China seeks big bucks from once repressed dialect

Mon Aug 17, 2009 11:12pm EDT
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By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - China is hoping to make big money from supporting a once marginalized and repressed regional language which is widely spoken in affluent Taiwan and many Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, including Singapore.

Hokkien, which is termed a dialect in China but cannot be understood by Mandarin speakers, comes from southeastern Fujian province and, due to centuries of immigration, is the native tongue of around 80 percent of Taiwanese.

In Taiwan, where Hokkien is usually called Taiwanese, its public use was once suppressed by the Nationalist government, which pushed Mandarin as the official language. But it is now widely used once again, as an expression of national pride.

Now, China is hoping to make some money from those linguistic links and the Hokkien cultural renaissance. In China itself, where the government has also tried to remove dialects from the official arena, Hokkien is being given greater prominence.

"Cultural industries in the whole province are increasingly important, and Hokkien opera and other folk operas have deep roots," Luo Jian, the Fujian government's deputy general secretary, told a news conference.

Fujian's first cross-strait culture expo last year saw some 5 billion yuan ($732 million) of contracts signed, and the second one to be held later this year hopes to build on that, he said.

"There is a vast amount of space for cross-strait cultural exchange and cooperation," Luo added.

The expo will feature traditional Hokkien singing competitions as well as other aspects of the native culture.   Continued...