Cantonese is in trouble in its birthplace. Already threatened by the influx of migrant workers to Guangdong and unfavourable government policies, the ancient dialect is the target of a recent proposal to switch the language of prime-time TV programmes in Guangzhou to Putonghua as November's Asian Games approach. This has triggered a new round of the debate in the province about 'cultural strife': just how much must local ways of life be given up in the name of national unity? Guangzhou's People's Political Consultative Conference submitted a proposal to the local government on Monday urging the city's main television station, Guangzhou Television (GZTV), to stop broadcasting in Cantonese and switch to Putonghua in prime time on its main channels, the Nanfang Daily reported yesterday. GZTV has nine channels, and most of its programmes are broadcast in Cantonese - spoken primarily by people in Guangdong, Hong Kong, Macau and some parts of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region . It is also widely spoken by overseas Chinese around the world. The proposal says GZTV should use only Putonghua on its two main channels, to cater for Putonghua-speaking visitors and athletes at the Asian Games. The idea met with strong opposition from Guangzhou residents. But GZTV has decided to go ahead. Mainland media quoted an unidentified GZTV executive as saying that although some concessions would be made to Putonghua on the two main channels, not much would change overall, as the idea was not popular in the areas to which GZTV broadcasts most. The Guangzhou PPCC's own survey last month shows more than 80 per cent of the 30,000 respondents - two-thirds Cantonese-speaking and one-third Putonghua-speaking - opposed the official plan to switch to Putonghua in TV programmes. When GZTV previously switched some programmes to Putonghua, ratings dropped and it was forced to switch back to Cantonese. Still, the proposal called for more Putonghua programmes. With 110 million people, Guangdong has rapidly become the most populous province. But most of the recent increase has been migrant job-seekers, and now half its residents do not speak Cantonese. Guangzhou, the provincial capital, once spearheaded the mainland's economic reform. But rivals such as Shanghai and Beijing have caught up and even surpassed it. The dialect seems strange to outsiders. So local authorities see the Asian Games as a chance to remake Guangzhou's image and reaffirm its status as one of the mainland's key cities. But the cultural preservationists have a voice - a loud one. Some have called for the protection of the dialect, in thousands of online posts against the proposal. They say regional dialects are being swamped by the relentless tide of Putonghua. There is a two-pronged attack on Cantonese - internal migration on the one hand, and the government policy of a 'common language for a unified country and harmonious society' on the other, says Jiang Wenxian , a Chinese-language specialist at Sun Yat-sen University. The 1982 constitution enshrined Putonghua as the official language. Beijing's resolve to ensure all Chinese speak it has led to bans on dialects at many radio and television stations. Television stations in Guangdong are allowed to broadcast in Cantonese only because of the proximity of the province to Hong Kong. 'It is national policy to promote Putonghua,' Jiang said. 'The government will not stop us from promoting local culture, but it is not going to support us. Guangzhou now boasts 14 million residents, and half of them are new settlers and do not speak any Cantonese.' But the city's residents who do, such as clerk Luo Bihua , advocate peaceful coexistence. 'All young people in Guangzhou can speak Putonghua. But the dialect presents the Canton culture. We have to support and use it in daily life,' she said. 'There are already dozens of television stations broadcasting in Putonghua on the mainland. 'Please let us enjoy our culture in our hometown.'