. In recent
years, the Shanghai government has waged a campaign to ban the
Shanghainese dialect from being spoken in government offices. Now,
many young Shanghainese do not speak the local dialect.

“Part of the reason behind the protests is that people here, for
generations, have felt that they have their own identity,” she said.
“But now, they feel that the government in Beijing is trying to create
just one Chinese identity.”

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