Beijing’s Language Policy Eradicates Unique Culture in Hong Kong

By Haizhong Ning
Haizhong Ning
Haizhong Ning
Haizhong Ning was a state employee and worked for a real estate company in China, before moving abroad and working as a reporter with a focus on Chinese affairs and politics for more than seven years.
and Yi Ru
Yi Ru
Yi Ru
December 9, 2021 Updated: December 9, 2021

News Analysis

Beijing’s latest national Mandarin language policy targets Hong Kong and Macao as indicated in a recently published article by the regime’s State Council. Subsequently, at least one radio station canceled its Cantonese programs. Public opinion raises concern over cultural extinction.

Cantonese is a popular dialect in southern China, even an official language in Hong Kong; but Beijing’s recent policy demands Mandarin education and testing to ensure fluency by 85 percent of the population by 2025.

According to an Opinion published by the State Council on strengthening language and writing in the new era issued on Nov. 30, “Putonghua” (Mandarin Chinese) should dominate in ethnic and rural areas by 2035. In particular, it should be widely spoken and recognized in Hong Kong and Macao, which would also receive substantial support and collaboration in the effort to promote the policy.

Activists are concerned that the policy is meant to eradicate the unique identity and culture in Hong Kong.

Eradicate the Identity of Young Hongkongers

On June 2, at a press conference held by the regime’s Ministry of Education, Hong Kong was urged to adopt Putonghua in the assessment, and legally recognize simplified Chinese.

The ethnic Mongol activist Temtsiltu Shobtsood told the Chinese edition of The Epoch Times, that the language policy is designed to cut off the Hong Kong people’s cultural roots.

Following the barbarous suppression of Hong Kong people, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) aims to further suppress the use of Cantonese, which he said, “will eliminate the self identity and unique Hong Kong culture” from the young Hongkongers.

He said, “Simplified Chinese is a castration of Chinese culture. Chinese culture has lost its richness.”

Shobtsood, chairman of Inner Mongolian People’s Party, lives in exile in Germany.

The Charm of Hong Kong

Lu Qiao, a well-known Cantonese program commentator, said that Hong Kong culture has had its popularity in the Cantonese speaking provinces in China. Beijing is aware of the impact of Hong Kongers’ protests over the breaking of “One Country, Two Systems” in the past two years on the mainland Cantonese population.

She told the Chinese edition of The Epoch Times, “‘Many mainland Cantonese consider Hong Kong to be the capital, a friend from the mainland told me in person. He said that they are fascinated by the Cantonese songs and movies and the charm of Hong Kong culture.”

She pointed out that the CCP actually created the conflict between mainland Cantonese speakers and the Cantonese speaking Hongkongers.

Beijing introduced the Individual Visit Scheme in 2003, after which mainland Chinese flooded into Hong Kong. Conflict arose when mainlanders purchased large quantities of infant formula, medicines, and so on from the stores, and even occupied medical resources in Hong Kong.

She believes that the CCP aims to change Hong Kong completely because diversity is a threat to the regime. The change will have to start with language.

She said, “Embedded in the Cantonese of Hong Kong culture is more than traditional Chinese culture. There are Western values,” which the CCP can’t tolerate.

Epoch Times Photo
People pack the check-in area for their flight to Britain at Hong Kong’s International Airport on July 18, 2021. (Bertha Wang/AFP via Getty Images)

She emphasized that a new anti-communist force is forming outside Hong Kong. She said, “Many Hong Kong commentators, the Cantonese speaking commentators, have moved overseas and are forming a strong bond in the UK, Taiwan, Australia, Canada, and the United States.” Together, they are firm supporters of Hongkongers in their fight against the CCP.

Lu Qiao immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong.

Protecting Dialects Is a Civilized Act

Tsoi Wing Mui, a veteran journalist in Hong Kong, expressed her concern to the Chinese edition of The Epoch Times.

She said, “When you eliminate a spoken language, you eliminate a culture.”

Last year, out of fear of culture assimilation, thousands of Mongolians protested against Beijing’s plans to replace the Mongolian language with Putonghua in some school subjects.

Tsoi said, “The Mongolians showed their anger because they wanted to protect their own cultural heritage.”

She expressed disbelief that the regime has made all school children speak Mandarin Chinese only: it’s uncivilized “when the kids can’t speak the dialects of their parents.”

Save a Corner of Sky for Cantonese: Radio Host

After Beijing issued its policy, a Cantonese radio program host’s online video went viral. (See video)

The program host, Yan Bing, pleaded in the video: Honestly, I’m sad, … Anyway, I really can’t accept it. We are in southeast Guangxi, a Cantonese dialect dominated area. Is it really that difficult to leave a corner of sky for Cantonese? No matter what, I support Cantonese!

Her Cantonese speaking program is the only one and the last one in Yulin City, Guangxi.

Local news also reported the radio host’s online plea and the pending closure of the program. The report indicated that there are 20 million Cantonese speakers in Guangxi, South China. But the local Cantonese speaking program has been struggling with the promotion of Putonghua in education and businesses. The only Cantonese radio program in Yulin is to be closed on Jan. 1, 2022.

The report mentioned that the suppression of Cantonese is hitting society as a whole. It said, “People aged 45 and older will talk to you in local dialects; the younger generations, especially school children, the majority of them can only speak Putonghua.”

The Epoch Times was unable to reach Yan Bing for comment.

Suppression of Cantonese Radio Programs

Chen Yongmiao, specializing in constitutionalism, believes that the Party’s total control of propaganda is what’s key in the shutting down of Cantonese radio programs.

He told the Chinese edition of The Epoch Times, “The Party owns all propaganda agencies. It does not allow non-governmental entities to run radio stations;” the promotion of Putonghua will result in the Cantonese programs being kicked out.

He said, “The government owns the school, the radio station, the TV, … The Party controls what’s available, now Mandarin Chinese gets its living space.”

Guo Jianhe, a Guangzhou resident, told The Epoch Times that it’s okay to promote Mandarin in the nation, just like learning English to facilitate communication in the world. But, local dialects can’t be banned. Likewise, if people disagree with the promotion of Mandarin, they should be allowed to voice their opinions.

He said, “Keeping a culture relies on ourselves. Our children will learn everything. When the school does not teach it, we’ll learn from each other.”

A Cultural Eradication Movement

In 2010, a large protest broke out in reaction to the regime’s initiative to clamp down on the Cantonese language. More than 10,000 local residents of Guangzhou gathered to oppose “cultural totalitarianism” on July 25, followed by Hong Kong’s rally to support Guangzhou residents in August.

In 2020, protest also erupted in Inner Mongolia against the Party’s cultural erosion. It took place when Beijing required classes in primary and secondary schools to be taught in Mandarin, and to eventually phase out Mongolian as the language of instruction.

According to Shobtsood, the regime suppressed the protest in 2020, and more than 5,000 ethnic Mongols were arrested; many participants were dismissed from their jobs or had their wages suspended.

Mongolians protest against China’s plan to introduce Mandarin-only classes at schools in the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia, at Sukhbaatar Square in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia on Sept. 15, 2020. (Byambasuren Byamba-Ochir/AFP via Getty Images)

He said, “Ever since the Party took power, eradication of Chinese culture and languages has been its plan in service of its dictatorship. Its intention is to turn China into a pond of dead water.”

Starting with the school children, “it’s the Party’s plan to eradicate the culture,” Shobtsood said.

Hong Kong Education Bureau Blind to Conflict

In response to The Epoch Times’ request for comment on the regime’s language policy, the Education Bureau in Hong Kong (EDB) said that enhancing Putonghua communication conforms to HK policy in language education, the so-called biliterate and trilingual, including communication skills in Putonghua.

The EDB adopted the biliterate and trilingual policy when the Hong Kong handover took place in 1997. It’s a language policy aimed at developing citizens to be biliterate in both written Chinese and English as well as trilingual in Cantonese, Putonghua, and spoken English.

Regarding the promotion of Putonghua, EDB plans to “encourage diversified Putonghua speaking activities in schools, academia, institutions and organizations, as well as exchanges of programs and plans with mainland China,” stated the EDB.

EDB said, “There is no conflict between learning Mandarin Chinese and inheriting Cantonese culture.”

Haizhong Ning was a state employee and worked for a real estate company in China, before moving abroad and working as a reporter with a focus on Chinese affairs and politics for more than seven years.
Yi Ru