Preserving Cantonese Television & Film in Guangdong: Language as Cultural Heritage in South China's Bidialectal Landscape
Uphill Battle in Cantonese Television Preservation
Advocates for the preservation of Cantonese in the motion picture industry are facing an increasingly uphill battle against a central government eager to move forward with language standardization in post-colonial South China. On June 30, 2014, Guangdong Television Station’s primetime Cantonese news channel, “On-time News Report’ (正点报道) suddenly changed all programming to Mandarin.60 The move by the television station elicited only a series of online criticisms, a much weaker response from the general populace than the 2010 incident. After two weeks of social media activity, a portion of the previous Cantonese programming returned to “On-Time News Report.”61 Even so, Guangzhou author Ye Du cautioned, “The conflict over Putonghua and Yue dialect has a big presence in blogs, Wechat right now, so there is some pressure. So now the government’s actions on not butting heads directly is a tactic. Once the issue is no longer a hot topic for the masses, it is highly likely that Mandarin-only broadcasting with return.”62 Although Cantonese preservation through local dialect television and film is still a focus issue in Guangdong, the reduced fervor within the Chinese population is apparent.
In fact, the CCP’s new approach to the issue, maintaining social stability by not broadcasting their controversial policies in Guangdong media, has actually managed to reduce the total amount of Cantonese news coverage in the region without severe backlash from Guangdong citizens. Many netizens who closely followed the 2014 Cantonese television conflict equated the CCP’s tactic this time around to “boiling a frog in warm water” (温水煮青蛙), intended to demolish the Cantonese dialect step by step.63 Indeed, the image of boiling frogs, which die when placed in cool water and slowly boiled because they cannot identify the changes in temperature, provides a stark outlook for the future of the Cantonese motion picture industry. In this case, netizens’ comparison of resisting language homogenization in Guangdong to slowly boiling a frog to death reveals the difficulty of mobilizing individuals against state institutions.In the 2010 incident, Ji Keguang’s public announcement drew the attention of all Cantonese families and provided a centralized call to action against Putonghua language homogenization. In this case, the internet connected activists of all ages. However, the lack of a public announcement about the 2014 change in Guangdong television language policy meant that only the most invested youth in the Cantonese-preservation community took to the internet. The overall community response was not as prominent because Cantonese families that were less involved in the dialect preservation movement were not drawn into the online debate, and were hence not inclined to join the resistance movement. Without further activism, the Cantonese television protection movement and, by extension, the future of Cantonese socialization in the home, may eventually fall prey to the CCP’s Putonghua standardization tactics.
The growth of Cantonese language television and film in South China was a result of colonial political-economic legacies that pushed the Chinese government to promote a more lenient language policy. Despite sixty years of Putonghua standardization policy, Guangdong Province has been able to maintain its dialect’s prominence in the private sphere through Cantonese television socialization. In the twentieth century, when Hong Kong’s Cantonese motion picture industry transcended political boundaries and began capturing Cantonese viewers from mainland China, the CCP’s liberal media policies in South China helped Guangdong maintain a foothold in the regional television sector.
However, the return of Hong Kong and Macau from its colonial rulers in the late 1990s means that their media sectors are no longer in direct competition to that of mainland China’s. Recent attempts by the CCP to repress Cantonese television represent China’s post-colonial trajectory, which no longer requires a divided state-level language policy, but is instead pursuing a centralized Chinese image to sell to the world. The 2010 and 2014 incidents are both defensive stances taken by local Guangdong communities to resist national mandates for language standardization.
Although individual adolescents may feel positively about Cantonese’s cultural value, more may choose to disengage if there is no public effort to protect dialect media in Guangdong. In the face of state power and national agendas, local linguistic pride often takes a secondary role, as individuals find it more difficult to band together without institutional support. As the CCP’s promotion of the China Dream supersedes the central government’s needs for Chinese dialect preservation, and as regional activism dies down, Cantonese may begin treading the path to language death.
Blachford, Dongyan Ru. “Language Spread Versus Language Maintenance: Policy Making and Implementation Process.” In Language Policy in the PRC: Theory and Practice since 1949, edited by Minglan Zhou and Hongkai Sun, 99-122. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2004.
Chen, Litong. “The Imposition of Cantonese on Mandarin in the City of Guangzhou.” From the Proceedings of the 23rd North American Conference on Chinese Linguistics (NACCL-23) Volume 2, 93-104, Eugene, Oregon, 2011.
Chen, Min, Aqing Hao, Dan Wei, Qi Wang, Yingchuan Zhang, Hong Yu, Yan Zhang, and Daojuan Zhou. “An Update on the Use and Management of Standard Spoken and Written Chinese.” In Language Policies and Practices in China Vol. 2, edited by Yuming Li and Wei Li, 3-14. Boston: Walter de Gruyter, Inc., 2014.
Chiu, Rosaline Kwan-wai. Language Contact and Language Planning in China (1900-1967). Québec: Les Presses de L’université Laval, 1970.
Gao, Xuesong. “‘Cantonese is Not a Dialect:’ Chinese Netizens’ Defence of Cantonese as a Regional Lingua Franca.” Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 33, no. 5 (2012): 449-464.
Guo, Longsheng. “The Relationship between Putonghua and Chinese dialects.” In Language Policy in the PRC: Theory and Practice since 1949, edited by Minglan Zhou and Hongkai Sun, 45-54. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2004.
Gvozdanović, Jadranka. “Understanding the Essence of Diglossia.” In Divided Languages? Diglossia, Translation and the Rise of Modernity in Japan, China, and the Slavic World, edited by Judit Árokay, Jadranka Gvozdanović, and Darja Miyajima, 3-20. New York: Springer International Publishing Switzerland, 2014.
Han, Yanli. “National Defence Cinema: A Window on Early Cantonese Cinema and Political Upheaval in Mainland China.” In The Hong Kong-Guangdong Film Connection, edited by Ain-ling Wong, 68-79. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive, 2005.
Jie, Dong. “The Enregisterment of Putonghua in Practice.” Language & Communication 30 (2010): 265-275. doi:10.1016/j.langcom.2010.03.001.
Kuo, Eddie C. Y. “Mass Media and Language Planning: Singapore’s “Speak Mandarin” Campaign.” Journal of Communication (1984): 24-35.
“Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Standard Spoken and Written Chinese Language.” People’s Republic of China Database of Laws and Regulations. Published October 31, 2000. Accessed October 19, 2015. http://www.npc.gov.cn/englishnpc/Law/2007-12/11/content_1383540.htm.
Li, Christopher Wen-Chao. “Conflicting Notions of Language Purity: the Interplay of Archaising, Ethnographic, Reformist, Elitist, and Xenophobic Purism in the Perception of Standard Chinese.” Language & Communication 24 (2004): 97-133. doi: 10.1016/j.langcom.2003.09.002.
Li, Zixi (黎紫曦). “Chinese Communist Party Increases Ideology Unity? Guangdong Television Station ‘Push Putonghua Discard Yue’ (中共加强思想统战？广东电视‘推普废 粤’).” Vision Times. Last modified July 15, 2014. http://m.secretchina.com/node/546994.
Liang, Sihua. Language Attitudes and Identities in Multilingual China: A Linguistic Ethnography. New York: Springer International Publishing Switzerland, 2015.
Liang, Sihua. “Problematizing Monolingual Identities and Competence in Guangzhou in the Era of Multilingualism and Superdiversity.” In Language Education and the Challenges of Globalisation: Sociolinguistic Issues, edited by Martin Solly and Edith Esch, 153-168. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014.
Liu, Jin. “The Use of Chinese Dialects on the Internet: Youth Language and Local Youth Identity in Urban China.” In Chinese Under Globalization: Emerging Trends in Language Use in China, edited by Jin Liu, 59-78. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co., 2012.
Mao, Yu-Han and Hugo Lee. “Strong and Weak Dialects of China: How Cantonese Succeeded Whereas Shaan’Xi Failed with the help of Media.” Asian Social Science 10, no. 15 (2014): 23-36. doi: 10.5539/ass.v10n15p23.
Miao, Ruiqin and Jiaxuan Li. “Urban Migration and Functional Bilingualism in Guangdong Province, China.” Journal of Asian Pacific Communication 16, no. 2 (2006): 237-257.
Ng, Dana Funywe and Juanjuan Zhao. “Investigating Cantonese Speakers’ Language Attitudes in Mainland China.” Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 36, no. 4 (2015): 357-371. doi: 10.1080/01434632.2014.925906.
O’Brien, Kevin J. “Rightful Resistance Revisited.” The Journal of Peasant Studies 40 no. 6 (2013): 1051-1062.
Page, Alexander Gamst. “Language Relations in Guangzhou: The Intimate and Official Dimension of Linguistic Codes in Urban China.” Master’s thesis, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, 2011.
Qian, Junxi, Liyun Qian, and Hong Zhu. “Representing the Imagined City: Place and the Politics of Difference during Guangzhou’s 2010 Language Conflict.” Geoforum 43 (2012): 905- 915.
Rohsenow, John S. “Fifty Years of Script and Written Language Reform in the P.R.C.: The Genesis of the Language Law of 2001.” In Language Policy in the PRC: Theory and Practice since 1949, edited by Minglan Zhou and Hongkai Sun, 21-44. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2004.
Siu, Helen. “Cultural Identity and the Politics of Differentiation in South China.” Daedalus 122, no. 2 (1993): 19-43.
Snow, Donald B. Cantonese as written language: the growth of a written Chinese vernacular. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2004.
Su, Jinzhi. “Diglossia in China: Past and Present.” In Divided Languages? Diglossia, Translation and the Rise of Modernity in Japan, China, and the Slavic World, edited by Judit Árokay, Jadranka Gvozdanović, and Darja Miyajima, 55-64. New York: Springer International Publishing Switzerland, 2014.
Tan, Jia. “Provincializing the Chinese Mediascape: Cantonese Digital Activism in Southern China.” In China’s iGeneration: Cinema and Moving Image Culture for the Twenty-First Century, edited by Matthew D. Johnson, Keith B. Wagner, Tianqi Yu, and Luke Vulpiani, 197-211. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing Inc., 2014.
Tanner, Murray Scot. “China Rethinks Unrest.” The Washington Quarterly 27, no. 3 (2004): 137-156.
Wang, Limei and Hans J. Ladegaard. “Language Attitudes and Gender in China: Perceptions and Reported Use of Putonghua and Cantonese in the Southern Province of Guangdong.” Language Awareness 17, no. 1 (2008): 57-77. doi: 10.2167/la425.0.
Wang, Wilfred Yang. “Remaking Guangzhou: Political Engagement and Place-making on Sina Weibo.” Transcription of Presentation at the Conference for Democracy & Open Government Asia, Hong Kong, December 4-6, 2014, 43-52.
Wu, Meili (邬美丽). “Review of Language Planning in China since the 1980s (20世纪80年代 以来中国语言规划研究述评).” Journal of Beihua University (Social Sciences) (北华大 学学报（社会科学版）) 9, no. 6 (2008): 66-71.
Yan, Jing. “Social Variation of Vernacular Written Cantonese in Guangzhou (Canton City), China.” Ph.D. Dissertation, Ohio State University, 2008.
Yang, Congrong (杨聪荣). “Language and Language Policy in Hong Kong (香港的语言问题与 语言政策).” Shenzhen University Hong Kong-Aomen Law Analysis (深圳大学港澳基本 法研究中心专题库) (2007): 1-25.
Yang, Fan (杨帆). “Guangdong Foshan’s Proposed Ban on Cantonese Traditional Writing Leads to Disputes (广东佛山拟禁粤语繁体字引发争议).” Beijingspring.com. Last modified July 15, 2014. http://beijingspring.com/c7/xw/zgbd/20140715171032.htm.
Yang, Mayfair Mei-hui. “Mass Media and Transnational Subjectivity in Shanghai: Notes on (Re) Cosmopolitanism in a Chinese Metropolis.” In Ungrounded Empires: The Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese Transnationalism, edited by Aihua Ong and Donald M. Nonini, 287-322. New York: Routledge, 1997.
Yi, Zhongtian (易中天). Northwest Wind, Southeast Rain: Dialects and Culture (西北风东南雨: 方言与文化). Shanghai: Shanghai Culture Publishing (上海文化出版社), 2002.
Yuan, Elaine. “Audience Duplication and its Determinants: A Study in the Multichannel and Multiculture Television Market in Guangzhou, China.” Asian Journal of Communication 20, no. 3 (2010): 354-366. doi: 10.1080/01292981003802200.
Zhang, Jijia (张积家), Zhuohua Yang (杨卓华), and Shimin Zhu (朱诗敏). “Study into the Impressions of Putonghua and Guangdong Dialect in Guangdong University Students’ Eyes (广东大学生对普通话和粤语的印象).” Psychological Exploration (心理学探新) 23, no. 1 (2003): 51-54.
Zhang, Jingwei (张璟玮) and Daming Xu (徐大明). “Population Movement and the Popularization of Putonghua (人口流动与普通话普及).” Applied Linguistics (语言文字 应用) no. 3 (2008): 43-52.
Zhou, Chengren. “Ebb and Flow: Early Guangzhou and Hong Kong Film Industries.” In The Hong Kong-Guangdong Film Connection, edited by Ain-ling Wong, 16-29. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive, 2005.
Zhou, Minglan. “The Spread of Putonghua and language attitude changes in Shanghai and Guangzhou, China.” Journal of Asian Pacific Communication 11, no. 2 (2001): 231-253.