Cantonese up in arms as battle cry vanishes

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 July, 2010, 12:00am

Authorities have upset the Cantonese-speaking natives of Guangdong once more by removing a plaque quoting the famously obscene rallying cry of a Ming dynasty national hero born in Dongguan .

The plaque used to adorn the pedestal of a statue of Yuan Chonghuan (previously known as Yuen Sung Wun), who fought back Manchu invaders in the early 17th century. The statue has stood in a memorial park in Dongguan for seven years, but the authorities removed the Cantonese slogan this month without explanation, The Southern Metropolis News reported on Tuesday.

The words inscribed at the base of the statue, in Cantonese and English, read 'F*** his mum! Hit them hard!'

The statue has long been a popular attraction for Cantonese tourists, proud of the independent sentiment expressed so coarsely.

Many Cantonese people posted internet comments venting their anger at the plaque's removal, saying it was just the latest example of the authorities' campaign to force Cantonese to make way for Putonghua.

Yuan is among the most popular national heroes in China. His military career peaked when he defeated Nurhaci and the Manchu army in the first Battle of Ningyuan, though his forces were outnumbered 10 to one.

'Hit them hard' became the rallying cry for Yuan's army as they hurried to the capital, Beijing, to rescue the country. 'F*** his mum' was their curse for the emperor they were rushing to save.

The phrase was a frequent war cry during more recent military campaigns originating in Guangdong, including the Hsinhai Revolution of 1911 and the Northern Expedition of the 1920s. It has also become a proud pet phrase among the Cantonese community to represent their spirit.

Debate in Guangdong about the need to protect Cantonese culture flared in Guangzhou last week when an official proposal that the city's main television station stop broadcasting in Cantonese during prime time on its main channels and switch to Putonghua.

A report by the Yangcheng Evening News on Friday added fire to the debate. It said many Guangzhou primary school students were refusing to speak to their parents and grandparents in their mother tongue because they had become so used to speaking Putonghua at school.

The report said teachers forced children to speak only Putonghua at school and they would be punished if found speaking Cantonese in class time or at playtime.

People in Guangzhou have found ways to fight for their own dialect and culture, with local media even calling it a campaign.

Ying Huochong, a young Guangzhou university student, and some of her friends have been calling for Cantonese people to join flash mob events where people sing Cantonese songs in public places.

Li Gongming, a professor at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, said civil society was the only hope for Cantonese culture's survival in its birthplace, with the political authorities and internal migration all threatening local ways of life, saying it should be given up in the name of building a harmonious society and economic development.

'Besides, most senior officials leading Guangdong are not Cantonese and have little sentiment for Cantonese culture,' Li observed. 'They lack consciousness of the need to protect our culture. And political and economic achievements are always first to them, rather than our beloved culture.'