Speak Cantonese! Language War in Hong Kong Book Fair

Columnist Leona Wong talked about a Cantonese-Mandarin language war happened in a lecture given by movie director Pang Ho-cheung for the Hong Kong Book Fair 2012

From Beijing to Hong Kong, Pang Ho-cheung (Part 1)

On the left: RTHK Mandarin channel’s host Chen Jian
On the right: Movie director Pang Ho-cheung

It is hard to imagine that a little Cantonese war would break out in a book fair.

Pang Ho-cheung, who has sojourned in Beijing for 2 years, returned to the Hong Kong Book Fair today. Perhaps his movie “Love in a Puff” is too popular in Mainland China that Mainlanders have “expropriated” him. In order to serve the big Mainland Chinese market, the organiser arranged Mandarin speaking host Chen Jian to talk with him. (Chen Jian is a host from RTHK Mandarin channel and she is from Shanghai.)

Wearing sunglasses and heavy makeup, Ms Chan asked questions in Mandarin from the start. At that time, under the stage, there was a small uproar. However, everyone still showed restrain. Pang’s Mandarin is not very fluent. He made fun of himself and said, “You listen to my Mandarin, it is hardly imagined that I have stayed in Beijing for 2 years!” Even though his speech was not smooth, he could still fully answered questions.

After answering questions, Pang’s face showed a sign of relief. He asked audiences, “It seems that I don’t have to continue to talk in Mandarin?”

Under the stage, there was enthusiastic applause. Some audiences could not help shouting lightly, “Speak Cantonese!”

However, the host did not let him off. She said that there were many audiences who came from Mainland China just to listen to his lecture and she asked Pang to continue to speak in Mandarin as they cannot understand Cantonese.

As one can well imagine, this suggestion provoked the discontent of Hongkongers. The host crossed swords with audiences on the issue of who should yield to whom. Pang is very smart. He noticed that every time when he mentioned that he would like to speak Cantonese, audiences under the stage would applause. Therefore, he asked,

Those who don’t speak Cantonese please clap your hands.” There were scattered clapping sounds.
Pang responded swiftly, “You clapped your hands, you do speak Cantonese, don’t you?” There was thunderous applause under the stage. The war between Cantonese and Mandarin was halted temporarily. Pang started using the familiar language which he and most audiences share to discuss creation.

However, the war had not ended. Someone gave the host a slip of paper. The sharing of Pang was interrupted. The slip of paper said they could not understand Cantonese and requested Pang to speak in Mandarin.

There were many grunts of disappointment and discontent under the stage. At that moment, Pang spoke in “Mandarin” with his grim face, “Actually, my Mandarin is quite incomprehensible. If you want to understand, you should learn a bit of Cantonese.” He promised to use Mandarin in Q&A session to slightly balance the situation. The war between Cantonese and Mandarin in Peng Ho-cheung’s lecture was finally put to an end.

Pang Ho-cheung, many audiences in the lecture and I have lived in Hong Kong for several decades, never had we imagined that speaking Cantonese in our own place would require “battling” repeatedly. My heart is full of doubts and alarms. When Mandarin speakers go to regions that speak other languages, I do not understand why others have to speak Mandarin to yield to them? Could it be possible that the language of the Strong Country has became a world language because the British Museum has Mandarin speaking tour guides and Louis Vuitton in France has a Chinese student serving as a salesperson? Could it be that this kind of request only happens in Hong Kong because they understand that you Hongkongers have to surrender?

In this lecture, Cantonese “did not lose the battle” somewhat because Pang Ho-cheung himself refused to compromise. Not only did he cleverly defend his own will, but also he gave face to the other side. He said that when he learnt that Guangdong province requested the media not to broadcast in Cantonese, he was agitated because when the use of a language declines in the public media, the next generation will refuse to speak it. “I can’t accept that. I really like Cantonese.” he said. Because of that, he shot a film called “Vulgaria” so that he could use Cantonese obscenity as much as he wanted.

I hope that more Hongkongers will be like Pang Ho-cheung. Even if you have to flatter the Mainland Chinese market, you can still have some perseverance and this may not necessarily hurt your popularity in Mainland China.

Thanks for the effort of Pang Ho-cheung, today conference rooms S225/227 was the home field of Cantonese.

Netizens’ comments

Lam: I was also at the lecture! After speaking 10 minutes of Louis Koo style Mandarin (*Mandarin with heavy Cantonese accent), director Pang suddenly used Cantonese to ask the host, “Actually, can I switch back to speak in Cantonese?” Immediately, there was thunderous applause. It is really fantastic!

Ng: Hong Kong is our home field, why do we have to speak Mandarin?

Lithia: You come to Hong Kong to listen to a talk in which the speaker is a Hongkonger and most of the audiences are also Hongkongers, why do Pang have to speak in Mandarin, a language that is unfamiliar to Hongkongers, just for you several people? Has the organiser f**king gone crazy?!

Siu: Speaking Mandarin even in your own place, what’s wrong with you! Director Pang you should have spoken in Cantonese and then asked for a translation instead of speaking in Mandarin yourself.

Hui: I understand that Mandarin is a big trend. I also have studied it. It is no harm to learn it to prepare oneself. However, in my own place, I hope I can speak my familiar Cantonese. This is my right; This is Hongkongers’ rights; This is Cantonese rights. After reading Pang’s incident, I am very moved by and very grateful to him. He defended our dignity!

Li: Therefore, we need more outspoken people like Pang Ho-cheung. Otherwise, Hong Kong is going to be doomed.

Read this post for more info about this screen capture.

Previous comment: Why did you read this piece of essay? Retard

高登比登高好: He is talking about that government advertisement. The government leads to lower the status of Cantonese.

飯春菜: If several white people told the speaker to speak in English…Basically, this is just anti-Mandarin and is not anti-language imperialism.

金錳鎂鋰鐵鈷: During the so-called “colonial era”, had you ever seen such a large number of colonists like now? Anti Mandarin instead of English, I think it is understandable.

Out topic, it seems that you hate English very much, why?

卡繆: I have a friend who works in the retail industry said one would be scolded if one spoke Cantonese to Mainland Chinese costumers.

香港俠: This is only 15 years after the transfer of sovereignty. The so-called “50 Years No Change” has already been eroded to this stage in less than half of the expiry period.

14 thoughts on “Speak Cantonese! Language War in Hong Kong Book Fair

  1. Good for Pang, and shame on the host… You don’t enter someone’s house and force them to obey your house rules! You obey theirs! And also be polite, yielding, and know your place as a guest, don’t cross the line. To give you face is to call you a guest of Hong Kong… but to make it seem harsher, you are no more than foreign invaders, with your foreign tongues.

    • “You don’t enter someone’s house and force them to obey your house rules! You obey theirs!” That would be the norm if you assume you are a guest in a welcomed house. But What happens when you think that house of somebody else’s is you house?

      When in Rome, do as the Romans do. But when you are the Barbarians that have just sacked the city, as their conqueror would you do as the Romans do?

  2. The mainlanders are worse than the British because things have changed since the late 1800s. But they have been like that ever since 1949: Wherever they go, people have to learn their language. Look at Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia. Watch out, HK people! They will take over Hong Kong too, not with guns but culturally and demographically.

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  5. This is pretty dumb. They should have just decided on the language of the event ahead of time and announced it beforehand. I’m a native English speaker and I’ve lived in China for years. I can speak and understand Mandarin, but I will not normally attend professional events or conferences if it is indicated that presentations will be given in Chinese. I may understand them fairly well but my technical vocabulary is not great–I prefer to attend events in English. It’s common practice in Asia to indicate the language of speaking events in the advertisements for the events themselves.

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