On air: A GDTV Guangdong Television being shown in a restaurant in Guangzhou. The province's official broadcaster was planning to quietly switch most of its programming from Cantonese to Mandarin on Sept 1. - AFP
GUANGZHOU: Free-wheeling and business-oriented, the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou is a long way from Beijing physically, culturally and linguistically – and hackles have been raised by reports Communist authorities are demanding local television drop Cantonese in favour of Mandarin.
Throughout China, Mandarin – known as Putonghua, the “common language”, with its roots in Beijing’s northern dialect – is the medium of government, education and national official media.
The ruling Communist Party has long viewed it as a means of weakening regional loyalties and forging a sense of common identity, particularly in far-flung areas such as Xinjiang and Tibet which see fits of resistance to Beijing’s rule.
But according to a ministry of education statement last year, 30% of Chinese – 400 million people – still cannot speak Mandarin.
Cantonese is the first language of roughly half the population of Guangzhou, China’s third-largest city and the provincial capital of Guangdong – where for many elderly residents, it is their only tongue.
Nonetheless, reports in neighbouring Hong Kong said the province’s official broadcaster Guangdong TV was planning to quietly switch most of its programming from Cantonese to Mandarin on Sept 1.
In mainland China, the two languages generally use the same characters for the same words, so that they are mutually intelligible in written form – but incomprehensible when spoken.
“I oppose them changing it all to Mandarin,” said Huang Yankun, a 17-year-old student, walking past the television station’s headquarters.
“It’s wrong for them to try to restrict the language in this way. Speaking Cantonese is a Guangdong custom; it’s a tradition that we need to support.”
Cantonese is spoken by more than 60 million people in China, according to China Daily – on a par with Italian in terms of native speaker numbers.
But some in Guangzhou worry that as young people and their parents focus on Mandarin for academic and career reasons, Cantonese may fall by the wayside.
“A lot of kids, they speak only Mandarin at school,” said Huang Xiaoyu, a 28-year-old media worker. “And at home, their mum will speak to them in Cantonese but the kids will respond in Mandarin.
“Very, very few little kids these days speak Cantonese. How are old people going to communicate with their grandchildren if they don’t use Cantonese?” she added.
A spokesperson for Guangdong TV said they were unaware of any coming change. — AFP