Beijing to Shanghai: use Mandarin, or else

On Wednesday, September 14, China’s official China Daily announced that Beijing intends to crack down on people in Shanghai using their native language (often called “Shanghainese” but also known as “Zanghae Hewu” and other names). The excuse given for this is that visitors to the 2010 World Expo — that’s five years from now — might be confused if the first words people in Shanghai spoke to others were in Shanghainese rather than Mandarin. Imagine the shock and confusion! People in Shanghai speaking Shanghainese!

In the quotes below, I switch back and forth between two separate articles on this (identified at the end of this post).

The Shanghai government will require people who speak bad Mandarin to attend remedial classes in the run up to the exposition “to end the confusion,” the China Daily said.

“Chinese see Shanghainese as a foreign language,” Shanghai government spokeswoman Jiao Yang told reporters. “As we open up to the world, especially for the Expo, it’s vital to promote Mandarin.”

Shanghainese as a foreign language? That’s certainly not the party line!

And if opening up to the world is the idea, promoting English would make a lot more sense. But of course that’s not what’s behind this; rather it is simply a suppression of languages other than Mandarin — done in the name of a manufactured national unity.

A different article states:

The regulation will be submitted to the Standing Committee of the Shanghai Municipal People’s Congress for approval on September 22.

It seeks to establish a comprehensive system to require local people to improve their putonghua, according to Sun Xiaoguang, an official with the Language and Character Department under the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission.

Every neighbourhood committee will form a team to patrol their area to correct incorrect Mandarin speech and characters used on signs, menus and notices.

Anybody who has difficulty speaking putonghua or writing correctly will be required to take remedial classes organized by the neighbourhood committee, while any shops displaying incorrect Chinese characters on their signboards will be asked to correct them.

Any individual or enterprise that refuses to comply will be fined.

All service industry workers would also have to pass a Mandarin test before 2010 and greet customers in Mandarin, the newspaper added, though they can then chat to customers in Shanghainese.

Speaking Mandarin, however, won’t be enough by itself to satisfy Beijing. People in the media won’t even be able to speak with certain accents:

the government is demanding that hosts and news anchors avoid slang words, speak only in standard Mandarin and drop any affected Taiwan or Hong Kong accents, according to rules posted on the State Administration of Film, Radio, Television’s Web site.

Some presenters deliberately adjust their pronunciation to sound more like natives of Hong Kong or Taiwan, the cultures of which, if not the politics, are fashionable across the mainland.

China has been promoting Mandarin for decades to ensure national cohesion in a country where dialects as different as French and Spanish share a similar written form.

This sort of statement is so common that I find myself having to correct this again and again. First, these are languages, not dialects. And, no, they do not share a written form. Rather, people in various parts of China are taught to read and write Mandarin — though they may translate this into their own language when reading.

Only just over half China’s 1.3 billion people can communicate in Mandarin, the official Xinhua news agency cited a national survey as showing last year, while almost 90 percent can speak dialects [sic] ranging from Cantonese to Hokkien and Hakka.

But wait! There’s more:

Additionally, all abbreviations and newly invented terms commonly used in Internet chat rooms are forbidden from use in schools and official documents.

Sources: China Daily, but found here, and another article by Reuters, Shanghainese told to mind their language for Expo, Wed. Sept. 14, 2005.

4 thoughts on “Beijing to Shanghai: use Mandarin, or else

  1. This sucks. It reminds me of what happened in Catalunya under Franco. Or what happened to Occitan under Parisian rule. Or Sicilian. Or Native American languages. Okinawan (Uchinanchu). There is some inherent violence in the process of building a “nation-state” along the “modern” Western European model. Unfortunately this includes supressing language diversity, and is not limited to China, sadly.

  2. The situation in Shanghai is actually the same as when Franco were in Spain. Catalan was not allowed in radio, newspapers, tv and in fact no one is allowed to speak it. But people who had catalan as their mother tongue, obbiously used catalan. The “grey” policemen arrested people in the street only because they’re using catalan. To fight against this, Franco sent people from all over Spain to Catalonia, to work as techers, policemen, government stuff, hospitals, churches and so… to “infect” as much as possible the whole area. This is exactly what is doing the government in China, and in fact this “infection” was started under the “Cultural” Revolution. Fortunately, here in Catalonia, once Franco died the catalans fighted very hard to preserve our language, and nowadays the sitiation is normal, in Catalonia is the catalan the official language, of course is the spanish too, but with the same status and rights. I wish that one day the situation in Shanghai could be the same as in Catalonia, and the government promote the shanghainese as a symbol and a proud of Shanghai instead of trying to destruct it. What are the fucking chinese government thinking? So a huge country like China with only one variety of chinese? What’s that? “Be a modern shanghainese…speak shangahinese” this is what should be promoted, everyone knows madarin in Shanghai, it’s not necessary to say.

  3. Pingback: Pinyin news » Mandarinization law used as pretext for silencing TV host

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