Meet the American making waves by rapping in Shanghainese

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 May, 2018, 12:34pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 May, 2018, 1:55pm

A video of an American man rapping fluently in the Shanghai dialect and praising the metropolis is making a splash on Chinese social media.

The two minute-long video of New Yorker, Ivan Marks, which was first released on the website Tencent video on Sunday, has gained 62,000 views in three days.

The clip was also carried on other Chinese media and news platforms, drawing many likes and comments.

Titled “Reasons to love Pudong”, the clip shows Marks, 23, in different locations across the Shanghai district, declaring his love for the area, which is home to many of the city’s skyscrapers.

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Shanghainese is the city’s local dialect and almost unintelligible from Mandarin, China’s official language. The national government has extensively promoted the use of Mandarin around the country, meaning many people living in Shanghai cannot speak Shanghainese.

“The timing of this video is particularly good because it’s at a time when Shanghainese is trying to make a comeback. They’re teaching it in schools and trying to get people to speak it again,” Marks, told the South China Morning Post.

The video turned was produced by a Chinese TV talk show to showcase the Pudong area.

“Their main focus for this episode was to show the changes Pudong has gone through,” said Marks, who also goes by his Chinese name Aiwen, which sounds like his first name Ivan.

The video took a month to produce, he said. “They wanted to make the video educational, while at the same time promote the show.”

Marks was selected because of his fluency in the local dialect. He first gained fame in the city when he was among the top five in a local competition run by a local station in Shanghai to find presenters. He also came first in a citywide contest to find the best foreigner speaking Shanghainese in 2016.

Marks said: “The fact is my speciality is Shanghainese. I’m sure there is some foreigner who has lived here for 50 years and doesn’t want to come out in public who speaks better Shanghainese than I do, but I have been here for five years and never met anyone close.”

He began learning Mandarin aged 15 at Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School in New York, but first visited China on a language trip to Beijing in 2011.

Back in New York, he first heard Shanghainese when his teacher spoke on the phone to her daughter.

After getting a place at New York University Shanghai – where he graduated in 2017 with a degree in Global China Studies – he decided to take the dialect up through apps and lessons.

“Living in China and establishing relationships is only really possible through the language and that is what really gives you passion,” said Marks, who moved back to Shanghai in March to live full time.

Internet users praised his language skills. “His Shanghainese is better than my little sister, ” one person commented, while another wrote, “He is a hard working student.”

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Some, however, were more critical, with one writing “rubbish”.

Marks said there was a noticeable amount of negativity online, which he has experienced with similar videos shared on the internet in the past.

“If you have someone who doesn’t like what you’re doing that is usually a good thing – any publicity is good publicity, even if it is negative,” he said. “I don’t really take anything to heart.”