With regional dialects gaining ground, a nationwide drive tries to reverse the trend Since Tom and Jerry made their debut more than 60 years ago, the animators have relied on music and sound effects to accompany the cartoon characters' never-ending game of cat and mouse. The lack of dialogue has been part of the cartoon's universal appeal. But producers on the mainland have now come up with a best-selling version that is even funnier. The new versions have Tom and Jerry doing battle in a range of dialects. To most mainlanders, the jokes are much funnier in a local tongue rather than in Putonghua, the national language. Zhu Meng, producer of the hit DVDs, created scripts for Tom and Jerry in the dialects of Shaanxi , Sichuan, Shanghai and Shandong . Zhu says the localised approach has proved a winner over the past few years. 'Comedies in various dialects have been a big success in recent years and amused lots of people - not only in the places where the dialects are spoken, but also nationwide,' he says. Zhu also released a Putonghua version of Tom and Jerry but it proved to be the least popular of the series. He attributes this to the formality of the national tongue. 'Dialects are racier, closer to real life, have a richer vocabulary and have more jokes which sound familiar,' Zhu says. 'But Putonghua sounds too official and stiff, which alienates it from the common people.' The central government is trying to reverse popular resistance to the national tongue and, for the seventh straight year, has launched a nationwide week-long campaign - starting today - to promote the language. Yuan Zhongrui, head of the Putonghua Popularisation Office at the Ministry of Education, says the government's approach is to target the media. 'We have noticed the trend [away from Putonghua] and we will not support the production of television series and movies in dialects,' Mr Yuan says. 'In addition, we are discouraging public servants from making public speeches on television in dialects.' The increasing demand to develop the market economy is one of the main reasons the government has started stressing the importance of Putonghua, says Lin Maocan, a linguist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. 'The government has been urged to build a unified national market where information can flow unencumbered among fluent Putonghua speakers,' he says. Organisers of this year's campaign are targeting the 80 million people on the move around the mainland. 'There is a great need to equip migrant workers flooding into cities with Putonghua skills, to help them merge into urban society,' Mr Yuan says. According to the Ministry of Education, 80 per cent of urban residents can speak Putonghua but only a dozen of the nation's 600 cities have reached national goals on the use of the tongue. Half of rural residents are not fluent in Putonghua. Its popularity in minority communities is much lower, with 70 per cent of rural people in Xinjiang and Tibet unable to speak the language. Nevertheless, Mr Yuan is confident Putonghua will become more popular. Using Guangdong as an example, he says that in the 1950s, a provincial conference required interpreters in at least five dialects. 'Cantonese is such an influential dialect that even a decade ago when I went to Guangdong to promote Putonghua, people scoffed at me and said, 'Only poor people speak Putonghua',' Mr Yuan says. 'But nowadays you will have no problem using it to travel through the province. That is because people are motivated by their own interests. They have to be able to speak intelligibly to do business with partners and tourists from other regions. 'And in Hong Kong alone, our Putonghua test centres in five universities have attracted 20,000 candidates in recent years.' Officials admit great difficulties getting the message across in rural areas where 900 million people live, but highlight a national project to ensure every village has access to radio and television. Mr Yuan says this is a good opportunity to help farmers with their language studies. 'The media are the most influential and convenient way for people to study Putonghua.'