HONG KONG — More than 1,000 protesters rallied in Guangzhou and Hong Kong on Sunday against what they say is China's bid to champion the national language Mandarin over their local dialect Cantonese.
Hundreds of mainland police officers were deployed to disperse protesters who gathered in People's Park in Guangzhou to call on authorities to preserve the Cantonese language and culture, Hong Kong broadcasters RTHK and Cable TV reported.
"Guangzhou people speak the Guangzhou language!" some angry protesters chanted as the size of the crowd grew to about 1,000, RTHK said.
Videos from Cable TV and YouTube showed that some of the rally participants were forcefully carried away. A number of Hong Kong journalists were taken for questioning, according to Cable TV.
Chinese authorities have been anxious to suppress the growing pro-Cantonese movement, sparked after a political advisory body in Guangzhou proposed this month that local TV stations broadcast their prime-time shows in Mandarin instead of Cantonese ahead of the Asian Games there in November.
Adopting China's official language, also known as Putonghua, would promote unity, "forge a good language environment" and cater to non-Cantonese-speaking Chinese visitors at the huge sporting event, authorities were quoted as saying.
Hundreds of Guangzhou residents defied government orders and staged their first demonstration last Sunday. But the protest was soon suppressed by the authorities, according to reports.
To echo the Guangzhou campaign, about 200 protesters marched to the government headquarters in Hong Kong Sunday.
"We want to show our support to our Guangzhou friends in their campaign to protect Cantonese against any threat of elimination," said Choi Suk-fong, organiser of the rally.
Participants wore white T-shirts with a logo which said: "You want us to shut up! We will speak louder in Cantonese!"
A number of Guangzhou residents crossed the border to take part in the Hong Kong rally, saying that authorities there were trying to silence the protesters.
"I really regretted not going to the rally in Guangzhou last week. I came to Hong Kong today because I want to protect my own culture. Unlike on the mainland, here I can voice my view more directly," said 21-year-old Wyman, who refused to give his family name for fear of retaliation by the Chinese authorities.
Instances of mainland protests spilling over into Hong Kong, which was returned to China in 1997, are rare since China's 1989 Tiananmen crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.
Cantonese is the mother tongue for an estimated 70 million people in Hong Kong, Macau and China's southern Guangdong province, and is widely spoken in overseas Chinese communities.
The Guangzhou city government on Thursday sought to deny rumours that they planned to ditch Cantonese in favour of Mandarin, according to the state-run Guangzhou Daily.
Its spokesman Ouyang Yongsheng was quoted as saying that the government had a responsibility to protect and promote Cantonese culture, including the language.
"The citizens and concerned people can be reassured that Guangzhou would... not go for the so-called cause of 'abolishing Cantonese to promote Mandarin'," he said.
China has long been a patchwork of often mutually unintelligible dialects.
Beijing made Mandarin the country's official language in 1982, leading to bans on other dialects at many radio and television stations.
The dialect has been further promoted in recent years as migrant workers moved to China's coastal areas to find jobs.
Mandarin language lessons became compulsory in schools in Hong Kong after its return to Chinese rule in 1997 and an increasing number of professionals began to learn the dialect after the handover as Hong Kong's business links with the mainland intensified.
However, many Hong Kongers are fiercely proud and protective of Cantonese and see Mandarin only as a language of convenience.
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