The story appears on

Page B1

November 23, 2011

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature

'Speak Shanghainese' wins recruits

Hu is a local expression for Shanghai, and a new group Hu Cares aims to preserve Shanghai culture, especially colorful dialect, against the waves of "speak Mandarin." It's pressing for all Metro announcements to be in dialect. Alexander Gladstone reports.

As more and more foreigners and people from outside provinces flood into Shanghai, locals are becoming concerned about the potential threat to Shanghai's unique culture and language. In particular, fewer and fewer young people can speak Shanghai dialect, as Mandarin becomes ever more prevalent.

This trend began in 1985, when a law was passed requiring local schools to maintain a strictly Mandarin-language environment at all times, part of a national initiative to promote linguistic unity throughout China's diverse regions.

Linguistic experts have reported that Shanghai dialect shares only an estimated 40 percent correlation with standard Mandarin, and that the language is nearly unintelligible to outsiders hearing it the first time.

Since the language law was passed and duly enforced, and the flood of people from all over China and the rest of the world came into Shanghai, the popularity of Mandarin has gradually increased, while use of the local dialect has gradually decreased.

In reaction to the trend, a group has recently formed to celebrate, promote and protect the Shanghainese identity. The group is called Hu Cares - the word hu being a local expression for Shanghai. A play on words, the name suggests that Shanghai locals should care deeply about their linguistic and cultural heritage.

The group holds weekly meetings at People's Square, which attract people of all ages and walks of life. However, most of them are university students from Shanghai International Studies University, East China Normal University, Shanghai Business School and the Shanghai University of Engineering Science.

The focus of the group is on preserving the Shanghai dialect, by promoting it in schools, as well as pushing for more widespread usage.

The group has stated that currently its two chief objectives are to "draw the attention of the Shanghai Education Commission to incorporate Shanghai dialect into the curriculum of both primary and secondary schools and to campaign for including Shanghai dialect on the Metro station announcements, in addition to Mandarin and English."

The group points out that the cities of Suzhou in Jiangsu Province, Wenzhou in Zhejiang Province and Guangzhou in Guangdong Province all include their local dialects on their Metro systems, and says Shanghai should do the same. Members say they will collect signatures at the end of the month to support this cause.

"We live in Shanghai, so we should speak Shanghai dialect. It is necessary to cultivate the sense of culture preservation," says Xia Yating, a group member.

A significant impetus for the group's activities is the recent incident in which a teacher in Minhang District punished a student for using Shanghai dialect instead of Mandarin, forcing her to write an 800-character self-criticism.

Li Bainian, organizer of Hu Cares, says this news report "provoked a mixture of sorrow and outrage" in him, and he expressed his disappointment that the status of Shanghai dialect has declined in relation to Mandarin. However, he is certain that community involvement is the key to protecting and strengthening local culture.

Fellow member Li Da also stresses the importance of cohesion and suggests that Shanghai people should unite to prevent their dialect from fading away.

The group must find a balance between maintaining solidarity within the Shanghai community, while still embracing the open-minded thinking that this booming international mega-city is known for.

Most members seek to combine tradition with modernity. As a grassroots organization, Hu Cares collectively believes that young Shanghainese should take the responsibility to pass the tradition on to future generations, yet still embrace the new.

Zhang Jinya, a retired Fudan University professor, says it is possible for Shanghai locals to "integrate with other cultures" while still preserving their language.

Some members say many Shanghainese are so eager to embrace the opportunities of the international (Mandarin-speaking) business world that they forget about their roots. This preference for material gain over cultural heritage is a cause of concern, especially in a city with such a rich and vibrant history, not to mention one of the few cities in the world that has its own language.

Hu Cares member Xia, a university student in Shanghai, emphasizes that the obsession with economic growth has led many Shanghai people forget about the importance of staying true to their local identity. She says locals should undertake some "soul-searching," reminding them that "culture is equally as important as economy."

The Hu Cares meetings have been getting larger every week, as more and more people are drawn to these energetic gatherings.

However, their request for the local education authority to incorporate some Shanghainese into the curriculum was recently declined. Xia says "the reply cannot satisfy us," suggesting that the campaign is only just beginning.

Recently Canadians and Americans took part in the group's events, enjoying the lively spirit and pride.

Shanghai has a long history of drawing outsiders in, absorbing them into the city until it becomes their home. It could be that a Shanghai renaissance is only just around the corner.

(Alexander Gladstone is a Shanghai-based freelancer and can be reached at


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend