Guangdong provincial government issued a policy to popularize Mandarin in1982, stating that schools are the most important places to popularize Mandarin, Mandarin instruction should be started from kindergarten and elementary schools, aiming to popularize Mandarin in all types of schools within six years. Under this policy, many radio stations offered Mandarin study programs, some elementary schools tried to offer Mandarin speaking courses, and some started the experiment of “Pinyin literacy and pre-writing”. Those programs helped the achievements of Mandarin ability of some Cantonese. But there was still a great deal of schools which failed the use of Mandarin in instruction, and this consequence didn’t match the position of Guangdong in China, and even went against the development of Guangdong in all aspects, such as economic, educational, scientific and cultural development, let along the smooth development of reform and opening-up. A middle school English teacher’s experience is a good example to present us a picture of the situation at that time. She recalled when she moved to Guangdong in 1992, she couldn’t communicate with most people, even her school colleagues, so she had to try every means to acquire Cantonese for survival. It was in the very year of 1992, Guangdong provincial government reissued a policy to popularize Mandarin. This time, the policy-makers set levels of goals in accordance with different places. For example, big cities should meet the goal of Mandarin instruction in all subjects and collective activities in two years, counties in three years, towns in four years. By the end of 1995, Mandarin should be the school language in schools of capital Guangzhou, special economic zone and costal line cities. The achievement of Mandarin popularization is closely related to the promotion of administrators and teachers, and also to the evaluation of schools and departments of educational administration.
Language education policy practice is very complicated and doesn’t go as smoothly as water flows. Though many schools in cities began to teach Chinese subject in Mandarin, the instruction of other subjects was still in Cantonese. In small cities and remote areas, Cantonese had remained the medium of instruction in all subjects. A school boy transferred to the local middle school of a city in 2002 underwent a hard time because all the subjects were taught in Cantonese.
In 2001, the People’s Republic of China issued the Law of the National Commonly Used Language and Script for the standardization of language use across the country. With the law and the goals set by the Guandong provincial government, Mandarin has been spread gradually and speedily since, “Please speak Mandarin, please write correct Mandarin characters” are the slogans in every school.
With in the implementation of the law and policy, some schools went to extremes by even forbidding the use of Cantonese in schools, thus leading to conflicts and concerns from different people. One typical example tells about a granddaughter’s conflict with her grandmother as the former can not speak Cantonese and the later can not speak Mandarin. The father of the little girl was told later that Cantonese is forbidden in school, Mandarin is the school language, any violation of that will be punished. It is the fear of being punished that makes the little girl give up Cantonese practice and then lack the ability to speak it as a consequence. One concern comes from a group of migrated parents who said that their kids can not practice Cantonese in school, and there is no environment for them to practice at home either, as the parents can not speak Cantonese. Then, what will be the kids identity in the future?
Contrary to the migrated parents, a voluntary strategy is taken by a group of Cantonese parents who try to block the environment of Cantonese speaking at home for the purpose of developing their kids’ ability of Mandarin. In their mind, a good environment of Mandarin speaking should be created for a better mastery of that language, otherwise kids scores will be impacted.
Some Linguists also showed their concerns about the shrinking of Cantonese, they wish that kids could learn both Mandarin and Cantonese well, as they both play a very important role respectively. The tension between Cantonese and Mandarin has created a significant challenge for policymakers and language educators in their efforts to create a harmonious society.