China’s media regulator, the State Administration of Radio, Film and TV, has ruled that any skein dealing with the 1949 Chinese revolution as well as children’s series, historical dramas and screen portrayals of Chinese leaders must be performed in standard Mandarin dialect.
The ruling raises questions, however, given that some of the country’s most important political figures spoke with strong regional accents. The nation’s founder, Chairman Mao Zedong, spoke Hunanese, and reform architect Deng Xiaoping had a strong Sichuan twang.
Many people in China would have had a hard time following Mao when he made some of his famous speeches. While written Chinese is common throughout the country, the country is home to many dialects, which are often vastly different from each other. A Northern Chinese person is unlikely to understand the Cantonese spoken in the south, and Beijingers wrestle with the Chinese spoken in Shanghai.
In recent years, the government has tried to standardize the use of Mandarin Chinese, which is the dialect spoken in Northern China, including Beijing.
Hong Kong stars working in the booming mainland film industry are required to learn Mandarin, though audiences often recognize their accents.
SARFT spokesman Zhu Hong said on the org’s website that the number of TV series containing dialects was on the rise, and in some cases skeins were using “excessive levels” of dialect.
“This production trend is inconsistent with our country’s spirit of promoting Mandarin … and also impacts on the aesthetic effect for the majority of the audience,” Zhu wrote on the site.
Zhu went on to say that all provincial-level radio, film and TV management administration departments and production agencies should “strictly implement the provisions of SARFT’s notice to further reiterate the use of normative language in TV drama.”
Wang Weiping, deputy director of SARFT’s division dealing with TV, told the Xinhua news agency that the provisions had been in place for some time but had been neglected in recent years.
However, an exception would be made for operas in local dialects. Cantonese opera, for example, only works in Cantonese.