Culture versus the State? The “Defend-My-Mother-Tongue” Protests in Guangzhou

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-102
Journal / PublicationChina Journal
Issue number1
Online published29 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019


In July and August 2010, a series of spontaneous “defend-my-mother-tongue” protests took place in Guangzhou. At its climax, thousands of protestors took to the streets to oppose a government proposal to switch local television broadcasts from Cantonese to Mandarin. Unlike other recent mass incidents in China, the “Defend Cantonese” protests mainly involved a place-based identity politics through which participants purported to support maintenance of Cantonese culture without explicit political and material demands. Based on the testimonies of dozens of participants and witnesses, the authors identify three sets of schematic dichotomies that framed the protests: namely, south versus north, local differences versus national uniformity, and conserving traditional Guangzhou versus urban redevelopment. It is argued that underpinning the language movement’s cultural outlook was the participants’ discontent with current politics and distribution of resources. The cultural packaging constitutes a specific tactic through which the actors resisted the authoritarian regime without triggering violent suppression.

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