Back to Index

CHINA: Language and unity



We have frequently discussed the issue of language and politics, but not the situation in China, described in a Stratfor report, of which here is a summnary:

A new law on the National Common Language, which promotes the standard Beijing form of Mandarin Chinese, went into effect Jan. 1 in China. The law bans television and radio announcers from using dialects, accents or other forms of non-standard Mandarin, and makes grammatical errors in billboards a criminal offense. The law was established in part to bring unity to the more than 50 ethnic groups in China, which speak more than 75 languages. The law emphasizes Beijing's concern for regional identities and foreign influences that detract from centralized control. In attempting to assert Beijing as the center of Chinese identity, the Chinese government may instead be creating a culture of dissidents based on linguistic heritage, particularly in the prosperous southeast, where Cantonese and other southern dialects are common.

China has long sought to standardize its language system, both as a means of unifying its diverse population and aiding central control. While Han Chinese has been considered a standard for centuries, even its eight dialects - including Mandarin and Cantonese - are so different they are often considered separate languages, each with its own dialects.

My comment: Language problems differ from country to country. Happy the country which has none. Presumably the law does not apply to Hong Kong or Taiwan.Chinese is similar to Arabic, which likewise has many regional variants. However, the Chinese use of ideographs which are common to all variants, makes the written language easier to understand than the spoken ones. Little has been said recently about romanization.

Ronald Hilton - 1/09/01


Webmaster