Many residents of Guangdong province, in southeastern China, are concerned the government is trying to phase out the Cantonese dialect following a proposal by the local leaders to switch the language spoken in a number of television programs to Mandarin.
In response, at least 1,000 people in Guangzhou, the provincial capital, staged a protest on Sunday, state-run media reported. Su Zhijia, a deputy party secretary in Guangzhou, denied rumors that the proposed plan was part of a government effort to make Cantonese less prominent.
“The city government has never had such a plan to abandon or weaken Cantonese,” he said, according to the state-run Global Times.
Local dialects have weakened significantly in recent years, particularly as workers from across the country have flooded cities in Guangdong in search of factory jobs.
“I stand for multiculturalism, and I strongly oppose the government’s plan to promote Putonghua with administrative means,” said one demonstrator, according to the Global Times. Putonghua is Mandarin for standard Chinese.
Promoting Mandarin has been a key part of efforts to ensure state stability in recent years. In the country’s restive West, particularly in Tibet and Xinjiang, experts say the focus on Mandarin has been one way of diluting ethnic or regional loyalties. Schools across the country, for example, teach lessons in Mandarin.
It seems unlikely that the advances of Mandarin in Guangdong is related to similar efforts in Xinjiang or Tibet. Guandong still thrives economically, and with the exception of labor protests in recent years, the region remains relatively stable politically. Nonetheless, the protests in Guangdong underscore regionalism in China. The local officials said Mandarin broadcasts were meant to accommodate tourists and athletes who will travel to the city for the Asian Games in November.
“We don’t hate Putonghua, and it’s OK for us to speak it in the schools,” said one demonstrator, Alvis Zhao, a 21-year-old college student, according to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post. “But the government has gone too far with its plan to use more Putonghua on local TV channels.”