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Please Speak Mandarin

March 16, 2011

Please Speak Mandarin

As many of you may know, I recently started working at a water treatment plant near Kunming, Yunnan, run by an American company, The Western Water Group. As business is so interrelated to government affairs in China, we often pay visits to Chinese Party Members and local officials. The picture above was seen in the Yiliang, Kunming, Yunnan government office while visiting a new vice mayor. It reads, qing jiang putonghua, or please speak Mandarin.

The dominant language spoken in Yunnan province is a variation on Mandarin, called Yunnan hua, or Yunnan speach. It is very difficult for me to understand everything but the simplest of conversations in Yunnan hua, but it is considered to be part of the same dialect of Mandarin. In the government’s campaign to modernize and improve interregional communication, it has marginalized local dialects (become more like America?), and they are often seen, particularly in Northern China,* as a sign of backward peasantry that should be left in the past, rather than something that affirms cultural identity, as they may be seen in the US.

While I definitely understand the reason to spread Mandarin, as I daily have communication difficulties when speaking to Chinese who can not speak fluent Mandarin (the older generation), this lack of appreciation for local cultural identity outside of it’s possibility to bring in tourist money, is something that eats away at my energy in China. It is seen in every aspect of culture but is most evident to me in the destruction of old buildings/alleys and the promotion of Mandarin.

As a last comment on a post that was supposed to be much shorter, I wanted to mention that this Mandarin promotion is not only coming from government. There have also been reports of workplaces banning the use of (non Mandarin) dialects.

*From my personal experience. In the South, where more linguistic diversity thrives in the face of government promotion of Mandarin, people often have a very strong connection their mother tongues. In the large Northern cities, the local residents come into contact with the Southern dialects, for the most part, when they are spoken by poor migrant workers from the South, forwarding this opinion of “backwardness.” The Chinese, tend to call the Mandarin accent, “pure” or “standard,” both of which have even more of a positive connotation than they do in English.
I apologize for the relative lack of posting recently. Internet is often sparse, slow and censored in China, at my new job and residence it is all three.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Master Unnamed permalink
    April 14, 2011 14:52


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