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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. Avatar

    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

From Hong Kong Protests to ‘Bright Future’ – The Top 3 Most Popular Posts on Weibo This Week

These are the most-read posts on Weibo this week.

Manya Koetse

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The three most-read posts on Weibo over the past week – an overview by What’s on Weibo.

The protests in Hong Kong have been dominating Chinese social media throughout August, and the past week has been no different. Two out of three most-read posts on Weibo, one of China’s most popular social media platforms, were about Hong Kong this week.

A wrap-up:

 

#1 Hundreds of Hong Kong Taxi’s Flying Chinese National Flag

Image shared by CCTV on their Weibo account.

While Hong Kong is gearing up for the 13th consecutive weekend of mass anti-government demonstrations, there are no signs of the protests fizzling out any time soon.

The Hong Kong protests started in March and April of this year against an extradition bill that would allow local authorities to detain and extradite people wanted in mainland China, and have intensified over the past weeks.

Although authorities in mainland China initially remained quiet on the topic, the Hong Kong demonstrations have been dominating the trending streams on China’s popular social media platforms for all of August.

Through videos, online posters, and slogans, Chinese state media have propagated a clear narrative on the situation in Hong Kong; namely that a group of “separatists” or “bandits” are to blame for the riots that aim to “damage public security” in Hong Kong and are “dividing the nation.”

News outlets such as People’s Daily and CCTV are sharing many stories that emphasize the One China principle and praise the Hong Kong police force. Those voices in Hong Kong speaking up for the police force and condemning protesters using violence have been amplified in Chinese media.

One story that became the number one trending post on Weibo this week is that of dozens of Hong Kong taxi drivers hanging the Chinese national flag from their cars (video).

On August 23, the taxi drivers reportedly formed a rally against violence at Tsim Sha Tsui, waving the flags and putting up signs saying “I love HK, I love China.”

The hashtag “500 Hong Kong Taxi’s Hanging up Chinese National Flags” (#香港500辆的士挂上国旗#), hosted by CCTV, attracted over 700 million views on Weibo. The CCTV post reporting on the event received over half a million likes and 47000 shares.

The commenters mostly praise the Hong Kong taxi drivers for “standing up for Hong Kong” and flying the Chinese flag.

In English-language media, it has mostly been Chinese state media reporting on the rally. Xinhua, Women of China, ECNS, and Global Times all reported on the August 23 peace rally.

CNN only shortly reported how “a number of taxis have been spotted driving around the city displaying Chinese flags — something that has not happened on this scale during previous protests” (link).

 

#2 ‘Bright Future’ Title Song for Upcoming Movie ‘The Moon Remembers All’

Over 266.000 Weibo users have been sharing a post by Chinese actor Li Xian (李现) on the title track for the new Chinese movie The Moon Remembers All or River on a Spring Night (Chinese title: 春江花月夜).

The upcoming movie itself is a very popular topic on Weibo recently, attracting 430 million views on its hashtag page alone. The movie just finished shooting and will be released in 2020.

The song titled “Bright Future” (前程似锦) is sung by Taiwanese singer Chen Linong (陈立农) and Li Xian, who are both the leading actors in the fantasy movie. The song was released on August 29.

The Moon Remembers All is produced by Edko Films and directed by Song Haolin (宋灏霖), also known for Mr. Zhu’s Summer (2017) and Fatal Love (2016).

 

#3 Interview with Hong Kong Pro-Beijing LegCo Member Junius Ho

The third most popular Weibo post of this week comes from Xia Kedao (侠客岛), a popular commentator account for the People’s Daily Overseas Edition, and concerns a live broadcasted interview with Hong Kong lawmaker and Legislative Council (LegCo) member Junius Kwan-yiu Ho.

Junius Ho (何君尧) is known as being ‘pro-Beijing’ and stirred controversy earlier this summer when a viral video showed him shaking hands with men wearing white T-shirts who allegedly were linked to the mob attacking people at the Yuen Long MTR station on July 21.

Xia Kedao describes Junius Ho as a “straightforward” politician who “speaks out for justice” and denounces “reactionaries.”

In the August 28 interview, that was live-streamed on Sina Weibo and later also written up, the Hong Kong legislator discussed the background of the protests.

Ho argues that the people with “ulterior motives” used the extradition bill for their own power struggle, distorting and exaggerating the facts behind the regulation.

The politician also partly links the protests to a “weak national consciousness” in Hong Kong due to its education curriculum and says that there have not been enough legal consequences for those participating in illegal activities and riots.

Thousands of commenters on Weibo write that they appreciate Ho for speaking out against the “pro-independence riot youth” and praise him for his “deep understanding” of mainland China.

By now, Junius Ho, who is also active on Weibo with his own account, has gathered more than half a million fans on his page.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Insight

Exchange Student to Be Deported from China for Harassing Young Woman at University

An exchange student studying at the Hebei University of Engineering has been expelled and will soon be deported after harassing a female student.

Manya Koetse

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An exchange student from Pakistan who was studying at the Hebei University of Engineering (河北工程大学) has been expelled and detained after harassing a female student at the same university.

The incident, that is attracting much attention on Chinese social media this week, adds to the wave of recent controversies over the behavior and status of overseas students in mainland China.

On July 31, a female student at the Hebei university filed a police report against a Pakistani student who allegedly harassed her and attempted to forcefully kiss her and touch her breasts.

Screenshots of a supposed WeChat conversation between the exchange student and the female student, in which the man apologizes and claims the interaction is a “requirement for friendship,” are being shared on social media.

According to various reports, the police initially tried to mediate between the two students, which the female student refused.

Together with the school principal, the police then further investigated the case and found ample evidence of harassment after examining the university’s surveillance system.

On August 1st, the Hebei University of Engineering announced that they had expelled the student and that he will be deported from China. The announcement received more than 14,000 reactions and 150,000 ‘likes’ on Weibo.

The student is now detained at the local Public Security Bureau and is awaiting his deportation.

A photo of two officers together with a man in front of the detention center in Handan is circulating on social media in relation to this incident.

At time of writing, the hashtag page “Exchange Student to Be Deported after Molesting Female Student” (#留学生猥亵女学生将被遣送出境#) has been viewed over 310 million times on Weibo.

Among thousands of reactions, there are many who praise the Hebei university for supporting the female student after she reported the exchange student to the police.

“This may not be the best university, but at least they stand behind their students!”, some say, with others calling the university “awesome.”

Many say that the Hebei university should serve as an example for other Chinese universities to follow, with Shandong University being specifically mentioned by Weibo users.

Shandong University was widely criticized earlier this summer for its “buddy exchange program,” which was accused of being a way to arrange Chinese “girlfriends” for male foreign students.

Another incident that is mentioned in relation to this trending story is that of an exchange student who displayed aggressive behavior towards a Chinese police officer in July of this year. The student was not punished for his actions, which sparked anger on Chinese social media.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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