• Sat
  • Sep 20, 2014
  • Updated: 8:57am
CommentInsight & Opinion

Cross-border integration is occurring naturally, all around us

Bernard Chan says better communication will benefit Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 February, 2014, 4:26pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 February, 2014, 2:02am

Every so often, the Hong Kong press reports a language uproar. Maybe someone posts a clip of a class at a local university on YouTube, and a big fuss breaks out because the lecturer is speaking Putonghua. Or people protest because a restaurant produces a menu using simplified Chinese characters.

The offenders are usually defensive. The university might point out that the class was in a postgraduate course in which up to 90 per cent of the students were from the mainland. The restaurant would apologise and hastily reprint the menu in traditional characters. No one points out that many of the textbooks for the university course are in English, or the menu has English and Japanese as well as Chinese.

Even the government gets into trouble with these sensitivities. Critics recently attacked the Education Bureau after noticing that its website described Cantonese as "not an official language". The bureau quickly changed the page and apologised.

What is government policy? Officials usually speak Cantonese, often with some English; they use Putonghua when speaking to mainland counterparts. Official documents in Chinese use traditional characters, and government websites appear in simplified as well as traditional versions.

The official goal is for a "bi-literate and trilingual" population, reading Chinese and English, and speaking Cantonese, Putonghua and English. Public-sector schools mostly teach in Cantonese, using traditional characters.

But - unlike in Singapore - there is no official policy to encourage Putonghua and simplified characters. Our officials do not dare try to influence how people speak. With so many other controversies, officials are happy to leave this issue alone. Most of our officials, like me, are Cantonese speakers who value our local culture.

However, the community is adapting anyway. I hear young shop assistants speaking Putonghua far better than I can. International schools teach only that form of Chinese, and they do it using simplified characters. Many businesses and other institutions produce sales and other materials in simplified characters for mainland clients and audiences.

These changes are taking place naturally and voluntarily. We are adapting to market and broader social forces.

This is not about mainland shoppers. Many Hong Kong companies and other organisations are dealing with more and more mainland clients and partners - in sectors as varied as financial services, IT, leisure, education, personal care, the law, consulting, art, entertainment and many others. They range from small start-ups to multinationals.

And, of course, we have growing numbers of Hong Kong people living and working on the mainland, and a rising number of cross-border marriages.

These are natural and positive forms of integration. They are signs that people on both sides of the border are getting closer - as you would expect in a city on the coast of a large, fast-emerging economic power.

I expect the sensitivity and complaints about the use of Putonghua and simplified characters in Hong Kong are related to the phenomenon of mainland shoppers. This huge influx is the result of market distortions - differences in tax levels and perceived product safety standards. It is on such a large scale that it is inconveniencing local people.

It is understandable under these circumstances if some people feel that they and their culture are being swamped. However, being able to communicate better across the border will help Hong Kong, not threaten it.

That applies not only to our economy, but to our local language and culture.

Bernard Chan is a member of the Executive Council


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This article is now closed to comments

as usual, Bernard Chan has a knack for comparing apples with oranges. The chinese in Singapore hail from various dialect groups, namely, Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew, Hainanese, Shanghainese etc etc. In short, a mini China. Aside from that you have Indians with various dialect groups as well, and Malays from various parts of Malaysia and Indonesia. Can you imagine everyone speaking in their own dialect? The problem with ignoramuses based in HK like Bernard Chan is that they think they know a lot about Singapore, but sad to say, they know little - holding on to their insipid stereotypes and outdated knowledge of Singapore for dear life - even though his wife may be a Singaporean. Above all, even though the Chinese make up three-quarters of Singapore's citizens, Singapore is not a Chinese society. Singaporeans value their multiracial culture.
It is obvious that you (the writer of the article) are out of touch.
Sure there are a number of cross border marriages and Hong Kong people living in China, there always has been. This is nothing new.
As far as the use of Simplified Chinese in Hong Kong, even the Chinese visitors to Hong Kong prefer to see signs and books written in Traditional Chinese while in Hong Kong. Almost all Chinese (mainland) can read it but most cannot write it. My wife is from China and she was always able to read Traditional Chinese even before she came to live here. Now she can even write Traditional Chinese better than Simplified.
About the "perceived" differences in product safety standards. There is more than perception with regard to product safety standards, there is a genuine concern.
sudo rm -f cy
If trade and the international market was that important to language, we'd all have switched to Arabic hundreds of years ago.
Although to a large extent I like your message, I do not agree that referring to any Singaporean as Chinese is correct or reasonable because then you are equating Chinese to a race rather than to what it is, a nationality. Singaporeans are Singapore nationals, therefore they are Singaporean of various races, including Han, Miao, whites as well as many other races (skin colors).
And I wouldn't say multiracial culture but multiracial and multicultural society.
Nothing we can do about market forces but the local government must use traditional Chinese and Cantonese or English with all interactions with HK. I don't care what they use when they interact with their PRC counterparts.
All subsidised schools should teach in traditional Chinese, Cantonese or English.
No compromise.
You are in denial again. Hong Kong is part of China, and for integration's sake, why should we limit the use of Putonghua and simpified characters in everyday life?
In fact, as Hong Kong is mainly made up of immigrants, we get people from Shanghai, Fujian, Teochew and elsewhere besides Guangdong. Even in Guangdong, Cantonese is not spoken everywhere - for example in the Hakka areas in the north. Cantonese is actually a dialect from the Guangzhou areas - it is actually "kong chou wah." which is markedly different from areas like Taishan, Panye, etc.
The aim of the use of Putonghua, of course, is to promote interaction among the hundreds of different kinds of people in China.
Cantonese can co-exist and still thrive even though Putonghua is used. See how the Singapoeras/Malaysians are fluent in the Cantonese, Hakka, Chiuchow, Fujianese and Putonghua besides English and Malay.
We need more confidence in Hong Kong vs ignorant, narrow mindedness.


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