What non-Chinese often overlook is the robust and rugged strength of the various Chinese dialects. To the non-Chinese, the Chinese are homogeneous. In many ways there is homogeneity. But, not in many other ways.
Just last month, over lunch with some management staff of a multinational company that I am associated with, the conversation turned to the impression within the Chinese Malaysian community that the Hokkien (Fujian) community are dominant in business. I suddenly realised that the staff were either Hakka, Cantonese or Hainanese. That was interesting.
Now, I hear that the Cantonese populace in Hong Kong are getting restive on the issue of the Cantonese dialect in education. As I understand it, when Hong Kong was a British colony, the Chinese schools in Hong Kong used Cantonese as a medium of instruction. But, since 1999, when China reclaimed sovereignty over Hong Kong as an autonomous region, the official Mandarin language has been the dominant medium of instruction.
The Cantonese dialect groups are trying to make a case for the freedom of choice for schools to revert to Cantonese as a medium of education.
Is this a troglodytic behaviour on the part of the Cantonese dialect groups in Hong Kong?
Is Cantonese a dialect or a language?
When the Mandarin text books are used in classrooms where Cantonese is the medium of instruction, does something get lost in translation?
And, here in Malaysia, many non-Chinese think that the Chinese community is homogeneous!
Quite an amusing thing, this Babel-like approach to education and choice of language or dialect. But, as we know, to many, it can be an emotional matter. Is this a indication of insecurity or, cultural imperative? One wonders.
Anyway, here's an interesting take on the issue by the Economist: