Diversity and Chinese Language Week

This week is ‘New Zealand Chinese Language Week’:

New Zealand Chinese Language Week  (16-22 October) is a Kiwi-led initiative aimed at encouraging New Zealanders to discover Chinese language and culture. 

Be inspired by our supporters and meet our  “Mandarin Superstars” as they share their exciting experiences.

Check out what events are taking place in your region 16-22 October.

Find out how you can get “Asia ready” in 2017 by checking out our language learning resources.

But ‘Chinese language’ is not one thing, it is a diverse range of languages and dialects.

We don’t often refer to Romance languages, but instead to Italian, Spanish, French, plus the language that’s a derivative of these and has become widespread, English.

And some dialects of English can be nearly or wholly unintelligible to other English speaking people.

Bevan Chuang points out Chinese Language is more diverse than Mandarin

Chinese Language Week is the one week that I get very patriotic about how unilineal and narrow focus this week is.

Chuang details a number of reasons why she is frustrated that people ask her to write something in Mandarin – she is a native Cantonese speaker.

1. Mandarin is only one of many Chinese languages

The Chinese language we know are associated with ethnic Han Chinese. Within the Chinese community there are more than one ethnic group though Han Chinese make up 92% of Chinese in China and 97% in Taiwan.

Linguists note that the Chinese language is as diverse as a language family, like those of Romance languages.

There are between 7 and 13 main regional groups of Chinese, with majority speaking Mandarin (including Standard Chinese, Pekinese, Suchuanese, Dungan) but followed by Wu (including Shanghainese, Suzhounese, Wenzhounese), Min (inlcuding Fuzhounese, Hainese, Hokkien, Taiwanese, Teochew), Yue (including Cantonese and Taishanese), Gan, Xiang and Hakka.

Most of these groups are mutually unintelligible though they may share common terms. They also varies in tone and anaytic.

The Mandarin that we now know in the Western society is the Standard Chinese, which is derived from the term guānhuà (官话/官話), or “official speech”, to refer to the speech used at the Court. The term “Mandarin” is borrowed directy from Portuguese, mandarim, which is derived from the Sanskrit word mantrin, Conselor or Minister.

Before the 19th century, the standard was based on the Nanjing dialects, but later the Beijing dialect became increasingly influential, and with the dying of Qing dynasty, Beijing dialect was established as guóyǔ (国语/國語), or the “national language”.

With the Communist-ruled country, Mandarin became increasingly influential because it is seen as the standardised language, and people seems to only identify Mandarin as the only Chinese language.

2. Disrespectful to the Chinese forbearers to New Zealand

Early Chinese immigrants to New Zealand are Cantonese speakers from South China. They came from the Pearl River delta area in Guangdong province. Most (67%) were from Panyu county; the rest were from Siyi, Zengcheng, Dongguan and Zhongshan. These counties are located around the city of Canton (Guangzhou).

New Zealand was one of the three countries that place a poll tax on the Chinese immigrants. In 2002, former Prime Minister Helen Clark formally apologised to the Chinese Poll Tax descendents and subsequently the Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust was formed.

One of the key focus of the Trust is to promote learning and the use of the Cantonese language, the language of the forbearers. Supporting the descendents to hold on to their language and culture of their ancestors.

Very different to the many Language Weeks we have in New Zealand, the Chinese Language Week is not about ensuring the language of our ancestors will live on, but this is purely about increasing trade.

3. Not celebrating diversity

Chinese, both the language and the people, are very diverse. We are not able to address and celebrate the diversity and yet lumped together as one. This also helps support the Chinese government’s plan to diminish dialects by only promoting Mandarin as the only Chinese language.

The United Nations have acknowledged that the Chinese language is becoming less diverse, and over 100 languages are in danger of dying out. Even Shanghainese, one of the many “Mandarin” dialects, is in fear of dying out. Just Google “Dying Chinese Language” and you will find pages of search results related to the concern that the Mandarin policy is killing the other languages. The killing of these languages are more than just a language, but the culture and history.

What can we do

One day, I hope, that the Chinese Language Week actually celebrates the history and diversity of all Chinese language and promote the use of Chinese as a whole, not focusing only in Mandarin. Even here in New Zealand, there are two main dialects.

According to the last Census, 52,263 people spoke Northern Chinese which includes Mandarin, 44,625 spoke Yue that includes Cantonese and 42,750 spoke a “Sinitic” language.

New Zealand is becoming increasingly diverse, and ethnic Chinese are becoming a larger part of our mix.

And within the ethnic Chinese population there is also diversity beyond simply immigrants and those born here and with as long a connection to New Zealand as many of us.

We are familiar with recognising distinct differences between English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish even though they share a common language.

In New Zealand they share many things in common, while some retain some cultural practices as well. That is usually celebrated.

Ethnicity, culture and language have never been simple and separable.

The same should apply to the diversity of ethnic Chinese now living here. They accept aspects of our culture (actually cultures) while retaining some of there own if they wish. Language is one part of that.

Food is another – Chinese options have become much more diverse here in my lifetime. I don’t know where I could still find chicken, rice and mixed vegetables – with buttered bread soaked in Worcester Sauce for an entree.

We may have no interest in learning one of the Chinese languages, that’s a lot more challenging than scoffing sweet and sour wantons or egg foo young, but we can at least recognise the diversity of Chinese language as well as cuisine.


Leave a comment


  1. Trevors_elbow

     /  19th October 2017

    Pete. English is not derivative of the Romance language. It is a Germanic language at its core. Romance language elements are incorporated in it but it belongs in a separate language group all together……

    • Gezza

       /  19th October 2017

      That is correct, Trevor, according to Cabbage, my Latin teacher.
      Who knew everything!

      • There’s no such thing as ‘the Romance language’.

        • Gezza

           /  20th October 2017

          No worries. Trev’ll be ok. As long as next time he either pluralises ‘language’, or names one or more of them, he should get away with it. I let it go as a probably just an accidentally missed s.

          Cabbage would’ve spotted the error, of course. Seeing he always fkn knew everything. And he would’ve pointed it out too. Scathingly. We weren’t what you’d call mutually respectful, as pupil & asshole.

  2. Trevors_elbow

     /  19th October 2017

    More importantly. Apart from a Maori language week…. all this other language weeks are a complete load of bs. Who pays for them and why?

    (Braille and NZ sign language pass the bs test and should be promoted)

  3. Zedd

     /  19th October 2017

    sounds like the rumor that Akld is to be renamed ‘New Beijing’ could be getting louder ? :/

    watch Ch28-29 on freeview !

    • That remark is extremely silly and puerile. And rumour is not spelt with one u except in the US, and we are not part of the US.

    • Corky

       /  19th October 2017

      That’s a great paper. Finally someone apart from Ian Wishart who gets it. Many memorable quotes, but this one from the conclusion encapsulates what New Zealand should be doing NOW in my opinion:

      ”New Zealand’s needs to face up to some of the political differences and challenges in
      the New Zealand-China relationship and to investigate the extent and impact of Chinese political influence activities on our democracy.”

      Do you have an opinion Noel?

      • NOEL

         /  19th October 2017

        I wouldn’t be surprised if Chinese in New Zealand were targeting buildings with agencies using Five Eyes and the people who enter them.

  4. Corky

     /  19th October 2017

    What the… just been down to use the ATM. Beautiful day. Beautiful people. Beautiful smell of food. Then I get to the ATM and the first thing I see on screen is ‘Happy Diwali.’ Am I in a time tunnel or something?

    Hell, the world has turned against me: Pete, Gezza, Pickled Prussian and now the bloody ATM machine. Geez, I need whatever Lurchy is on.

    • Gezza

       /  19th October 2017


      I luv ya like an Irish brother ☘👬☘ Corks!

      • Gezza

         /  19th October 2017

        You’re too emotional. That’s your trouble I reckon.
        Did you push through the pain & get any money out – or was it too much for you & you just had to leave, buddy?

        • That message appears every year. I cannot think how you have missed it all this time. How very insular you must be,

          Chinese New Year and St Patrick’s Day (the latter in a commercial and tacky way, alas) are also celebrated here. So is Guy Fawkes Day on the Fifth of November/Gunpowder, treason and plot’ etc.

  5. Blazer

     /  19th October 2017

    fascinating insight…I liked this..
    ‘Appoint foreigners with access to political power to high profile roles in
    Chinese companies or Chinese-funded entities in the host country’…and this….
    ‘Former National Party leader, Dr Don Brash, chairs the Industrial Bank of China in
    New Zealand; former National MPs Ruth Richardson and Chris Tremain are on the
    board of the Bank of China in New Zealand; while former Prime Minister Dame
    Jenny Shipley chairs the China Construction Bank (New Zealand) and was on the
    board of the China Construction Bank for six years. She is also chair of the Oravida
    board.198 Former National MP and Minister of Finance, Ruth Richardson was a
    director of Synlait Farms and is now a director of Synlait Milk. Shanghai Pengxin—
    noted for its interest in New Zealand’s farms as well as near space—owns 74% of
    Synlait Farm. National MP Judith Collins’ husband David Wong-Tung was on the
    Oravida board for 5 years.199 Sammy Wong, husband of former National MP Pansy
    Wong, assisted Pacific Power Development to get a contract for the Chinese
    company China North Rail (CNR) to supply 20 locomotives to KiwiRail. CNR also
    won a $29 million contract to supply 300 flat-deck wagons to KiwiRail.200
    More recently, former New Zealand PM John Key is now acting on behalf of US
    media and entertainment company Comcast, to assist Comcast’s business projects in
    China. ‘…

    • Fight4NZ

       /  19th October 2017

      Rail contracts that didn’t go to the last heavy engineering company we had. But it was in Dunedin so probably full of Labour voters, like Cadbury, Fisher & Paykel, Etc, so why lift a finger. I mean where’s the future in production anyway?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s