About 30 percent of China’s 1.3 billion population, 400 million people, can’t communicate in Mandarin, according to the State Language Commission, and the Chinese government is worried.
Cornell University sophomore Sichun has this to say.
As a person who grew up in Beijing, learning Mandarin speech and Chinese declaiming professionally, I do have something to add to this conversation. From my experience, the Chinese people I have interacted with whose native language is Chinese dialect usually can speak pretty well Mandarin as well, and since they have no difficulty communicating orally, they should not have problem reading or writing (because the similarity of text between Mandarin and dialect is higher than speaking). However, the people I met are mostly from city and have higher education than those from the countryside, and I can imagine that those people from countryside should have not much exposure to Mandarin, and that is why they do not speak Mandarin and why they do not feel the need to learn Mandarin.
From the point of view of policy and culture, I do feel the need to uphold Mandarin as an official language, because it is the language known by the majority of people, although it is probably not the most commonly used one in everyone’s daily life. I agree that Mandarin should serve the purpose of a united national identity, and should be required to teach in schools. At the same time, I also advocate for cultural diversity. I believe that knowing Mandarin and one or two dialects at the same time would not harm, and if speaking dialects with people from the same place will reinforce people’s self-identity, I would strongly recommend that–knowing more than one language only mean that people have more than one identity to deal with.
As for television, my mom used to work in one of the largest Media and Communication Universities in China. According to her, it is absolutely true that Mandarin is one of, if not the only, highly selective standards for anchors. However, it is not a bad thing to have, as long as there is enough tolerance of local programs and channels that speak dialects, so that those people from the countryside who cannot speak Mandarin could still have a way to get access to the world.
So my point is that: let’s spread the influence and education of Mandarin, while encouraging the existence of local dialect.
You can contact Sichun Liu at email@example.com.