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Guangzhou Television Cantonese Controversy

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Title: Guangzhou Television Cantonese Controversy  
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Subject: 2010 Asian Games, Cantonese, List of territorial entities where Chinese is an official language, Cantonese language, 2010 in China
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Guangzhou Television Cantonese Controversy

In July 2010, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) Guangzhou Committee, in a written proposal to mayor of Guangzhou Wan Qingliang, suggested increasing Mandarin programming on Guangzhou Television's main and news channels.[1] The proposal sparked widespread controversy, met with fierce criticism in Cantonese-speaking cities including Guangzhou and Hong Kong and eventually triggered a protest in Guangzhou. In a formal response, Guangzhou TV rejected the proposal, citing “historic causes and present demands” as reasons for Mandarin-Cantonese bilingualism.[2]


Mandarin as the official language

Beijing made Mandarin the country’s official language in 1982, leading to bans on other languages at many radio and television stations.[3] This status was confirmed by the Law of the People's Republic of China on the Standard Spoken and Written Chinese Language, which went into effect on January 1, 2001. This law implements the provision in the Constitution of the People's Republic of China that the state promotes nationwide use of the language.[4][5]

Use of Cantonese on television

Due to Mandarin’s status as the official language, use of the country’s other languages in television as well as radio and film is rigorously restricted by the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT).[6][7][8] Permission from national or local authorities is required for using a dialect as the primary programming language at radio and television stations.[7]

In 1988, the Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television, predecessor of the SARFT, approved the use of Cantonese by Guangdong TV in GDTV Pearl River Channel and Guangzhou TV as a countermeasure against the influence of Hong Kong television in the Pearl River Delta region.[1]TVS-* (TVS2 in Guangdong) is another major channel in China offering Cantonese programming and is the only Cantonese channel permitted to be broadcast worldwide via satellite.

Decline of Cantonese in younger generations

Despite having been approved for use in local television, Cantonese still faces restrictions and challenges in other aspects of social activities, which contributes to the decline of the language, particularly in the younger generations.

In elementary and secondary schools, the medium of instruction is mandated by law to be Mandarin.[4] Use of Mandarin is also ubiquitously promoted in schools. In contrast, few, if any, local schools offer classes on Cantonese, although this is not explicitly forbidden by law.

In the past few years, there have been a number of newspaper reports about students in Guangzhou being punished for speaking Cantonese in school and even outside the classroom.[9] One elementary school in Yuexiu, Guangzhou reportedly requires students to speak Mandarin not only in classes but also during their spare time, and threatens to deduct points from their records if they fail to comply.[10] This has caused some children to become reluctant to learn and use Cantonese or unable to understand or communicate in Cantonese at times.[10][11][12]

Also contributing to the decline is the influx of migrant population into Guangzhou as a result of the city’s economic and developmental advantages in the country. The migrant worker population in China is estimated to be a huge 250 million, with most of them in big cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou.[13] Guangdong is the major destination of migrant workers in China, there is estimated to be over 20 million migrant workers. [14] According to authorities, a big part of the migrant workers in Guangdong province come from Hunan.[15] Increase of non-Cantonese-speaking population in the city leads to an increased number of non-Cantonese-speaking teachers in schools, forcing students to speak Mandarin on more occasions than Cantonese.[12][16] Non-Cantonese speakers' name-callings online during debates, such as calling Cantonese as language for "barbarian", "uncivilized", "uneducated" people etc., has further deepened the hostility between both groups.

Guangxi, the neighbor province, used to be a Cantonese-speaking area, especially in the capital Nanning. Since the promotion of Putonghua from 1990s, the number of Cantonese speakers has been dropped to less than 30% according to an unofficial statistic years later, most of who are the elder generations.[17] Besides the decline of Cantonese in Guangzhou, there is also fear of Cantonese declining in Hong Kong. Stephen Matthews, an associate professor of linguistics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong commented that “It is difficult to calculate the timing but in the medium- to long run, Cantonese is an endangered language”. He added “It might survive for 50 years or so but after 50 years it may well be on its way out”. Thomas Lee, professor of linguistics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong doesn't believe the situation is as stark, but maintains that Cantonese needs to stay in the mainstream education or it will end up like Shanghainese, now spoken by less than 50% of the Shanghainese people. [18] Even as far away as overseas, the Chinatowns have seen Cantonese being pushed out by Mandarin, reflecting different immigration patterns. Peter Kwong, professor of Asian American studies at Hunter College in New York City commented that “Mandarin’s ascent comes with the realignment of power in Chinese-American communities, where the recent (non-Cantonese) immigrants are gaining economic and political clout”. [19]

Earlier moves by Guangzhou TV in adopting Mandarin

In 2009, Guangzhou TV shifted its Financial Channel from Cantonese to Mandarin at a cost of 30 million yuan.[16] Following the transition, viewership of the channel plummeted from 0.34 to 0.09.[20] The main channel’s lunchtime news program reverted to Cantonese in January 2010 due to low ratings.[1]

CPPCC Guangzhou Committee proposal


Prior to submission of the proposal to the local government, in June 2010, the CPPCC Guangzhou Committee conducted an online survey on GZTV’s broadcasting on its website. In response to a question concerning increasing Mandarin programming, of the 30,000 respondents, among whom two thirds were Guangzhou natives, a dominating 79.5% opposed the increase in favor of maintaining the current Cantonese-to-Mandarin ratio, while only a meager 19.5% were in support.[21][22]


In spite of opposition expressed through the survey, in July 2010, the CPPCC Guangzhou Committee officially submitted a proposal titled Suggestions on Further Enhancing Construction of Asian Games Soft Environment to Guangzhou mayor Wan Qingliang, which explicitly voiced that Guangzhou TV should increase Mandarin programming by either adopting Mandarin as its primary programming language or converting all prime-time programs into using Mandarin and serving reruns in Cantonese.[1][22]

Proposal rationale

In explaining the rationale for the proposal, the CPPCC Guangzhou Committee cited allowing satellite broadcasting of Guangzhou TV programs, an idea supported by 82.1% of the respondents in the online survey, as the main reason. Among municipal television stations of the five Major Cities named by the Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, Guangzhou TV is the only one whose main channel is not broadcast nationwide via satellite, because the majority of its programs are in Cantonese, while Mandarin programming is one of the requirements of SARFT approval for nationwide broadcasting. The CPPCC Guangzhou Committee also asserted that only if Guangzhou TV achieved nationwide broadcasting would Guangzhou live up to its status as a Chinese Major City, and it would also facilitate more people to know about Guangzhou.[22]


Reactions of local citizens and netizens

Responses to the CPPCC Guangzhou Committee’s proposal were generally negative, especially those from local citizens and netizens; only a minority of reactions were positive.[1][21][23] In response to media interviews, local citizens expressed concerns about the possibility of Cantonese being lost, particularly in the younger generations, although there were also more optimistic and neutral opinions.[10][12][23]

A Pro-Cantonese poster, text reads Cantonese people speak Cantonese. If you don't understand Cantonese, go home.

Netizens created artworks that satirized the proposal and promoted Cantonese. Some made a sarcastic poster mimicking that of the movie Echoes of the Rainbow. The title of the poster, Echoes of the Cantonese (simplified Chinese: 碎粤神偷; traditional Chinese: 碎粵神偷, literally"The Cantonese Stealer"), has the same pronunciation as that of the movie in both Cantonese and Mandarin.[24] Some others made a poster taking the style of propaganda posters that were popular before the 1990s, with text reading “Cantonese speak Cantonese, if you can't understand Cantonese, go home”.[25]

On July 11, 2010, a group of youngsters carried out a flashmob-style gathering in the People’s Park in Guangzhou to promote Cantonese, singing famous 1980‘s Cantopop.[26]

July 25, 2010 mass assembly

People gather at Jiangnanxi Station
A man displays a slogan during the assembly
Police on the scene

On July 25, 2010, a crowd of about 10,000 gathered at 5pm in the surroundings of [32][33] People, however, gathered regardless.

During the gathering, the crowd shouted slogans promoting Cantonese, including the battle cry[34] of a famous Cantonese general, Yuan Chonghuan, and mocking at Ji Keguang, who was believed to be the most active supporter in the CPPCC Guangzhou Committee; they also sang Glorious Years by Beyond.[16] Despite its size, the crowd stayed peaceful and maintained order.[30]

Local police were dispatched to the scene and exercised restraint throughout, and there was no physical clashes between the protesters and the police.[35] The crowd was dispersed at 6:30pm, when dusk fell and it started to rain.[30]

Reactions of notable personalities

Han Zhipeng, a member of the CPPCC Guangzhou Committee, expressed his opposition after release of the proposal, saying, "Cantonese is the carrier of Lingnan culture, and the mother tongue of Guangdong people; it is also a bond connecting overseas Chinese, for most of them speak only Cantonese." He further suggested introducing a new Mandarin channel instead of reducing Cantonese programming.[1]

Zeng Zhi, director of GZTV’s General Editor Office, questioned satellite broadcasting as a motivation for GZTV shifting to Mandarin, saying that nationwide broadcasting was a complicated and difficult issue, and might not be attained even if Cantonese was ditched.[1]

Chen Yang, who is celebrated by local television audience for his blunt criticism of government policies and behaviors when hosting News Eyes for GZTV since the show’s inception in February 2004 until being forced to leave in December 2008, sighed, "Cantonese is in degeneracy... Behind a dialect forced into extinction there must be a weakened culture."[1]

Zhan Bohui, honorary director of Jinan University’s Chinese Dialect Research Centre, defended the proposal, declaring that increasing Mandarin was to cater to the migrant population in Guangzhou, to whom Cantonese was unintelligible.[1]

Ji Keguang, the most prominent proponent of the proposal, when requested for comment on the 90% agreement to Cantonese programming in the online survey, responded with "They need guidance", which eventually put him at the center of criticism from local citizens and netizens. Ji also downplayed the feasibility of introducing a new Mandarin channel as he believed that a new channel would be very costly and lack time to mature before the 2010 Asian Games.[23]

Reactions of government officials

Wang Yang, secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Guangdong Committee, noted in a session of the committee on July 16, 2010 that the important upcoming work was “education, to enlighten and culture the people with education”.[36] The remark was interpreted by the Hong Kong-based Apple Daily as the authorities maintaining a hard-line stance against popular calls to protect Cantonese.[37]

Su Zhijia, deputy secretary of the CPC Guangzhou Committee, explicitly denied the existence of “popularizing Putonghua while abolishing Cantonese” in an interview with Guangzhou TV on July 20, 2010, saying that the government had no intentions to abandon or weaken Cantonese. Meanwhile, he still encouraged local citizens to master Mandarin and use the language on formal occasions and in public places, reflecting the government’s policy of promoting it.[2][16]

Reactions of Guangzhou TV

In a formal response, Guangzhou TV rejected the proposal, citing "historic causes and present demands" as reasons for Mandarin-Cantonese bilingualism.[2]

Official response

Guangzhou city hall deputy Ouyang Yongsheng responded by saying "Cantonese dialect is Cantonese people's native tongue and is also Lingnan area's dialect. Guangzhou according to law, according to rule, according to heart, according to reason would never do something to 'promote Putonghua while abolishing Cantonese'." Other terms which gained popularity among netizens include 'the fall of Cantonese' .[38] A suspect from Hubei was arrested for instigating the event with ulterior motives.[39][40]

Post rally

On 1 August 2010 hundreds of people gathered in People's Park, Guangzhou. About 20 people were taken away by police. Three of them were journalists from Now TV, two from Cable TV and one from Reuters.[41] Others gave the figure at 3000 people attending the Guangzhou rally with 7 journalists arrested.[42] A protester asked a police officer why he was carried away for protecting his own culture as he was not breaking any laws. Another person in the rally said he has never seen that many police in his entire life.[42] About 200 people attended another rally in Hong Kong at the same time in Southorn Playground in Wan Chai.[41]

At the end of August a 24-year old female from native Guangzhou was revealed to have started the campaign with her friends on July 11 asking Cantonese speakers to sing Cantonese songs. Government officials called her home and warned her not to take part in any campaign. At the time she believe the campaign should continue.[43]

On 18 and 19 September 2010, famous Hong Kong activist Cai Shufang and famous blogger Zhong Shuangyu led the global Cantonese supporting assembly. However, because of the preparation by the Chinese government, the assembly only been held on time in Hong Kong and United States.[44][45]

Yet in December 2011, the Government of Guangdong promoted a new rule that took effect in 1 March 2012, saying that all government workers, teachers, conference holders and TV/radio host were to use Mandarin rather than dialects such as Cantonese in public appearances,[46] and any Cantonese (Or Hakka, Teochow) language TV or radio shows will be broadcast only after permission is granted by the government.[47] This once again brought controversy to Guangzhou Television.[48] However, authorities said this rule still permits usage of Cantonese or other dialects in daily life or public appearances.[49]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i 广州市政协建议:广州电视台改用普通话 [CPPCC Guangzhou Committee: GZTV should using Putonghua rather than Cantonese] (in Chinese).  
  2. ^ a b c 广州市委副书记苏志佳:"推普废粤"根本不存在 [Su Zhijia: "Anti-Cantonese Theory" isn't exist] (in Chinese). Southern Metropolis Daily. 2010-07-20. Retrieved 2010-07-26. 
  3. ^ Taipei Times: Protesters rally in China, Hong Kong over local dialect’‘ Retrieved on 2010-08-02.
  4. ^ a b "Law of the People's Republic of China on the Standard Spoken and Written Chinese Language (Order of the President No.37)".  
  5. ^ "Constitution of the People’s Republic of China".  
  6. ^ 中国广播电视播音员主持人职业道德准则 [Code of Professional Ethics of Radio and Television Hosts of China] (in Chinese). State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT). 2005-02-07. Retrieved 2010-07-26. 
  7. ^ a b 广播电视需要高素质的节目主持人 [Radio and television require high-quality hosts] (in Chinese). SARFT. 2004-10-24. Retrieved 2010-07-26. 
  8. ^ 国家广播电影电视总局关于进一步重申电视剧使用规范语言的通知 [Notice of General Office of SARFT on further reiteration of use of standard language in TV dramas] (in Chinese). SARFT. 2005-10-15. Retrieved 2010-07-26. 
  9. ^ "Cantonese language under the gun in China".  
  10. ^ a b c 学校要求学生讲普通话 祖孙俩竟变"鸡同鸭讲" [Grandma and granddaughter can't communicate each other due to school rules] (in Chinese).  
  11. ^ 广佛肇新童谣大赛开幕式出现意味深长的一幕:黄俊英说粤语相声 大人笑翻了 学生仔蒙查查 [Comedian:Those Kids won't understand Cantonese now] (in Chinese). Southern Metropolis Daily. 2010-07-09. Retrieved 2010-07-27. 
  12. ^ a b c 小学多提倡讲普通话 广州仔讲粤语 只得"半桶水" [Cantonese kid speaks Cantonese not very well] (in Chinese). Southern Metropolis Daily. 2010-07-09. Retrieved 2010-07-27. 
  13. ^ Rapoza, Kenneth. "Chinese Migrant Workers Enticed To Stay Home". Forbes. Retrieved 2 December 2014. 
  14. ^ Lei, Wu. "China attempts to deal with large number of migrant workers". CCTV. CCTV. Retrieved 2 December 2014. 
  15. ^ Qiu, Quanlin. "Guangzhou helps migrant workers from Hunan". China Daily. China Daily. Retrieved 2 December 2014. 
  16. ^ a b c d Branigan, Tania (2010-07-25). "Protesters gather in Guangzhou to protect Cantonese language". London:  
  17. ^ 《推普的"南宁现象"》,《羊城晚报》,2010年7月13日。
  18. ^ Parry, Simon. "Decline of Cantonese". China Daily. China Daily. Retrieved 2 December 2014. 
  19. ^ Semple, Kirk. "In Chinatown, Sound of the Future Is Mandarin". NYTimes. The New York Times. Retrieved 2 December 2014. 
  20. ^ 广州掀起电视台普通话和粤语播报时长之争 [Guangzhou: Battle on Putonghua and Cantonese at TV] (in Chinese).  
  21. ^ a b "Proposal for news in Mandarin angers Guangzhou citizens".  
  22. ^ a b c 广东专家热议"废粤推普" [Experts Debate on Cantonese or Putonghua] (in Chinese). Time Weekly. 2010-07-14. Retrieved 2010-07-27. 
  23. ^ a b c 九成人不同意?要引导嘛 [90% disagrees? Guidance Needed] (in Chinese). Southern Metropolis Daily. 2010-07-06. Retrieved 2010-07-27. 
  24. ^ 《透視大中華》:廣州電視台粵普之爭 [Guangzhou TV’s Cantonese-Putonghua debate] (in Chinese).  
  25. ^ 挪威專家熱心 扮鬼扮馬拍片教廣州話 [Norwegian Expert Teach Cantonese with Funny Video] (in Chinese). Apple Daily. 2010-07-17. Retrieved 2010-07-27. 
  26. ^ 粤唱粤有爱 何苦煲冬瓜 [Flash Mob Promotes Cantonese with Cantopop] (in Chinese). Southern Metropolis Daily. 2010-07-12. Retrieved 2010-07-27. 
  27. ^ The Washington Post . Retrieved 2010-07-28. 
  28. ^ 穗數百人上街「撐粵語」 場面平和 [Hundreds gather in Guangzhou to support Cantonese] (in Chinese).  
  29. ^ 廣州市民集會保衛粵語 [Guangzhou citizens gather in defense of Cantonese] (in Chinese).  
  30. ^ a b c 广州2000人上街集会"撑粤语" [2,000 gather in Guangzhou to support Cantonese] (in Chinese).  
  31. ^ 廣州萬人上街撐廣州話 防暴警戒備 便衣警偷拍 80後頂硬上 [10,000 assemble in Guangzhou to support Cantonese; anti-riot police stand-by; plainclothes take pictures on the sly; generation of 1980s undeterred] (in Chinese). Apple Daily'. 2010-07-26. Retrieved 2010-07-27. 
  32. ^ a b 料2万白衣人搞集会 中广州话捍卫战升级 [20,000 white-shirters expected to assemble; battle of defense of Cantonese escalates in China] (in Chinese). Kwong Wah Daily. 2010-07-18. Retrieved 2010-07-27. 
  33. ^ 當局推普廢粵引起民間"撐粵語" [Authorities’ promoting Putonghua and abolishing Cantonese prompted citizes the support Cantonese] (in Chinese). RFA. 2010-07-23. Retrieved 2010-07-27. 
  34. ^ "Cantonese cultural warriors fight back". Asia Times. 2010-08-04. Retrieved 2010-08-08. 
  35. ^ "广州近三千民众聚会撑粤语公安驱赶人群". Radio Free Asia. 2010-07-25. Retrieved 26 July 2010. 
  36. ^ 汪洋:下一步更重要的是"教之",以教开智以文"化"人 [Wang Yang: "education, to enlighten and culture the people with education"] (in Chinese). Southern Metropolis Daily. 2010-07-17. Retrieved 2010-07-17. 
  37. ^ 捍衞戰升級 高呼「光復廣州」 兩萬白衣人將集會撐廣州話 [20k people demonstrate on Cantonese] (in Chinese). Apple Daily. 2010-07-17. Retrieved 2010-07-27. 
  38. ^ "" 'Southern Retrieved on 2010-07-28.
  39. ^ "" 撐粵語被指非法 廣州警拘一人 (Man Arrested on Pro-Cantonese Protest). Retrieved on 2010-07-28.
  40. ^ South China Morning Post. "SCMP." Guangzhou blames people with ulterior motives for pro-Cantonese campaign. Retrieved on 2010-07-28.
  41. ^ a b South China Morning Post. "SCMP." Hundreds defy orders not to rally in defence of Cantonese. Retrieved on 2010-08-01.
  42. ^ a b "" 穗撐粵語升溫逾千公安圍趕3000民眾集會 7記者被拘 (Reporters Arrested on Guangzhou) Retrieved on 2010-08-02.
  43. ^ SCMP. "SCMP." The spark for the dialect campaign. Retrieved on 2010-08-22.
  44. ^ "[1]" Photos on Hongkong scene on 2010-09-18.
  45. ^ "[2]" 明報:本港十人遊行撐粵語 Retrieved on 2010-09-18.
  46. ^ Phoenix TV's Report(Chinese)
  47. ^ Cantonese will may not heard on Guangdong TV Networks… Again?
  48. ^ s ReportThe Sun'Hong Kong Newspaper (Chinese)
  49. ^ Xinhua News Agency's Report(Chinese)

External links

  • Anger at Cantonese language switch
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