baihua/Guoyu


baihua/Guoyu
(semi-colloquial language)
The philosopher Hu Shi employed the term baihua in public exchanges with Qian Xuantong in 1917 during the movement to adopt a vernacular writing style for educated discourse. Hu stated that the ‘bai’ (white) signified writing that is vernacular, clear, and clean (unadorned, aphelia). Hu’s promotion of baihua style included local dialects, such as the Shanghai dialect represented in the novel Flowers of Shanghai (Hai shang hua liezhuan, 1897). However, he conceded that since the Song dynasty, Mandarin (guanhua) had been used in most vernacular texts and constituted the only practical replacement for the classical literary styles used in educated discourse.
In 1928, following the consolidation of a central government by the Nationalist Party, Mandarin was standardized by linguists for education and adopted as the ‘National Language’, or Guoyu. This language also came to dominate the media.
However, as a spoken language Mandarin was divided among several distinct geographical groupings, and the standardized form that spread through education and the media was a language spoken by few without the benefit of education. As inherited from classic novels it contained a great deal of classical language, which newspapers continued to use. Moreover, as a vehicle for modernizing China, it was saturated with imported loan words and phrases, many from English by way of Japanese, that were, at the outset, the written style of a small educated elite. Hence, the distance between baihua as a Mandarin national language and the many local languages spoken by most Chinese made it a semi-colloquial language. Although there were proposals for writers to adopt a ‘language of the masses’ to overcome the linguistic barriers, Guoyu was widely adopted and preserved as the ‘common language’ (putonghua) by the Communist Party after the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. Guoyu or putonghua has remained the style or language of cultural production orally and in print.
EDWARD GUNN

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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