This week’s news provides a good example of how petty China’s language police can be.
Workers in Shanghai’s metro service must often deal with Chinese who do not speak either Shanghainese or standard Mandarin, so they began to collect useful phrases so staff members could better understand and answer some questions. They focused on Cantonese, Hoklo (a.k.a. Minnan, Southern Fujianese, Taiwanese, etc.), Wenzhouhua (although this is generally classified as part of the same language that contains Shanghainese, it is largely incomprehensible to most people in Shanghai), Wuhanhua (although classified as a Mandarin dialect, it is far removed from standard Mandarin), and Changsha (a dialect of Hunanese). More than fifty metro employees are to study the phrases.
This caught the attention of Shanghai’s Spoken and Written Language Work Committee (Yǔyán Wénzì Gōngzuò Wěiyuánhuì). On Tuesday, Zhu Lei (朱蕾), a committee official, reported that her office had “contacted the Metro management …, stating that the program could violate the country’s language policy to promote the use of Putonghua [i.e., Mandarin].”
“The right way to solve communication barrier is to speak Putonghua,” she is quoted as saying.
- Metro service snubs language watchdog, Shanghai Daily, August 8, 2007
- Shànghǎi Guǐ Jiāo yù yòng fāngyán fúwù yǐn zhēngyì — yǔ wěi jiānchí tuī-pǔ[tōnghuà] (上海轨交欲用方言服务引争议 — 语委坚持推普), August 6, 2007 (This is just one source. This story has been widely reprinted in China.)