More than 1,000 protesters rallied in Guangzhou and Hong Kong yesterday against what they say is China’s bid to champion the national language, Mandarin, over their local dialect, Cantonese.
Hundreds of mainland police officers were deployed to disperse protesters who gathered in People’s Park in Guangzhou to call on authorities to preserve the Cantonese language and culture, Hong Kong broadcasters RTHK and Cable TV reported.
“Guangzhou people speak the Guangzhou language,” some angry protesters chanted as the size of the crowd grew to about 1,000, RTHK said.
Videos from Cable TV and YouTube showed that some of the rally participants were forcibly carried away. A number of Hong Kong journalists were taken for questioning, Cable TV reported.
Chinese authorities have been anxious to suppress the growing pro-Cantonese movement, sparked after a political advisory body in Guangzhou proposed last month that local TV stations broadcast their prime-time shows in Mandarin instead of Cantonese ahead of the Asian Games in the province in November.
Adopting China’s official language, also known as Putonghua, would promote unity, “forge a good language environment” and cater to non-Cantonese-speaking Chinese visitors at the huge sporting event, authorities were quoted as saying.
Hundreds of Guangzhou residents defied government orders and staged their first demonstration the previous Sunday, but the protest was soon suppressed by the authorities, according to reports.
To echo the Guangzhou campaign, about 200 protesters marched to the government headquarters in Hong Kong yesterday.
“We want to show our support to our Guangzhou friends in their campaign to protect Cantonese against any threat of elimination,” said Choi Suk-fong, organizer of the rally.
Participants wore white T-shirts with a logo which said: “You want us to shut up. We will speak louder in Cantonese.”
A number of Guangzhou residents crossed the border to take part in the Hong Kong rally, saying that authorities in Guangzhou were trying to silence the protesters.
“I really regretted not going to the rally in Guangzhou last week. I came to Hong Kong today because I want to protect my own culture. Unlike on the mainland, here I can voice my view more directly,” said 21-year-old Wyman, who refused to give his family name for fear of retaliation by the Chinese authorities.
Instances of mainland protests spilling over into Hong Kong, which was returned to China in 1997, are rare since China’s the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre.
Cantonese is the mother tongue for an estimated 70 million people in Hong Kong, Macau and China’s southern Guangdong Province, and is widely spoken in overseas Chinese communities.
China has long been a patchwork of often mutually unintelligible dialects.
Beijing made Mandarin the country’s official language in 1982, leading to bans on other dialects at many radio and television stations.
The dialect has been further promoted in recent years as migrant workers moved to China’s coastal areas to find jobs.