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Thousand protesters gather in south China city to protect Cantonese language

Posted by Author on July 25, 2010

Tania Branigan, The Guardian, July 25, 2010 –

A Chinese “culture war” has spilled onto the streets of a southern city as hundreds of inhabitants held an unusual mass rally to defend their local language.

Proposals for Guangdong’s main television company to broadcast primarily in Mandarin – China’s official language – have angered citizens in the province, who fear that Cantonese is being sidelined.

Some worry that Cantonese, which is also spoken in some other parts of the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau, is on its way to extinction. According to the official People’s Daily newspaper, it is the first language for half of the 14 million residents of the provincial capital Guangzhou, while the other half speak mainly Mandarin.

Up to a thousand protesters gathered in the centre of Guangzhou shouting slogans, before police dispersed them peacefully. A witness said most were in their twenties, although some were middle-aged.

The controversy broke out when the local committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference – a political advisory body – urged authorities to ensure that Mandarin, which is spoken across the country, is used on Guangzhou TV’s main shows. It said the move would promote unity and help tourists and athletes who will arrive in the city for the Asian Games this November.

Although the network has said it will continue to broadcast in both languages, residents fear that Cantonese is being squeezed out and could ultimately be dropped completely. They argue there are already plenty of Mandarin channels for people to watch and say that a decline in the use of the language will also erode the area’s cultural heritage.

In a poll on the committee’s own website, 80% of the 30,000 respondents said Guangzhou TV stations should broadcast in Cantonese…….(more details from The Guardian)

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