On Sunday 25 July, in excess of a thousand people gathered in front of the Ocean Oil building in the prosperous Jiangnan Xi shopping area, Guangzhou. They were there to protest the proposal to increase the use of Mandarin being used on Guangzhou TV during prime-time. The outrage by locals at the proposal had been widely felt, especially in Haizhu district where the Cantonese population is a vast majority. The fear is that it will be the thin edge of the wedge that will eventually take Cantonese from television and radio.
The demonstration continued from 4:30pm well into the evening, with police observing and occasionally moving to free passage for pedestrians. On one occasion the crowd chanted: "Let him go! Let him go!" indicating that perhaps there was an arrest. On the whole there were no signs of violence. At about 7pm when this reporter went down stairs, he saw with his own eyes the riot police kitted up in their gear and assembling in front of the building. From a distance, the crowd appeared to be peaceful, with a few people inspired to say provocative comments, which would create roar in the crowd, which sent all the students in the language school to the windows to see "what happened".
The Cantonese dialect, leveraging off the cultural engine of Hong Kong, has had a privileged status among dialects. It is not common that TV channels and radio statoins have dialect as their main language, but in Guangzhou it is. For many people, there is a palpable pride in the Cantonese dialect. Often shop assistants will use Cantonese with you even if you speak to them in Mandarin. Some people neglect their ability in Mandarin to that extent too. It is true that there are more and more migrants from other provinces in Guangzhou and Mandarin is now easily heard in all areas of Guangzhou; the riposte of course is that they have come into a Cantonese city and should learn the language of the land.
I went home that night and turned on Guangzhou TV and didn't hear a peep about the demonstration. I scanned the papers the following morning and the morning after to find not a mention. After the people scattered, the ripples in the media were negligible. Apparently CCTV reported that there was a gathering to celebrate 110 days till the Asian Games. Again China has shown that there is a latitude in Freedom of Expresson, but the lack of media freedom makes it a relatively meaningless act. On the internet it took a long time to find any sites that could be read from China about the event. Eventually I found the following:
That being said, this blog too, isn't accessible from China...