further restrictions against language in Shanghai

China is stepping up its repression of Shanghainese, a language which, in its various forms (considering the Wu language group as a whole), is native to close to 100 million people, especially around Shanghai, China’s largest city.

According to rules announced on Wednesday, beginning next month most people in the public sector (including teachers and members of the broadcast media) must use Mandarin and no other Sinitic language when addressing the public.

Use of Shanghainese will be restricted to private conversations and special study programs, according to the Shanghai Language Works Commission.

The new rules, announced yesterday, represent the city’s first language standards. Radio and TV personalities, as well as government officials and teachers, are required to use Mandarin in their daily work.

Broadcasters can air Shanghai-dialect programming, but any new shows must be approved by the Shanghai Culture, Radio, Film and Television Administration.

“Residents of an international metropolis like Shanghai should speak Mandarin in public places, especially people in social service industries, government departments, schools and the media,” said Zhu Lei, office director of the language commission.

She said the city still needs to foster development of Shanghai dialect to preserve the city’s culture. But the use of dialect in public settings sets communications obstacles for the increasing number of migrants and foreigners.

Anyone who violates the new rule will be warned, and repeat offenders will have their names put on a blacklist.

Media outlets that launch new dialect programs without permission will be punished by the national radio and television administration.

There are now more than 10 city-based radio and TV programs broadcast in Shanghai dialect. Most are talk shows or entertainment series.

One of the channels under Shanghai Media Group tried to broadcast news in Shanghai dialect last year, but the effort was later halted for undisclosed reasons.

Lu Yunpeng, an official with the local TV and radio watchdog, said the agency will strictly control dialect-based news programs. For new entertainment shows, the administration will appoint a panel to examine proposals and determine their value.

At present, there are no plans to add new dialect programs or close down old ones.

Chen Mingfang, producer of the popular Shanghai dialect radio segment “Afugen,” said his show draws an excellent audience response. The daily program was even expanded from the original 30 minutes to an hour.

Chen, however, refused to comment on the new rules.

To that, I’d just add a few reminders:

  • In China, words like blacklist, strictly control, and punish aren’t just empty terms.
  • Although Shanghainese can be considered a dialect of Wu, calling it a dialect of “Chinese” is at best misleading. In China, the word “dialect” is used politically, not linguistically.

source: Shanghai dialect takes back seat to Mandarin, Shanghai Daily, February 23, 2006

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