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China: Proposal to use more Mandarin in TV provokes Guangzhou citizens

Tianhe, Guangzhou; from Baiyun Shan

Tianhe, Guangzhou; from Baiyun Shan, by ASDFGHJ

A recent proposal to use Mandarin instead of Cantonese in the TV news programs of Guangzhou, the capital city of China’s Guangdong province, has been strongly opposed by local residents. The proposal, brought up at the city committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference on July 5, advised Guangzhou TV to use Mandarin more in its news programs or launch a new Mandarin channel. Ji Keguang, a member of the committee, said the proposal is to help visitors who cannot understand Cantonese during the Asian Games, which will be held in Guangzhou from November 12 to 27.

An online survey on the committee’s website, which attracted over 30,000 respondents among whom two-thirds were Guangzhou natives, showed that 80% opposed the proposal. Many opponents worry that the move would threaten Cantonese and related local cultures. Since 1988, local TV stations in Guangzhou are allowed to broadcast in Cantonese in order to compete with TV programs from Hong Kong, which uses Cantonese predominately. While programs in other parts of China have to be broadcasted in Mandarin, this ‘special right’ enjoyed by Guangzhou has strengthened its local identity, as BBC journalist Shen Ping comments.

An editorial in Nanfang Daily, a broadsheet based in Guangzhou, emphasizes the importance of Cantonese as a cultural heritage:

在反对政协建议的过程中,粤语被当作文化保护的对象加以强调。这是正解,应该被理解。况且,粤语不仅是文化,还是广州居民的生活本身,有资格在最通俗的大众媒体——— 电视上占据与之相称的重要地位。假若把粤语从主屏幕上排斥出去,这绝非淘汰语种那么简单,实质是剥除广州人共有、共享的生活方式。如果尊重广州,敬重广式生活,就不该轻率对粤语节目动刑。

While opposing to the committee’s proposal, we should emphasize the protection of Cantonese as a cultural heritage. This should be understood. Moreover, Cantonese is not only cultural, but also a part of local residents’ daily life. Cantonese should therefore play an important role in TV, the most important channel of mass media. Excluding Cantonese from TV programs is not only eliminating a local dialect; it is also stripping Guangzhou citizens of their common way of life. If we respect Guangzhou and its way of life, we should not make the move rashly.

粤语和普语并非天然冲突,两者目前的共存关系历经时间锤炼,是广州文化、民间社会、政府举动、大众意志相互磨合、融通的结果。广州电视台粤语和普语的节目比例,既有赖于媒体的专业操作,也可看作是此种融洽的表现,不应轻易改变。事实上,无论是新移民融入广州,还是广州宣介自身的魅力,粤语从来都不是普通话的敌人。人为制造粤语和普语的对立,恐怕只会两败俱伤。

Cantonese and Mandarin are not natural enemies. Their co-existence is the result of a long period of interactions between local cultures, civil society, government actions and public will. The current ratio between Mandarin and Cantonese broadcast is not only based on operations by the media profession, but also the result of the above-mentioned interactions, and should not be changed easily. In various situations, such as the influx of migrants into Guangzhou, or Guangzhou publicizing its own charm, Cantonese is never Mandarin’s enemy. Artificially creating this opposition would only hurt both sides.

广州声名在外,为人称颂的是其活泼的市民社会,是自由、包容的公共生活,以及它一脉相承、完整保存的岭南文化。不夸张地讲,粤语是广州的历史和现实,是特征也是灵魂。在遏制粤语的情况下,很难想象广州还可以夸耀自己。而丢掉语言和灵魂的广州也走不出去,更不用说走远。驱除不必要的干扰,粤语广州与普语广州和谐相处,不用担心迷失方向。

Guangzhou is reputed for its lively, liberal and inclusive public life. It is also known for its wholly preserved Lingnan culture. We should not underestimate the role of Cantonese as the characteristic and soul of Guangzhou’s history and reality. It is difficult to imagine how Guangzhou can still be proud of itself when Cantonese is being suppressed. Guangzhou cannot get far if it abandons its soul and language. We should get rid of unnecessary interferences, and have confidence that Cantonese and Mandarin can co-exist in Guangzhou.

Many famous media professionals from Guangdong have also expressed worries about the decline of Cantonese. For example,

Chen Yang, media professional:

广州TV将出现天坑!被消失的方言后面必定是被弱势化的文化。

A hole will soon appear at Guangzhou TV! Behind every suppressed dialect lies a marginalized culture.

Wang Yan, news anchor at Guangdong TV:

一种语言代表一种文化,是广州人都要撑粤语。

A dialect represents a culture. Every Guangzhou citizen should defend Cantonese.

Commentators from other parts of China, however, argue that Guangzhou citizens have over-exaggerated the matter. To them, the intention of the proposal is not to marginalize Cantonese, but just to facilitate communications and the development of Guangzhou, where over two-fifths of citizens are from other parts of China.

Rong Guoqiang writes in Qian Jiang Evening News:

广州电视台有综合、新闻、影视、经济、英语、竞赛、少儿等9个频道,但其中以普通话为基本语言的较少。该建议提议说,也可在综合频道或新闻频道的主时段用普通话播出——广州市政协的建议提得很具体:如综合频道和主要频道的中午12时至下午2时、晚上7时—10时,除此之外的粤语播音可一如既往。如此说来,粤语何“沦陷”之有?何来“捍卫”的必要?

Guangzhou TV has nine channels including composite, news, movies, economics, English, sports and kids. Most programs are broadcasted in Cantonese. The proposal suggests that Mandarin could be used in prime time broadcast for the composite and news channels. It is very concrete: apart from the periods 12 – 2pm and 7 – 10pm, Cantonese can still be used in other times as before. Is this really the ‘fall’ of Cantonese? Is there really a need to ‘defend’ it?

即使电视粤语播音真的全部被取消,粤语也未必会“沦陷”,因为粤语仍然是广州市民的日常用语。而且不会有人傻到要取消某种方言,因为方言的消失只有一种可能:在漫长的经济、文化、人口的交互变动中逐渐自然消亡。

Even if all Cantonese broadcasts are cancelled, the dialect will not disappear. This is because Cantonese is still used in daily life. A local dialect will only disappear through gradual and natural economic, cultural and demographic changes.

In Renmin Net, netizen Zhang Junyu thinks that, as other regions in China catch up Guangdong’s economic developments, Guangzhou citizens must change their ‘special right’ mentality, echoing the point made by BBC journalist Shen Ping mentioned above.

正因为在80年代,广州经济风光全国,直接决定了粤语的坚守;到现在,全国经济在平均水平上都赶了上来,人才也出现大流动,广州作为一个地方,要是再排斥普通话,或者在实际生活中拒绝推广普通话,也只能是心理上的一种本能选择,但却已经失去了粤语坚守的最重要的经济基础。

Guangzhou’s economic vibrancy in the 1980s provided confidence for them to defend Cantonese. Now, other parts of China have caught up with Guangzhou, and mass migration within the country is also commonplace. Losing the aura of economic achievement, Guangzhou’s refusal to promote Mandarin can only be interpreted as a psychological choice.

推广普通话也并不是要消除方言,而是方便交流。很多地方的方言都保护得比较好,比如上海、四川、陕西这些地方,这和当地电视台用普通话播新闻并不矛盾,在广东也没必要就起悍然大波。在广东,你会发现收音机,电视,大部分都是粤语播放,就连公交车上的播音都是粤语。外地人可能一下子成了耳盲,彷佛身处外国,这也阻碍了广东成为一个真正的国家大都市。

The purpose of promoting Mandarin is not to destroy a dialect, but to facilitate communications. In many places like Shanghai, Sichuan and Shanxi, the local dialects are well preserved and not in conflict with Mandarin broadcast. There is no need for Guangzhou to stir up such a debate. In Guangdong, Cantonese is widely used in radio, television and even public transportation broadcasts. This creates many difficulties for people from other parts of China, and obstructs Guangzhou from developing into a major metropolitan city.

Commentator Cao Jingxing from Xinmin Net also advises Guangzhou citizens to be more pragmatic:

广东要不要讲广东话,还是讲普通话,他们自己可以做出抉择,总的来说应该平衡,既要考虑发展,也要考虑到保护自己传统的特色。如果过于偏重一方面,比如说,强调发展,大家都讲普通话,结果广东话没人讲了,那当然对广东话不利,有人提出要捍卫广东话,我也可以理解。但是另一方面,过于地去捍卫自己本土的语言,结果妨碍了自己的竞争优势,那对你自己也不利。

Whether Cantonese or Mandarin is used should be decided by Guangzhou citizens themselves. They should strike a balance between facilitating development and preservation of local culture and not bias toward either side. If they emphasize development to the point that no one speaks Cantonese, this would of course be detrimental to the local dialect. On the other hand, if they defend Cantonese to an extent that their competitiveness is reduced, they would just hurt themselves.

However, not everyone subscribes to the view that facilitating communications means that Mandarin has to be used. Blogger Han Yimin writes:

工业化、全球化时代,是否就是方言消灭的时代?许多人坚信普通话对于经济和交流的作用的重要性,甚至把经济发展与方言对立起来,本身就是盲目相信宣传或者肤浅的理解的结果。人们交流的确是需要有共同的语言工具,但在同一文字的中国,不同方言对于经济交流会有怎样的影响?似乎并没有人做过实证研究。我以为,人们之间的交流是通过很多方式和方法的,只要需要交流,人们会想尽办法去相互理解的,而这些办法中,普通话只是其中一种,而且并非最重要的。历史上以千年计算的时间里,不同的方言并没有阻碍中国文化的成长,就是一个明证。至于,是不是大家都要说一口标准的普通话,就更是现代权力意志极为扯淡的混帐决定。想想近现代中国影响巨大的政治人物,孙中山、蒋介石、毛泽东、邓小平,这些人谁会说很标准的普通话?

Do globalization and industrialization imply the destruction of local dialect? Many people emphasize the importance of Mandarin in economic interactions and exchanges. They even think that economic development and local dialects are mutually exclusive. This is the result of credulous belief in propaganda. A common language is important in people-to-people exchanges. But what’s the effect of using different dialects in economic interactions in China where a uniform written script is used? It seems that no one has conducted detailed research in this area. I believe that people can use many ways to communicate with each other. As long as people need to interact, they will strive for ways to understand each other. Mandarin is only one of them, and is not the most important one. The fact that the existence of different dialects has not obstructed the flourishing of Chinese culture for thousands of years is a proof. Promoting standard Mandarin seems to me a draconian decision made by the contemporary Chinese government not supported by sufficient evidence. Think about important figures in modern Chinese history – Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping – which one of them can speak standard Mandarin?

我以为对待方言应该用放任、自由的态度,让市场和人们的交流实践来决定。需要检讨的,反而是政府不遗余力推行普通话的政策,是否存在打压、破坏多元性的地方文化的一面?

I think that we should adopt a laissez-faire and free attitude toward local dialect. Letting people to decide from actual experiences should be the way forward. What requires examination is whether official policy to promote Mandarin has the intention to suppress local culture.

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