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You can't say that on televison

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Promote Mandarin according to the law

Will Chinese revolutionary epics soon feature a Chairman Mao character who sounds Peking University-educated? Will Liu Laogenr start speaking like a CCTV news-anchor? Will the sounds of those delightful Sichuan sitcoms be silenced forever? Looks like it, according to regulations on standard Mandarin use in television shows, promulgated last week by the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television.

Coming on the heels of regulations banning traces of Hong Kong and Taiwanese influence in the speech of program hosts, this is a further attempt to promote language uniformity in television broadcasts. The rules are not new — Mandarin has always been the language of public communication — but the fact that SARFT feels the need to repeat them at this time says something about current official attitudes toward culture. The SARFT notice concerning a further reiteration of using standard Mandarin in TV series reads:

...addressing current problems that exist in language use in television series, the following stipulations are reiterated:

  1. Language in television series (excluding local traditional opera) should be mainly Mandarin. Under normal circumstances, dialects or non-standard Mandarin are not to be used.
  2. Major revolutionary and historically-themed television series, children's series, and series promoting educational content are to use Mandarin.
  3. Leaders portrayed in television series are to use Mandarin.

While the vast majority of TV series use Mandarin (whether what teen idols speak on their soaps is "standard" is open to debate) and hence will be unaffected by these rules, several shows in which main characters speak in regional dialect have been quite popular. Sure, viewers enjoy the distinctive flavor of various regional accents and vocabularies, and speakers of a dialect react favorably to programming in their dialect, but this entertaining variety stands counter to progress and is being cast aside in favor of some nebulous sense of future trends of the language, greater potential markets, and yes, a bit of nationalism as well.

Repercussions are already being felt. Producers of the long-delayed Zhao Wei vehicle Moment in Peking found themselves in a situation similar to what makers of ultra-violent Hong Kong mob films face when they submit their creations to the censors. Only for Moment, the question was whether non-standard Mandarin, not drugs and guns, would be corrupting the nation's youth. Fortunately for Vicky's fans, the producers are confident there will be no problems:

The success of a TV series does not lie in whether it uses dialect, but rather in whether its story can capture people's attention, or its characters are modeled successfully. Although this series, reflecting life in the early days of the Republic, is a large, Beijing-flavored grand opera, the language it uses is Mandarin that has a literary beauty. In addition, the show has three Taiwanese actors, but there will be no "HK-Taiwan accent problem." Since the sound wasn't simultaneously recorded, the voices of the three Taiwanese actors were dubbed over by mainland voice artists.

It may not be entirely bleak, though, if it leads to speeches by Party bigwigs getting the dubbing treatment as well.

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