Poor Putonghua pronunciation a concern for Hong Kong as national anthem law looms, pro-Beijing politician says

Questions about solemnity and the consequences for native Cantonese speakers who unintentionally mispronounce the song

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 August, 2017, 12:15pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 August, 2017, 12:15pm

Hongkongers’ poor pronunciation of Putonghua could be a concern in light of a proposed mainland law to curb disrespect for the national anthem that is also set to be applied in the city, a local deputy to China’s top legislature has said.

Michael Tien Puk-sun said it was therefore important to state clearly how the city would interpret the national anthem law.

Concerns were raised earlier this week after reports that the executive body of the National People’s Congress would officially propose inserting the national anthem law into Annexe III of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, at its bimonthly meeting in October.

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At the heart of the anxieties was whether the city would be subject to the same severity of punishment as cities on the mainland, which has different standards for guaranteeing individual rights and freedoms.

Speaking on a radio programme on Thursday, Tien said pronunciation issues could prove thorny when enacting the law.

“You know how we Hongkongers speak Putonghua ... I don’t know why, but somehow when those who have Cantonese as their mother tongue speak Putonghua, the effect is quite negative,” he said.

Tien noted that if one intentionally mispronounces, then it would be classified as abuse. But he questioned how a person who unintentionally mispronounces would be judged.

As such, he said there was a need to state clearly how the law should be interpreted in Hong Kong.

In November last year, retired civil servant Kwok Cheuk-kin asked the High Court to declare pro-establishment lawmaker Ann Chiang Lai-wan’s oath last year invalid after media reports criticised her pronunciation and intonation, with “nation” sounding like “fruit” and the phrase “taking oath” sounding like “sour oath”.

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Tien, who founded pro-Beijing political party Roundtable, claimed it was difficult to gauge whether a person’s behaviour was respectful and solemn while singing the national anthem.

“Some people interpret solemn as looking at the national flag while singing the national anthem,” he said.

“If you’re looking everywhere during the playing of the national anthem, you’re not paying attention, but does that mean you’re not solemn?”

Tien added that the city, as a former British colony, had not seriously discussed such matters in the past, underscoring the need now to clearly explain the law.

He believed a large number of people would have to be present during sporting events to monitor whether the law was being violated.

Hong Kong made headlines in 2015 after hundreds of its football fans booed during the Chinese national anthem ahead of a World Cup qualifier between the city’s team and the national team.