In which our intrepid hero finds a common thread between the Chinese government, JRR Tolkien and porn.

It seems that the Chinese government is upset at the amount of Taiwanese and Cantonese idiom on television, so they’ve issued a notice to remind presenters to stick to the official Mandarin dialect. From the Washington Post:

Masters of ceremony should always use standard Mandarin Chinese and should stop affecting Hong Kong or Taiwanese slang and accents.

To millions of Chinese, particularly boys and girls in the provinces who constitute the main audience for pop-oriented variety shows, Hong Kong and Taiwanese speech has come to mean being cool. The reason is simple. Most of the music and performers making teenage hearts throb here have long originated in the freer atmospheres of Hong Kong and Taiwan.

As a result, some hosts and hostesses of mainland variety shows have taken to throwing Taiwanese slang words and Hong Kong tones into their on-air speech, associating themselves with the cool radiating from those two centers of the Chinese-language pop industry. Saying "very pretty" with a drawn-out hao hao piaoliang ye as they do in Taiwan, for instance, has been branded more with it than the direct hen piaoliang of standard Mandarin.

As I’ve been reading a fair bit of Robert Anton Wilson lately, it’s not surprising that a couple of RAW quotes should come to mind. Firstly, his translation of a line from Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever into Clean:

Excrement, incestuous person. I require my copulating currency, incestuous person.

…and this one:

Tim Leary once told me that Hustler was more important than Playboy or Penthouse because it presented the erotica of the working class male, and that’s why (he said) Larry Flynt was hated, persecuted, even shot. I think there’s a lot of truth in that.

The Playboy models look like they very much want to make love with you. The Penthouse models look like that they’d rather make love to themselves. The gals in Hustler look like they’re submitting to a gynaecological examination… Erotica for the very repressed guys who’ve never had a good look at female anatomy because their wives insist on making love with the lights out.

Just as George Orwell pointed out, language is used as a means to circumscribe what is considered acceptable thought and behaviour by the powers that be.

The fact that Beowulf has only been treated with the respect it deserves in the last century or so hearks back to the days when Norman French (and Norman traditions) were the "acceptable practices" of the largely Anglo-Norman elite; Anglo-Saxon people, their language and their traditions were disdained as irrelevant to the identity of the English people.

Strangely enough, it was only when people like JRR Tolkien took a scholarly interest in Anglo-Saxon language and culture that pre-Norman England was considered a worthwhile academic pursuit.

It seems that, faced with mounting irrelevance, the Chinese government is attempting to do what Mao and Qin Xihuang, before them, tried—and ultimately failed at—to homogenise the largest empire on the planet.

One billion people want rock stars and pop-tarts and a language that makes them feel good about themselves. My prediction—Chinese people: 1; Chinese government: a big, fat zilch.

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