For the uninitiated, the spoken Chinese language is divided into a number of dialects that are as distinctive as the differences between Cockney English and Deep South USA English.
Mandarin is the “official” language because it is the Chinese of Beijing.
Cantonese is the Chinese of southern China and the version more familiar to many Americans. (Bok Choy is Cantonese for white cabbage. The Mandarin version is Bai Cai.)
And I can speak from personal experience that the two dialects are so different as to be incomprehensible to each other. My Mandarin barely worked in Hong Kong.
Other dialects in Western China are as distinct but, because of limited exposure to the rest of the world, are not as well-known.
For a number of years now Beijing has been trying to force all parts of the country use Mandarin. And for just as long, the Cantonese speakers have been fighting those efforts.
Cantonese is the Chinese dialect of Guangzhou province and Hong Kong — the economic powerhouses of China.
People in those areas looking to do serious business in China learn Mandarin but as a second language. (Actually, more often as a third language. English is often the second language.)
So when a Guangzhou politician made an official proposal to force a major local television network to stop using Cantonese and switch to Mandarin, more than 1,000 people demonstrated against it.
Police broke up the unauthorized demonstration peacefully.
And, in true Communist, control all information style, all mention any mention of the demonstration was removed from Chinese Internet forums on Monday. Only one national newspaper — one aimed at the foreign community — carried a report. The report did not so much cover the popular uprising as it indicated the discussion of language is a politically delicate matter.
And, as we know, anything that is a “politically delicate matter” will come under the direct control of the propaganda ministry. And that means in the hands of the “hardliners” who want more control over information and means of communication.
This is going to be another interesting issue to follow.