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War Against Dialect? Shanghai Textbook Standardises the Word ‘Grandma’

‘Laolao’ or ‘waipo’? A Shanghai textbook decides that only one of them is right for granny.

Chauncey Jung

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What is the word that refers to your mother’s mother? In English, the word is quite simple: grandmother or grandma. If one needs to make it more specific, ‘paternal’ or ‘maternal’ grandmother will solve the problem.

However, the story is not that easy in Chinese. With many varieties and dialects, different regions in China will have different words for ‘grandma.’ Some call her ‘Laolao’ 姥姥. Others say ‘Waipo’ 外婆. Both terms can be used interchangeably and, generally, would not be cause for confusion or misunderstanding.

Although the term usually would not be a big issue of debate, it became a hot topic of discussion this week when a Chinese textbook from Shanghai ruled the phrase ‘waipo’ 外婆 a form of dialect.

The book suggested that the expression ‘waipo‘ is not a part of the standard Chinese language, but rather part of a local dialect. Editors from the Shanghai School Board changed the original texts in the textbook, replacing all ‘waipo’ 外婆 terms with ‘laolao’ 姥姥 to promote Putonghua, also known as standard Chinese.

The incident was brought to light by a Weibo user who discovered the issue while reading a second-grade Chinese literacy textbook, in which an article was edited by the publishers, replacing all use of ‘waipo’ 外婆 to ‘laolao’ 姥姥.

The Shanghai School Board has responded to the incident, stating that, according to the ‘Modern Chinese Language Dictionary,’ waipo 外婆 is an expression used in Chinese dialects. While the word ‘grandmother’ can be translated into either ‘laolao’ 姥姥 or ‘waizumu’ 外祖母, the committee decided to use the term ‘laolao’ 姥姥 to help Shanghai students better understand different expressions used in the Chinese language.

“Shanghai is an international city, understanding the diversity of the Chinese language will better help construct a more open environment,” the Shanghai School Board stated in its official media response to the controversy.

 
Angered Weibo Users
 

On Chinese social media, however, the controversy has not blown over. For many native Chinese speakers, it just does not make sense to mark waipo 外婆 as a term used in dialects.

“People from southern China all use the term waipo,” a typical comment on Weibo said.  

“Why did they change the original texts?” other users wondered.

Laolao is the dialect term. We don’t say that in southern China,” one Weibo user commented, with others saying: “Before reading this article I had no clue whether laolao was the father’s mother or the mother’s mother. They’ve always made us use the same word. What a joke!”

One commenter criticized the way in which the Shanghai School Board forces ‘unity’ of language expressions: “It is just like saying that we all eat dumplings during the Spring Festival. But the reality is that we don’t eat that at all.”

Several Chinese media outlets also criticized the Shanghai School Board for their decision. Media site Sohu argues the Shanghai School Board is oppressing language diversity in the name of promoting diversification.

State media Guangming Daily pointed out that dialects incorporate special sentiments and local traditions that cannot be replaced by translations.

 
Unity Above Everything
 

Putonghua or standard Chinese has been China’s official language since a vigorous government campaign in 1956. Standard Chinese is mainly based on the Beijing dialect and Mandarin dialects spoken by the majority of the population in China.

One of the main objectives of the standardization of Chinese language was to achieve national unity. However, after more than six decades of actively promoting Putonghua, the effectiveness of the policy is still questioned.

According to a 2015 Xinhua News report, 400 million Chinese citizens cannot speak Mandarin or Putonghua. Many Chinese citizens speak local dialects in their respective regions, such as Cantonese in Guangdong, or Shanghainese in Shanghai. In addition, people in Tibet and Xinjiang speak their own languages, making it even more difficult to promote Putonghua in these regions.

Discussions of the detrimental effects of promoting standardized Chinese are very much alive on Chinese online forums (e.g. Zhihu) today. Some critics see the Putonghua policy as a threat to dialects and local identities. href=””>threat for the preservation of local dialects.

Recently, the gradual disappearance of local dialects has received more attention in Chinese media. In April of this year, China News Agency reported that dialects in Hainan are in danger as the younger generations are losing the ability and motivation to learn and use these local Hainan dialects. The report featured a 4-year-old kid who was teased and mocked when speaking dialect, showing the pressures people now face in dialect preservation.

One online discussant remarked: “This is ridiculous. On the one hand, they express concerns on dialects disappearing. On the other hand, they are forcing everyone to use the same language.”

Update June 23: People’s Daily and other Chinese media report that the Shanghai School Board has now apologized and reversed the textbook changes in response to the controversy.

By Chauncey Jung

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Chauncey Jung is a China internet specialist who currently works for an Internet company based out of Beijing. Jung completed his BA and MA education in Canada (Univ. of Toronto & Queen's), and has a strong interest in Chinese trends, technology, economic developments and social issues.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Lucas

    June 26, 2018 at 8:42 pm

    When I started reading this article I honestly thought that 姥姥 was the “dialect” term being edited out of textbooks. I had no idea 外婆 was not considered “standard” because it’s the default term used by everyone I know in this area. Either way though, I’m glad they reversed the action. Complete standardization overkill.

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China Insight

Can’t Enter Uni Because of Daddy’s Bad Social Credit – The Blacklist Story That’s Got Weibo Talking

When one bad social credit listing affects the entire family.

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The story of a Chinese student who got admitted to a renowned university and was then denied access because of his father’s bad social credit has got Chinese social media talking.

Getting access to a top university is not easy in China’s fiercely competitive education environment. For one student from Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, the results of his gaokao (national university entrance exams) were so good that he received the happy news that he was accepted into one of these renowned universities in Beijing.

Unfortunately for him, that news was later followed up with an update that he could not be accepted due to his father’s bad social credit standing.

The story, which was widely covered by Chinese state media (including the English-language CGTN), received much attention on Chinese social media this week.

The young man’s father, named only as ‘Mr. Rao’ (饶先生), ended up with a bad credit standing after owing a debt of 200,000 RMB (±US$29,900) to a local bank for more than two years. Since Rao did not succeed in paying off his debt after warnings given, he was informed by a local court that he had ended up on a so-called “lose trust list” or “black list” (失信名单/失信黑名单).

Towards a More Credit-Based Society

In 2014, China’s government first announced plans of its “Social Credit System” (社会信用体系) that focuses on accumulating and integrating information, and will create measures that encourage ‘trustworthy behavior’ and punishes those who are not ‘trustworthy.’

The system is planned to go national by 2020, and is currently implemented in various regions across the country.

However, the public black list was introduced before this time, with Chinese courts in 2013 starting to publicly give out the names online of people who have not complied with court orders.

Additionally, In 2006, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) also already began operating its own independent Credit Reference Center tasked with managing a national commercial and consumer credit reporting system. With the recent launch of the so-called ‘trust alliance’ (信联), a new unified platform that has access to an enormous number of personal credit data, China’s credit-based society has taken another leap – with state level and commercial organizations joining forces in further developing China’s credit systems.

In recent (English-language) media reports, the lines are often blurred between the Social Credit system and a number of private programs, including the Sesame Credit program. These misunderstandings partly come from the fact that both the government’s plans on introducing their ‘Social Credit System’ (社会信用体系) and the Central Bank’s endeavors to build a stronger personal credit industry (个人征信行业) were major developments in the period from 2013-2015 up to the present. Together with the 2013 judicial online blacklist, these policies and programs all built on a stronger credit-based society that governs both economic and social areas.

The ‘system’ (there is not one system in place yet) works through rewards and punishment mechanisms. In the city of Zhuhai, for example, individuals or companies with good credit are put on a “red list” which potentially means they could be praised online (Zhuhai credit website) or given rewards, whereas those put on the “black list” (f.e. due to serious misbehavior or promise-breaching) will be subject to various restrictions (Zhang & Zhang 2016, 157).

Those restrictions could include a halt on loans or a national ban from traveling by air or train. Since private programs and institutions also have access to the public blacklists, one company or person’s bad credit status can affect their status among various platforms and for various institutions – and thus, potentially, could also influence their children’s access to schools and universities.

A Controversial Measure

The recent story of Rao’s son paying the price for this father’s bad credit listing has stirred controversy online over children being affected by their parents’ bad credit listing.

One Weibo news thread on the issue received nearly 30,000 comments.

One of the most popular remarks on the story said: “If it is okay to treat those who are associated with an offender as guilty (连坐), then it’s time to punish the sons and daughters of corrupt officials, too.”

“A father’s bad credit has nothing to do with the children!”, another Weibo user said.

But another popular comment called the measure “effective,” with others agreeing: “If he waited two years to pay off his debt, he was basically asking to be on the blacklist. That his bad credit influences his child’s education is just to reap what one has sown.”

Various Chinese media, including financial newspaper Caijing, report that the boy’s father was previously warned by the local court that his bad credit standing could potentially have consequences for his children too, but that he still did not comply with court orders to pay back his loans.

Since Rao’s son has been denied access to the university as long as his father has a bad credit standing, Rao has allegedly paid back the loan and has asked the local court to be removed from the blacklist.

There are also commenters on Weibo, such as @闪电McQueen, who say the university’s actions are nothing newsworthy: “This is just the [political] examination of people’s records, it’s not specifically about the black list, it’s common knowledge, let’s not make it all about that black list.”

This commenter’s reaction reiterates the idea that the social credit system and black list system is actually not that new, as Rogier Creemers has previously described in Foreign Policy (2016): “The Chinese Communist Party government has always sought to keep tabs on its citizens, for instance through the “personal file” (dang’an) system of a few decades ago.”

Another person on Weibo says: “The people who are saying the child is the victim here should also know that people who end up on the blacklist are generally not people without money, their kids have enough opportunities, it’s just that if they owe money [to the bank], paying the tuition fee for their kids would become a problem.”

As for Rao’s son, whether or not he will be able to start at his new university in Beijing in the new semester, now that his dad has paid off debts, is yet unclear. Some commenters say it would be better if he didn’t: “Who wants to go to a university who does this anyway?”

UPDATE (7.16.18): Jeremy Daum at the ever-insighful China Law Translate blog has further looked into this case and found that the institution in this article, which has not been named in Chinese media, is most probably a private academy. He was also able to verify that this concerns a real story with no fake names used – he was able track Rao down in the public blacklist.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes

References

Creemers, Rogier; Peter Marris; Samantha Hoffman; Pamela Kyle Crossley. 2016. “What Could China’s ‘Social Credit System’ Mean for its Citizens?” Foreign Policy, Aug 15
http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/08/15/what-could-chinas-social-credit-system-mean-for-its-citizens/ [15.7.18].

Zhang, Keting, and Fang Zhang. 201. “Report on the Construction of the Social Credit System in China’s Special Economic Zones.” In: Yitao Tao and Yiming Yuan (eds), Annual Report on the Development of China’s Special Economic Zones (2016): Blue Book of China’s Special Economic Zones, 153-171. Singapore: Social Science Academic Press.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

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China Insight

China’s “University Counseling” Business: High School Graduates Pay over $7,500 to Pick the Right University

How much is the selection of the right university worth?

Chauncey Jung

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Photo by Line Today.

Many Chinese high school graduates are willing to pay a high price for the right selection of their higher education institutions. Paying over US$7,550 for so-called ‘university counselors,’ Chinese students pay a higher price for the process preceding their uni years than the total cost of their entire college education.

A recent news item reported by China News Agency on the growing popularity of university counseling services has generated discussions on Chinese social media.

University counseling services have become an especially hot business now that the gaokao, China’s national university entrance exams, are over.

These kinds of counseling services help students to choose the best available institution based on their exam results, but they also include personality tests and the exploration of the potential future majors students could take on.

Promising to help students through big data and one-on-one consultations with experts, these university counseling agencies charge high prices. Service prices range from a few thousand Chinese Yuan to as high as ¥50,000 (±US$7,550).

According to Tsinghua University’s official admission guidelines, undergraduates are generally charged a ¥5,000 (±US$642) annual tuition fee, meaning that (parents of) high school graduates are willing to pay much more for the selection process of the university than the entire 4-year tuition of the educational institute.

Unlike university applications in western countries, Chinese high school graduates generally face stricter limitations in their selection of future colleges and universities. A high mark in the gaokao does not necessarily guarantee the admission to a top-level university; competition is fierce, and, depending on the location, universities will reserve spots for students depending on their hukou (residence permit).

Chinese universities are generally not flexible in letting students switch university majors, meaning that even if students change their preferences, they are still likely to stick to their majors for their entire undergraduate life. This also adds to the weight of the decision to enroll in a certain university programme.

 
Real Demands
 

Besides the high price, there is another downside to these consulting services. According to the China News Agency, these consulting services are not always reliable, as the ‘experts’ and ‘big-data analysis’ are not always subjective but promotion-focused.

Those downsides, however, have not halted the boom in demands for these counselling services.

Statistics from the Chinese Ministry of Education show that as of 2016, there are 2596 universities and 506 different majors in China. For high school graduates and parents with little knowledge of university admissions, anyone helping them find their way in this world of higher education is of great value to them.

Chinese media outlet Jiemian notes that China’s different provinces have different rules for filing university enrollment applications. In Inner Mongolia, for example, there is only one opportunity to apply for a higher education institution, for which students can select a maximum of six majors. If these students do not have an effective application strategy, they might end up going to a second-level institution.

Those with limited knowledge of Chinese higher education are also more prone to fall for one of the many scams; non-MOE-approved ‘universities’ take advantage of the sometimes confusing names of Chinese universities by luring students into enrolling at their fake university that has a name very similar to a top-notch one.

Although high school teachers sometimes assist their pupils in the search for the right college, they are not capable of helping all students – most students end up doing the university application themselves.

 
A Waste of Money?
 

On Weibo, this topic has sparked some discussions among users, especially those who have negative experiences with these expensive services.

“I spent a lot of money on these services,” one Weibo commenter says: “Now I am in a school in a rural suburb that takes 90 minutes to get to. If I were to see that consultant again, I would beat the crap out of him.”

Other users deem the services unnecessary: “I don’t think it is necessary to spend that money. Asking friends and elders will be enough.” Another user also does not believe in wasting money on a service that he sees no value in: “I am glad I saved that ¥50,000.”

There are also people, however, who do think the booming university counseling business is helpful: ” I think there are many problems people get to deal with at university. If you’re clueless, it is good to get other people’s advice.”

“There are many universities in China. It might be easy for those who can make it to the ‘985/211’ [the top level schools in the PRC], but not for the others,” another commenter suggests.

Both sides have a clear point: some counseling services may not be reliable and will not offer their clients the best university selection. But there are also those who actually benefit from getting their advice. In the end, it is the university counseling companies that get the short end of the stick.

By Chauncey Jung

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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