Shaanxi’s diversity

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.

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4 Responses to Shaanxi’s diversity

  1. Mr WordPress says:

    Hi, this is a comment.
    To delete a comment, just log in, and view the posts’ comments, there you will have the option to edit or delete them.

  2. 小谈博客 says:

    这个博客不错啊,很新颖,怎么都是转发的微博加上英文翻译啊,不过可以学英语。

  3. mainlander says:

    mandarin doesnt win purely out of the government’s effort. it becomes the official language in mainland china, taiwan and singapore is an evolutionary choice becoz its a more efficient communicative tool. it has actually been the official language in china long before the qing dynasty. its a mistaken perception that it origins from the manchurian language despite it was indeed influenced by the manchu during their 300yr rule over china (~1600-1900~). the manchu adopted chinese language rather than to promote manchurian language which was based on horseback migratory experiences and did not have enough vocabs nor was as well developed as chinese for city dwelling life.

    the primary function of a language is for communication rather than being a mental challenge(difficult to learn is actually a backward sign). the great apes howl to signal food and danger rather than to show off their capability in making noises. as a language evolves, its pronounciation becomes more polished and easier to make and thus sounds smoother and more pleasant to ears. beijing mandarin is often percieved as the most pleasant to ears becoz beijing has been a capital city for ~1000yrs and a capital city is where the elites and socialites congregate and the pressure of social refinement is greater.(btw, cultural centres in china have always mainly on the north side)

    cantonese is more expressive for strong emotions such as frustration and anger (eg cantonese often being percieved as more graphic and vulgar for insult — a backward sign though if we aspire to be more civilized and more polished) but its not as efficient as mandarin for communicating ideas and concepts. it is less well developed and less well regulated (overall = less evolved) as a result of warm weather in the south and segregation from the rest of china by mountains. warm weather and segregation slow down evolution in ppl’s brain(less sophisticated less wise) and look ( shorter, darker and less refine) and this is why the cantonese clan has often been viewed as less civilized and less appealing to other chinese throughout history and the cantonese culture has hardly ever been well regarded.

    cantonese is actually a bit like the “ebonic” of chinese language and is of zero chance to compete with mandarin. hk’s economic success might have given a bit twist of fate for cantonese but its destined to be delutional and short-lived unless cantonese ppl can upgrade their gene pool to become aesthetically appealing enough to project cultural influences to the other chinese. it has never happened in the last 2000 years though. as a matter of fact, cantonese area has always been the recieving end of cultural influences from the north. the cantonese language is developed from contacts between southern indigenous languages (such as vietnamese, zhuang, tai,etc) and nonstandard colloquial chineses spoken by migrant chinese(such as soldiers and prisoners) from central china when china conquerred the northern part of the old vietnam 2000 yrs ago. its accent and spoken form is more influenced by the indigenous languages as the chinese migrants married the southern indigenous women and their children’s speech is more influenced by their mother’s tongue than father’s(which is why cantonese accent sound closer to vietnamese and thai than other major chinese dialects despite cantonese and vietnamese being of different language system). they adopt the written form of standard chinese as none of the indigenous languages had developed a written form. as a result the spoken form and the written form have never been compatible. vietnamese used to adopt chinese characters for writing before the french came.

    hk’s success has little to do with the cantonese language. hk benefited a lot from the political misfortune and ideology failure in the mainland in the last century. its economic take off happened in 1960s after the influx of immigrants from china in the 1940-50s(war and power change). most of the affluent immigrants were NOT of cantonese origin. they brought along with them capital, connections and business and techno know-how. the tension between mainland and taiwan and the mainland’s close-door policy helped business in hk boom like nothing before. business just poured in uninvited. it was easy money. hk hardly needed to compete. a very different picture now. the only advantage left for hk is its international exposure and the rule of law instilled by the british. in terms of human resources, the best brains of chinese are still in the changjiang river delta (the shanghai area) and the yellow river delta (from beijing to shandong area). pearl river delta only started to project influence on the chinese course of civilization after the british took hk and the influence is based on western culture rather than anything of cantonese origin. that says much about the worth of cantonese pride.

  4. mainlander says:

    cantonese is just like the ebonics of the chinese language.

    ebonics is the dialect or vernacular form of American English spoken by a large proportion of African Americans. it developed from contacts between African langauges and nonstandard varieties of colonial English spoken by white americans in the southern states(the cotton plantation states where the african slaves worked). ebonics is used in the home or for day-to-day communication rather than for formal occasions. It typically diverges most from standard American English when spoken by people with low levels of education.

    cantonese is a dialect of chinese spoken by a large proportion of ppl living in the southern most area(guangdong and guangxi) of china. it is developed from contacts between southern indigenous languages (such as vietnamese, zhuang, tai,etc) and nonstandard colloquial chineses spoken by migrant chinese(such as soldiers and prisoners) from central china. its accent and spoken form is more influenced by the indigenous languages as the chinese migrants married the southern indigenous women and their children’s speech is more influenced by their mother’s tongue than father’s (which is why cantonese accent actually sounds more similar to vietnamese and thai than other chinese dialects). they adopt the written form of standard chinese as none of the indigenous languages had developed a written form. as a result the spoken form and the written form have never been compatible. vietnamese used to adopt chinese characters for writing before the french came.

    the warm weather in the south and the segregation of the cantonese-speaking area from the rest of china by mountains slow down the evolution of the language (as well as the ppl’s brain and look there), making cantonese one of the least evolved regional dialects of the chinese language. less evolved means the language is less well regulated and less well developed and its pronouciation less pleasant to ears, which is why cantonese sounds harsh to many foreign ears. it has always been the least respected dialect in china and its accent is often mocked meanspiritedly. the connotations tagged on cantonese have hardly ever been positive. for example, the cantonese language and its speakers are often viewed as being less civilized by other chinese.

    despite hong kong’s success has little to do with the cantonese language or its culture, the glory might have given a bit twist of fate for cantonese but its destined to be only delusional and short-lived unless the cantonese ppl can upgrade their gene pool to become aesthetically appealing enough to project cultural influences to the other chinese. it has never happened in the last 2000 years though.

    the cultural centres in china has always been along the yellow river(xi’an, luoyang,kaifeng, beijing, ji’nan) and the yangzi(or changjiang) river(hanzhou, nanjing, shanghai). pearl river delta has always been the recieving end of cultural influence from the north through out history. in the last 1000yrs, half of the time china was ruled by horseback nomads from the north(mongol 200yrs, manchu 300yrs), whereas the southern tribes were never considered as any serious threat by central china. many southerners were even driven off their homeland to further south.

    if one wonders why cantonese is widely spoken among overseas chinese communities, some background check on the history of chinese emigration should help. a couple hundred yrs back, chinese were still non-migratory ppl and would not seek fortunes away from homeland unless they were driven desperate. most of the early chinese emigrants to the west represented the lowest level of human resources in china.

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