Preserving Cantonese Television & Film in Guangdong: Language as Cultural Heritage in South China's Bidialectal Landscape

By Rona Y. Ji
2016, Vol. 8 No. 12 | pg. 3/3 |

Uphill Battle in Cantonese 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 standardization in post-colonial South . 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 activity, a portion of the previous Cantonese programming returned to “On-Time News Report.”61 Even so, Guangzhou author Ye Du cautioned, “The 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 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.

Conclusion

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 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.


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Endnotes

  1. Xuesong Gao, “‘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): 451.
  2. Jia Tan, “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 (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing Inc., 2014), 202.
  3. Mayfair Mei-hui Yang,“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 (New York: Routledge, 1997), 289-290.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Eddie C. Y. Kuo, “Mass Media and Language Planning: Singapore’s “Speak Mandarin” Campaign,” Journal of Communication (1984): 25-26.
  6. Limei Wang 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): 59.
  7. Congrong Yang (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): 14.
  8. Gao, “‘Cantonese is Not a Dialect,’” 451
  9. Dana Funywe Ng and Juanjuan Zhao, “Investigating Cantonese Speakers’ Language Attitudes in Mainland China,” Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 36, no. 4 (2015): 358.
  10. Christopher Wen-Chao Li, “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): 111-112.
  11. John S. Rohsenow, “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 (Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2004), 21.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Yu-Han Mao 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): 26.
  14. Helen, Siu, “Cultural Identity and the Politics of Differentiation in South China,” Daedalus 122, no. 2 (1993): 30.
  15. Ruiqin Miao and Jiaxuan Li, “Urban Migration and Functional Bilingualism in Guangdong Province, China,” Journal of Asian Pacific Communication 16, no. 2 (2006): 238.
  16. Helen, Siu, “Cultural Identity and the Politics of Differentiation in South China,” Daedalus 122, no. 2 (1993): 30.
  17. Jia Tan, “Provincializing the Chinese Mediascape,” 202.
  18. Tan, “Provincializing the Chinese Mediascape,” 201.
  19. Ibid., 202.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Siu, “Cultural Identity,” 29-30.
  22. Yanli Han, “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 (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive, 2005), 70.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Han, “National Defence Cinema” 71
  25. Ibid.
  26. Ibid., 73
  27. Ibid., 73-74.
  28. Chengren Zhou,“Ebb and Flow: Early Guangzhou and Hong Kong Film Industries,” in The Hong Kong-Guangdong Film Connection, edited by Ain-ling Wong (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive, 2005), 26.
  29. Ibid., 27
  30. Zhou, “Ebb and Flow,” 27
  31. Ibid.
  32. Litong Chen,“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, Eugene, Oregon, 2011, 94.
  33. Elaine Yuan, “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): 357.
  34. Yuan, “Audience duplication,” 357.
  35. Ibid., 357-358
  36. Ibid., 357
  37. Jijia Zhang (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): 52.
  38. Ibid.
  39. Ibid.
  40. Ibid.
  41. Ng and Zhao, “Investigating Cantonese speakers,’” 363
  42. Ibid.
  43. Zhang, et. al, “Study into the Impressions,” 52.
  44. Ng and Zhao, “Investigating Cantonese Speakers,’” 365-366.
  45. Ng and Zhao, “Investigating Cantonese Speakers,’” 365.
  46. Wilfred Yang Wang, “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, 44-45.
  47. Junxi Qian, Liyun Qian, and Hong Zhu, “Representing the Imagined City: Place and the Politics of Difference During Guangzhou’s 2010 Language Conflict,” Geoforum 43 (2012): 907.
  48. Gao, “Cantonese is Not a Dialect,” 450.
  49. Qian, et. al., “Representing the Imagined City,” 907.
  50. Ng and Zhao, “Investigating Cantonese Speakers,’” 364.
  51. Qian, et. al., “Representing the Imagined City,” 907.
  52. Sihua Liang, Language Attitudes and Identities in Multilingual China: A Linguistic Ethnography, (New York: Springer International Publishing Switzerland, 2015), 91.
  53. Sihua Liang, “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 (Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014), 154.
  54. Ibid., 153-154.
  55. Miao and Li, “Urban Migration,” 238.
  56. Liang, Language Attitudes and Identites, 96.
  57. Ibid.
  58. Liang, Language Attitudes and Identites, 95.
  59. Qian, et. al., “Representing the Imagined City,” 908.
  60. Fan Yang (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.
  61. Ibid.
  62. Ibid.
  63. Zixi Li (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.

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