Dialect and identity: is Mandarin bad for China?

44 min listen

Across the span of China, a country as big as Europe, there are countless regional dialects and accents – perhaps even languages. Often, they’re mutually unintelligible. The Chinese call these ‘fangyan’, and each Chinese person will likely be able to speak at least one fangyan, while also understanding Standard Mandarin, the official language of the People’s Republic. It means that the Chinese are more multilingual than you might think. But it also means that the question of language is inherently a political one. Standard Mandarin has a relatively short history, created by the country’s founding fathers to unify the spoken word in a huge country. But with the ubiquity of

Fears over Mandarin shortage in Whitehall

‘China Spy Blitz’ blared the Sun this morning: ‘UK spooks hiring Mandarin speakers in cyber war.’ Spy bosses, the paper reports, are embarking on a recruitment drive, directed at people who speak the language or have grown up within a multilingual family, with MI5, MI6 and GCHQ all increasingly wary about a moment of reckoning with the Communist superpower. Yet while the secret services have woken up to the threat posed by Beijing, others within government appear to still be fast asleep. Newly obtained figures reveal that the number of fluent Mandarin speakers within the Foreign Office (FCDO) has dropped by nearly 10 per cent since 2016. A Freedom of Information request by Mr Steerpike showed