Should Chinese Language be Taught in Putonghua? Contested Identities in the Linguistic Arena in Post-1997 Hong Kong
In China, the promotion of the standardized national language (putonghua) has been greatly accelerated by centralized state power and universal education since 1949. In this context, Hong Kong is a linguistic (and cultural) anomaly, as a haven for Cantonese and the only Chinese city where a local ‘dialect' is still officially adopted as the teaching medium in schools. Since 1997, the official line has been surprisingly gentle, with individual schools free to decide whether to switch to putonghua as a medium of instruction. Nevertheless, 70 per cent of primary schools and more than a third of secondary schools had made the change by 2013. This might be explained by a utilitarian stance adopted by parents and schools in face of China’s economic power, and by a tacit acceptance of the superiority of putonghua over Cantonese among some sectors of the population. These views are not, however, uncontested, with resistance from a small number of language scholars and teachers, and from the younger generation. This resistance, particularly that coming from students is certainly related to the Umbrella Movement in 2014, yet its agenda lies in a different sphere. It represents a contest of identities (national versus local) as well as a debate over what constitutes good practice in the teaching of modern Chinese language.
Dr Choi Po King was trained as a sociologist at the University of Hong Kong and completed her doctorate at the University of Oxford. Until her retirement in 2016, she taught at the Faculty of Education, Chinese University of Hong Kong, and, for six years, she was Director of CUHK’s Gender Studies Programme. Her research interests and publications revolve around gender and education, masculinity studies, education policy, the history of the women's movement, as well as life histories of workers in Hong Kong. Her current projects include an ethnography of masculinities among teenage boys in Hong Kong.
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