Too much dialect on the small screen

Can't understand a word they're saying

The State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television has decided that it needs to put a stop to dialect creep.

In a short news item posted to SARFT's website this week, a spokesperson reiterated the Administration's rules requiring the dialogue in TV dramas to be standard Mandarin:

In a recent media interview, SARFT spokesperson Zhu Hong said that the number of TV shows making extensive use of dialect is on the rise, and some of the programs showed overlong and excessive uses of dialect not in accordance with the spirit of the country's strong promotion of standard Mandarin and in violation of the Administration's rules. Additionally, the practice has an effect on the audience on an aesthetic level.

Zhu Hong said that province-level radio, film, and TV administrative departments and producers needed to strictly follow the rules spelled out in SARFT document #560[2005], Notice Concerning Further Reiteration the Use of Standard Mandarin in TV Series, and more rigorously review completed TV shows. The use of standard Mandarin should predominate in shows going into production, under normal circumstances....
Zhu Hong stressed that the language in TV shows other than local musicals, should be predominantly standard Mandarin. In normal circumstances dialect and non-standard Mandarin should not be used. Major revolutionary and historically-themed TV shows, children's series, and shows promoting educational content are to use Mandarin. Leaders portrayed in TV shows are to use Mandarin.

Zhu Hong's remarks duplicate exactly the language of the 2005 notice. SARFT's tendency to repeat itself was noted by commentators earlier this year when the administration reminded broadcasters that celebrity scandals were not supposed to be sensationalized.

Local dialects can add color to dialogue that's predominantly in Mandarin, but major characters are supposed to have standard speech. This presents difficulties for the accurate, lifelike portrayal of many of China's founding leaders, such as Mao Zedong (from Hunan) and Deng Xiaoping (from Sichuan).

A commentary piece in today's Chinese Business View elaborates on the problem:

Who tells "leaders" what to say?


It's not easy being SARFT. For a decade it's been working hard on a single problem: correcting the speech of "leaders" on the TV screen from dialect to standard Mandarin. To that end, SARFT spokesperson Zhu Hong recently issued two rules: Major revolutionary and historically-themed TV shows must use standard Mandarin, and leaders portrayed in TV shows must use standard Mandarin. The thought occurs to us that we heard identical language back in 2005, and someone looked it up and found that the rule had already appeared sometime back in the 80s or 90s. It's just that the "leaders" haven't been listening.

All of these repeated orders suggests that there is fertile ground for rule-breaking. One online poll showed 64% of respondents opposed to the rule, some of whom said that Grandpa Mao speaking standard Mandarin doesn't seem like Grandpa Mao anymore, and others who said that Grandpa Deng speaking standard Mandarin doesn't seem as kindly. These results could be termed "discordant," if you want to be blunt, or else "the will of the people," if you want to put a positive spin on things.

We're all used to "flavorful" dialect accents. I can't imagine what it would be like to listen to Chairman Mao stand on the Tian'anmen rostrum and proclaim the founding of the government of the People's Republic of China in a Luo Jing-style standard accent, nor can I think of what Commander Chen Yi's long, drawn out "What?" would turn into in standard Mandarin. Ni Ping even said, "There's a loss in verisimilitude when leaders speak Mandarin," and the actor Lu Qi said, "Without using dialect when playing Deng Xiaoping, it's hard to embody the charm of the great man."

Sure, there are some obedient comrades. Tang Guoqiang, for example, faced the pressure and played a Mao Zedong who spoke standard Mandarin, and people apparently found it quite pleasant. And by placing different versions next to each other, people are able to point out problems with the "dialect version": why does Chairman Mao speak Hunanese but his family Mandarin? Why does Deng Xiaoping speak Sichuanese, but Liu Bocheng, also from Sichuan, speaks standard Mandarin? A new problem for old revolutionaries. This is evidently something that actors who support dialect have to consider.

So, who tells "leaders" what to say? SARFT shouldn't apply a single rule to all situations, so why not let the audience, or the market, or artistic needs decide? Dialects are part of the languages of China, and it's fine if you want to guide things along. When a hundred voices clamor at once, the friction will naturally point things in a particular direction. We must have faith in the vitality of Mandarin while we take our time to make plans rather than being anxious to get it all done at once.

There's one other thing we've got to figure out: we can't imagine that relying on dialect-speaking leaders as Mandarin promoters will result in the successful promotion of Mandarin. Mandarin must be spread first before we'll get leaders who speak good Mandarin. Look at how today's "leaders" all speak Mandarin. A few decades from now when actors recreate historic roles, there won't be anymore debate over dialect vs. Mandarin. When solving historical problems, time is a very useful thing.

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There are currently 9 Comments for Too much dialect on the small screen.

Comments on Too much dialect on the small screen

I think showcasing dialects in TV shows is not a bad thing. Mandarin does not need promotion any more---unlike the 1950s or 1960s---one's got to have it if s/he wants to survive in the market economy. Now is the time for dialects to enjoy some protection and promotion.

It's another example of trying to crush local culture. Why is Cantonese so strong in movies, TV, songs etc. and Shanghainese is not - even though bot languages have about the same number of speaker....

Because Cantonese was allowed to blossom in Hong Kong and in overseas communitiesm SHnese was forbidden in the media.

The reason why there is so much programming in Cantonese is because people near Hong Kong could originally pick up the TV signals from Hong Kong, so people fed up of PRC TV naturally gravitated towards better quality programming. They had to put more Cantonese programming on their own channels just to get people to watch them. In Nanning (also originally a Cantonese-speaking city) out of reach of HK TV signals, they have to just put up with what they get in Mandarin. Another interesting case is Amoy (Xiamen) where there is a channel with Hokkien drama and news put on to impress people on the other side of the strait. What the CCP really wants for all of (Han) China is a situation like Shanghai, but they have had to make exceptions for the above reasons. Another thing to consider is the way in which this applies only really to southern "dialects" - the ones that would be called languages in any other context but Chinese. These are kept out of the mainstream media more than dialectal variations of Mandarin (like Jinan dialect).
Also it isn't just a CCP obsession to stamp out local variations of Chinese, the Singaporeans have done their best to do it too, as have the KMT.

Oh please, the knee-jerk "it's the CCP's fault". Simple fact is mandarin is the national language therefore state broadcasters use it while plenty of local programming use regional dialects to satisfy anyone's dialect fetish.

gnu - put simply, as the article says, this new regulation is "the CCP's fault" in so much as SARFT takes its orders from the government. Hardly knee jerk, just an observation. And did you read the article correctly? The regulation is not about state TV (by which I presume you mean national TV, or CCTV) and local TV.

Gotta love a Shanghaiese crying about Guangdong dialect on TV.

Hey, how about western and central China getting some of the perks Shanghai has been given all these years?

Shanghaiese will not die out. So, if you want to cry about unfair things in China, how about Shanghai riding fat on the hog while the rest of the nation has sweet f. a.?

Is the Guangdong Hua dude holding a box of Wang Laoji? If so...awesome.

King of Men,
Comments like shows you know nothing at all about Shanghai and her history.
Shanghai has been the largest contributor of tax revenue to the central government compared with other Chinese provinces and municipalities. In the early eighties, 70-80% of the entire national tax revenue came from the municipality of Shanghai alone. This came at the cost of severely crippling Shanghai's infrastructure and capital development. Shanghai was not permitted to initiate economic reforms until 1991 and caught up FAST and surpassed the GuangDong province thanks to its hard working people and entrepreneurship culture.
After 1992 Shanghai's tax contribution to the central government is around 20-25% of the national total. Do a simple math calculation on population vs tax contribution and realise how much Shanghai is being milked till this day!

When the movie, television, radio, and Internet folks in Hong Kong get the orders to obey the SARFT - then this story will have merit. Until then, it is merely government hacks chasing their tails.

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