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.


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.


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:


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

Wang Yan, news anchor at Guangdong TV:


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:


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?


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.


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.


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:


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:


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?


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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