By Lily Kuo, Los Angeles Times, August 8, 2010 -
Reporting from Beijing — In Guangzhou, the city formerly known as Canton, Chinese government banners hang in primary schools with instructions to use the country’s official language, Mandarin, also known as Putonghua:
“Speak Putonghua, write standard Chinese, use civilized language, be a civilized person.”
But residents of the city, the capital of one of China’s proudest Cantonese-speaking regions, recently marched by the hundreds to protest a new government proposal to switch television broadcasts from the local dialect to Mandarin ahead of the multi-sport Asian Games scheduled for November in Guangzhou.
“Protect our mother tongue!” some Guangzhou residents shouted. “Get lost, Mandarin!”
On the same day, about 200 people marched in Hong Kong, where Cantonese is the official Chinese tongue, converging on government headquarters. A week earlier, nearly 1,000 people in Guangzhou had blocked a subway station to show their opposition to the proposed change in television broadcasts.
For years Cantonese speakers in southern China have complained that local culture is being eroded under orders from Beijing, where Mandarin dominates. The recent protests highlight a traditional rivalry between north and south as well as the government’s efforts to bring the country under one language, local residents and experts say.
Cantonese — as the second most spoken dialect in China and until recently the language most common among Chinese living abroad — has long been a key part of Chinese culture.
Generations of Cantonese-speaking immigrants built America’s first Chinatowns and introduced dim sum, chop suey and Bruce Lee (the martial artist and film star was born in San Francisco but mostly grew up in China).
As more Mandarin-speaking migrants from other parts of China move into Guangzhou and other Chinese communities across the world, Cantonese is becoming less prominent, analysts and experts say. And the government is speeding up the process, they say……. Read the rest of this entry »