Speaker: Gina Anne Tam, Assistant Professor of History, Trinity University
Taking aim at the conventional narrative that standard, national languages transform 'peasants' into citizens, this talk will trace the history of the Chinese nation and national identity on fangyan - languages like Shanghainese, Cantonese, and dozens of others that are categorically different from the Chinese national language, Mandarin. It shows how, on the one hand, linguists, policy-makers, bureaucrats and workaday educators framed fangyan as non-standard 'variants' of the Chinese language, subsidiary in symbolic importance to standard Mandarin. I simultaneously highlight, on the other hand, the 1920s folksong collectors, communist-period playwrights, contemporary hip-hop artists and popular protestors in Hong Kong who argued that fangyan were more authentic and representative of China's national culture and its history. From the late Qing through the present, these intertwined visions of the Chinese nation - one spoken in one voice, one spoken in many - interacted and shaped one another, and in the process, shaped the basis for national identity itself.
This event is part of the Modern China lecture series at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University.