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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

Noteworthy Weibo Moment: Qingdao Government Account Shows Support for LGBT Community

“The best official account post I’ve ever seen on Weibo.”

Wendy Huang

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First published

Some netizens are moved to tears to see an official government account making a public statement in support of the gay community.

Just a day ahead of the 2019 International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (May 17), a Qingdao government social media account has attracted the attention of Chinese netizens for showing support to the gay community.

On the night of May 15, the Information Office of Qingdao Municipal Government published the noteworthy post on its official Weibo account Qingdao Fabu (@青岛发布), which has over 3,8 million followers.

“In a world of equality, let all people turn away from homophobia” (“在平等世界里,让所有人不再恐同”), the post said, commenting on the recent trending news of a 15-year-old boy who came out as gay and posted a suicide note on his Weibo account.

The incident shows us the difficulty and hopelessness homosexual people are suffering. The world should be equal and free, and as the International Day Against Homophobia (#517不再恐同日#) is nearing, let’s call on the people around us to express our love of equality and kindness,” the post said.

Within a day after it was published, the Qingdao Fabu post was shared over 30,000 times and received more than 23,000 likes.

 

A Weibo Suicide Note


 

The Weibo user referred to by the Qingdao local government account had posted a lengthy letter on the night of May 14. Using an anonymous Weibo account (@用户7138253812), the author, identifying himself as a 15-year-old boy from Qingdao, came out as gay and shared his pain and grievances over the pressure he faced.

Because the boy wrote he wanted to “leave this world forever” and ended his post with a farewell, many people became worried about the boy’s mental state and whereabouts.

In the early morning of May 15, the official Weibo account of Qingdao Police (@青岛公安) posted an update, stating that the boy was found safe after running away from home.

Later that day, another post was published on the same anonymous account saying: “Thank you everyone, everything is fine.” The farewell note has since been deleted. See a full translation of the text below this article.

 

Qingdao Official Account Receives Praise


 

With its post supporting the young gay man and the LGBT community at large, the Qingdao Government official news account is receiving hundreds of comments praising them.

Besides their original post, the Qingdao government account also posted a total of nine different quotes relating to LGBT issues, including one from Taiwanese film director Ang Lee saying “There’s a Brokeback Mountain in everyone’s heart.”

Another one stresses the fact that homosexuality is not a mental illness, with yet another quote mentioning that the Netherlands became the first country in 2001 to legalize same-sex marriage.

The reposted quotes were originally published on the Weibo account of Sina Shandong (@新浪山东), the official Weibo account of Sina’s Shandong Province Branch.

As the Qingdao Weibo post is gaining more popularity on Weibo at time of writing, these are some of the popular comments below:

  • “This is so awesome for an Official Weibo account!”
  • “That an Official account would post this.. seeing this makes me tear up. I will always support equal rights.”
  •  “I’m crying, this was really sent out by an Official account.”
  • “This must be the best Official account post I’ve ever seen on Weibo.”
  • “Let’s give it up for Qingdao!”
  • “This means progress!”
  • “I’m not from Qingdao, but I will follow this account from now on. This [post] shows you have guts.”
  • “I feel proud to be from Qingdao.”
  • “I am so moved by your post. Thank you for your support. I hope your light will shine on all the people.”

Over the past few years, Chinese social media have seen many times when gay content was censored.

One important moment occurred in 2017, when the China Netcasting Services Association (CNSA, 中国网络视听节目服务协会) issued new criteria to strengthen regulations over online audio-visual content on Chinese platforms. One of the new regulations regarded the removal of online content that “displays homosexuality” (“展示同性恋等内容”), grouping homosexuality together with incest and sexual perversity as “abnormal sexual behavior.”

Although it is very noteworthy for an official government account to publish social media posts that strongly support the gay community, it is not the first time it has happened.

In July of 2017, the official account of the Communist Youth League of Fujian published a post that stated “Being gay is no disorder!” Many netizens at the time, like today, said the unexpected support moved them to tears.

Sometimes on Weibo, it’s the little posts about big matters that seem to matter the most – especially when they come from a government-run source.

 

Full Translation of Suicide Note


 

The suicide note in question has been deleted from Weibo, but The Beijing LGBT Center translated the text and posted it on its Facebook page.

Please note that the following translation is not a What’s on Weibo translation and that all credits for this translation go to the Beijing LGBT Center. Follow them on Facebook here:

I am from Qingdao and am a 15-year-old student from Laoshan No.8 Secondary School.

I am a homosexual. I never expected I would be able to utter this word.

Growing up a frail and meek boy, I am that ‘fem’ everyone is referring to. An easy target, bullied, assaulted, teased, abused, and shunned by classmates and teachers alike. This is how I grew up, and so did many other gay children. Naive as I was, I did not fight back or told anyone about my feelings. I was afraid, and am still afraid of this world. I acted strangely and they called me lunatic, but I know that was my only way to protect myself. After I tried in vain to fit in, I chose to close myself from this world, and this is how I lived my childhood.

By sheer luck, I had a short childhood. I started to realize what’s ‘strange’ with me in grade 5 or 6. I remember how I exulted when I first read about affirmative answers about gay on Zhihu (Chinese version of Quora). But I was soon overwhelmed by those derogatory, abusive, and hurtful answers. I cried the whole night and yet I put my mask back on the very next morning. What people saw as maturity in me was in fact avoidance and isolation.

Things got a little better in secondary school because I am a top student. There was less bullying but I reminded that fem guy teased and mocked at by everyone. Among the worst was my class teacher, Chen Feng. For two years he inflicted me with corporal punishments. Listening to him indoctrinating his banal views was pure suffering. I’ve got enough of his so-called masculinity values, his genders have their fixed roles, his homosexuals are modern perverts. Yet he is not alone among his peers and colleagues. I have had enough of my teachers’ cursing, smearing, ridiculing, and insulting anything related to gays. All their rubbish made me sick and isolated.

Gradually I become irritable and violent. I came out to my mother rather abruptly. Though she seemed to have acquiesced it, I was giving in to the pressure and thinking about ending everything. I have no idea what happened to me and I know choosing death is not courageous, but rather an act of cowardice. I chose to avoid my family and I knew my indifference and avoidance hurt them, especially my mom, the one person who loves me the most.

My father is a weak and arrogant scum and inflicted my mother her whole life. He broke down my door when I was most vulnerable and isolated and banged my head on the wall. At that moment, I only wished he could kill me. But he was stopped by my sister.

Just now, my so-called “family” once again stormed my room and hurled their most insulting curses at me. I realized that my mom might be the only person who can accept me in this world. Or maybe she was just pretending too.

This is not the first time I’ve thought about dying to end it all. Just a few days ago, I scaled high trying to leave all these sufferings. When I called my mom to hear her voice one last time, I hesitated, climbed down and wandered for miles away from home.

Now I have once again escaped from home with that scum’s phone in my hand. Yes, this account is my father’s. I want to tell the world what I’ve always wanted to say and to do. And then leave this world forever.

I understand living on might be the better choice. I could have a bright future and watch this world getting more open and inclusive. But I have had enough. I am sorry to have vented everything on here, and I am sorry to be so weak my entire life. I wanted to do something for this world but in reality, I can do nothing. I know, China will not have its own Stonewall; its people can put up with anything. I am losing control of emotion…

I apologize for my cowardice. To be honest, I am not innocent. But even if I had the courage to change the world, a stab in the back could have easily killed me. I have chosen to solve the radical question with the radical way.

I love you all, the kind and beautiful people of conscience, I trust you to make the world better. If there were a heaven, I will send my blessings…I wish my story will be a faint voice to your fight.”

Also read:
* Communist Youth League: “Being Gay is No Disorder!”
* Why the Gay Kisses in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Won’t Make It to Chinese Cinemas
* Weibo Administration: “We’re No Longer Targeting Gay Content”
* China’s Online Gay Revolution and Rainbow Warrior Geng Le

By Wendy Huang and 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

Zhejiang Movie Theatre Displays Blacklisted Individuals in Avengers Movie Preview

A special ‘trailer’ before the Avengers movie premiere showed the audience blacklisted individuals.

Manya Koetse

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A local movie theatre in the city of Lishui, Zhejiang province, showed a noteworthy ‘trailer’ before the Avengers: End Game premiere on April 24.

Chinese state tabloid Global Times reports that the sold-out premiere had a ‘surprise’ moment just before the movie was about to start: a short Public Service Announcement by the Liandu district court of Lishui displayed people who are currently on a ‘debt dodging black list.’

The short film also informed the cinema audience of potential consequences of being on a blacklist, including no traveling abroad, and no traveling by air or on high-speed trains.

According to Global Times, the local district court has registered a total of 5478 people on its blacklist since 2018.

The names and faces of more than 300 people on this list have reportedly been displayed on cinema screens, public LED screens, and on buildings. Allegedly 80 of them have since complied with court orders.

As part of China’s emerging Social Credit system project, there are public court-issued lists of ‘trust-breaking enforcement subjects’ (信被执行人名单), referring to people or companies who have failed to comply with court orders.

Individuals on the judgment defaulter blacklist system run by the court system, whose information is publicized, can risk having their photos and names displayed on local LED screens on courthouses or other buildings (Dai 2018, 26).

Blacklisted individuals on a Wuxi building (via Phoenix News).

Beyond that, they will face restrictions in various ways, from being denied bank credit to being restricted from staying in high-end hotels or traveling by air.

On Weibo, the Global Times post on the noteworthy cinema preview received over 4000 shares. The same news was also reported by CCTV and Phoenix News.

Some commenters joke about the Public Service Announcement, saying: “Blacklisters [can now say]: Mum! I was on TV! On a big IMAX screen! Together with the Avengers!”

Others leave comments in support of the measure, calling it “creative,” and saying: “This is good, we should implement this all across the country.”

“Blacklisters should be displayed on all kinds of platforms.”

“This is for people to lose on their social credit,” another commenter writes: “If you don’t want to ‘socially die’ then just fulfill your duties.”

But not everyone agrees. “People are buying a movie ticket to see their film,” one person says: “They suddenly get exposed to this kind of content that has nothing to do with them, what about their rights as a consumer?”

By Manya Koetse

References

Dai, Xin, Toward a Reputation State: The Social Credit System Project of China (June 10, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3193577 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3193577 [5.3.19].

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

©2019 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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