This article was first published on New Dynasty Magazine.
Local Xi’anese in general naturally prefer to communicate in their own dialect (Guanzhong Hua) rather than in Mandarin. You can easily hear people bargaining in the market in Guanzhong hua, or taxi drivers, close local friends or colleagues who chat with you in their own dialect. Unlike Shanghai (the Shanghainese dialect sounds like a foreign language to most outsiders), Xi’an is a truly ancient city located in the so-called rural western part of China.
The chinese government has been strongly promoting the use of Mandarin nationwide for reasons of -for example- attracting investors to move -especially- to its developing western provinces and to ease the process and sees regional dialects and differences more or less as a disturbing element in the development process. But their efforts here seems not to work out so well.
Located in the centre of the so-called Guanzhong Plain, Xi’an is surrounded by many smaller cities: Xianyang (now a part of Xi’an), Yangling, Tongchuan, Weinan, Baoji, Shangluo and others. All of them share a similar dialect.
When the provincial government constructed giant high-ways to connect all these cities to a kind of one single “big economic development zone”, they may have forgotten how much the dialect and cultural diversity and exchanges in Shaanxi and Xi’ans own language has contributed to the whole development process.
A similar language is helpful for the economic exchange between similar cultures, as it is believed. This general idea successfully boosted the provincial economy by efficient inter-city contacts. Maybe the government should appreciate the failure in promoting and establishing Mandarin as the only intented main language who eases the development.
You may say that if Mandarin would have been promoted more successfully among provinces, it could have contributed more to the development! But wait, it is not that easy: The northern and southern Shaanxi dialects are very different from Guanzhong Hua. And those three areas even have a couple of different customs! In the north, an area with ice-cold winters, people often speak a kind of “nasal language” and they are culturally more close and oriented to the northern chinese provinces like Inner Mongolia and Shanxi.
While in south Shaanxi -which is close to the Yangtse River and the mountains- people speak a dialect which is different too and similar to the dialect spoken in Sichuan.
Those in central Shaanxi (Xi’an) who are known as so-called “Guanzhong”, share features with those above and Xi’an in particular acts as an economical centre.
One example is one of the most popular local newspapers in Xi’an: The “Chinese Business View (Hua Shang Bao)”. Once a typical Xi’an only boulevard newspaper, the increasing number of advertising customers from outside the Xi’an city area and far areas of Shaanxi reached such a percentage that they could not be ignored anymore. Today Hua Shang Bao is more a mirror and good example of a modern culturally diverse and rich Shaanxi province.
Preserving own dialects might leave some outsiders the impression of perhaps indifference and exclusiveness. Shanghai for example values its own dialect very much but has a different approach of handling influences. What about Xi’an? Maybe Xi’anese will find a balance between their love for their own dialect and customs and embrace incoming influences from outside at the same time? Yes! They certainly will and a walk through Xi’an proves it beyond doubt. The ancient city on the world-famous silk road was and is a melting point between east and west and cultural diversity and dialects are the best example for it.