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Mandarin is not my mother tongue (part one)

Mandarin is not my mother tongue (part one)

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Lim Teng Leong believes that it was the Communist dogs who pushed for the adoption of Mandarin as the common language of China.

A banner in front of a Chinese school asks readers to speak only the Beijing dialect. The words can be translated as: “Speak Mandarin. Use polite language to express sincerity”.

FOR THOSE who are not familiar with the history of Chinese dialects, I should say from the outset that Mandarin (as it is historically known), or more accurately, the Beijing dialect, has never been a dialect of national importance or universal acceptance in China before the 20th century.

Confucius was known to have spoken one of the Southern dialects which he himself referred to as “elegant language”. Some have said that he probably spoke an ancient form of Cantonese, but I have reason to believe that it was more probably the precursor of our present-day Hokkien.

True, he did not speak the coarse language of the Hokkien peasants but he spoke a refined form of Hokkien, akin to the Hokkien spoken today in the island of Penang.

From ancient times to the 19th century, many other dialects held sway over the lingua franca of the land we know as China today. Of note is the Nanjing dialect which was the official and most popular dialect used in China right up to the early 20th century.

It was only in 1909 when the dying Manchu Dynasty, which wasn’t even Chinese, ruled that the Beijing dialect be the “guoyi” or national language of China. But the Beijing dialect continued to be sidelined by the literati and the movers and shakers of China.

How can this foreign dialect be forced down my throat as my mother tongue when my mother does not speak a word of it and neither did her mother or her mother’s mother?

It was only after Communism, that noxious poison that destroyed the soul and dignity of the Chinese people and infected the whole of China, that the Beijing dialect, under the edict of the Communist Party of China, became the “putonghua” or “common language” of China.

The Communist Government has since 1949 discouraged the use of non-Beijing dialects in China. Of course we all know what it means when the Communists discourage something – they ban it with an iron fist. They have no qualms about sending in the tanks if necessary as the world has seen them do in the late 1980s to quash peaceful student protests in Tiananmen Square.

Anyone who has lived in China knows that the Communist Government has ensured that “polite language” or “civilized language” is synonymous with “putonghua” or universal language, referring to no other dialect but the Beijing dialect.

It is also a fact of Chinese history that anyone, even before the Boxer Rebellion, who had the courage to enter a Chinese village in the South speaking the Beijing dialect would be lynched and killed by angry mobs and accused of being a Northern infiltrator.

How can I, whose ancestors hail from one of the Southern states of China, accept Mandarin as my mother tongue when I would have been killed for speaking it in my native village just barely 150 years ago?

How can this foreign dialect be forced down my throat as my mother tongue when my mother does not speak a word of it and neither did her mother or her mother’s mother? You can trace that line all the way to Eve and not one of them spoke a word of the Beijing dialect.

So, is the Beijing dialect inherently attractive or superior, such that we can recommend it as a more suitable dialect to represent the entire Chinese people apart from the fact that the Communist politburo in 1949 all spoke it?

In part two, we will compare the Beijing dialect with Hokkien to find out which is more suited as a ‘national language’.

This article was first published by the author in his blog.

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