Guangdong delegates struggle with Putonghua

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 March, 2011, 12:00am

The campaign to protect Cantonese may have quietened down, but the dialect was back in the limelight at a panel discussion yesterday by the Guangdong delegation at the National People's Congress.

The discussion was convened by the chairman of the Guangdong People's Congress, Ou Guangyuan, a Guangdong native. But his strong Cantonese accent was difficult to understand.

Guangdong party boss Wang Yang, famed for his media saviness and quick wit, grasped the opportunity to defend himself. 'How many of those journalists sitting behind the deputies understand what Ou Guangyuan has just said?' he said. 'If you don't understand, how can anyone criticise Guangdong for promoting Putonghua and abandoning Cantonese?'

Ou said he had improved.

The heavy accents of Guangdong deputies triggered much giggling among the more than 100 journalists.

Ou referred to a Buddhist abbot (fangzhang in Putonghua) as huangzhang - which means panic. And the abbot, reciting the political slogan 'people first' (yirenweiben), pronounced it nurenweiben - which means 'women first'.

In July last year, hundreds of people attended rallies in Guangzhou on two consecutive Sundays to protest against an official proposal to switch prime-time programming on the main channels of Guangdong television from Cantonese to Putonghua.

There was a parallel march in Hong Kong. The rare joint campaign by Cantonese speakers in defence of the dialect alerted the Guangdong government, which clamped down heavily on the campaign, while Wang moved quickly to placate the public by stressing its support for Cantonese on various public occasions.

Wang, perceived as a rival to Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai for elevation to the Politburo Standing Committee at the party congress next year, visited the Chongqing delegation on Friday to send a political message. Wang was formerly party boss of Chongqing.

'I have always paid attention to the development of Chongqing,' he said. 'I always have this concern inside my heart.' Wang said he was proud of Chongqing's development under Bo's leadership.