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krinaphobia
07-06-2015, 08:55 PM
So as my signature say, my current WIP is set in future Hong Kong. 70% of the book is about racial and ethnic tensions within the city, which is hilarious because I'm white, American, and have never been to Hong Kong, especially not in the future. *groan* In all seriousness, I'm really scared of messing things up, because it's a serious issue. There's a million questions I have about various things related to the book, but the biggest is this: How much of a distinction is there in China, and especially Hong Kong, between people of Mandarin and Cantonese background? Mandarin friends from mainland China have said the Cantonese language is just a dialect and there isn't a big difference. But I live in Scotland and am used to the English saying one thing and the Scots saying entirely another. It's a very niche bit of knowledge, but if anyone knows about Cantonese identity in China, I would love some clarification.

(To complicate things, my MC is Indian-South African and Muslim, but born and raised in Hong Kong, and the city is controlled by refugees from Finland. I genuinely don't know how I got myself into this mess.)

Max Vaehling
07-07-2015, 11:01 PM
You mean, about how people phrase stuff differently? They do. About the people themselves? I heard from my former Chinese flatmate that, aside from geographical differences, one was considered more pedestrian and the other more aristocratic, but I forget which is which. I'm guessing Mandarin is the upper class one. In Hong Kong, Cantonese is dominant, so I guess you'll be able to dodge most of the finer differences.

krinaphobia
07-08-2015, 12:10 AM
Cheers, Max! I'm so out of my depth here.

Spleen
07-08-2015, 01:12 PM
Hey there,
Are you asking about the difference in Cantonese and Mandarin language?
Or the different between people from a Cantonese vs 'rest of China' background/identity?

Re. the first - Cantonese is a dialect (not restricted to HK) it cannot be written exactly as it is spoken. So when Cantonese people write things down they have to use a slightly different grammatical structure and the way it is written is actually exactly the same as Mandarin is written. BUT there is a difference in the characters between HK written chinese and Mainland Chinese. During the years when was HK was a UK colony, mainland China decided to simplify their characters and HK did not adopt this change. So the written version of Chinese in HK and Mainland is grammatically the same but the individual characters are simpler in the Mainland (and means that sometimes cannot be read interchangeably)

Re. the second point - first thing that is important is that not all Cantonese are HK and not all HK are Cantonese.
There are many Cantonese living in South China especially around Guangzhou
Most HK are Cantonese but there are other groups too
So you need to work out if you are trying to distinguish the culture/identity of Cantonese vs 'rest of China' or HK Chinese vs 'rest of China'. If it's the latter then there is a lot going on. HK being separate under Britain until 1997 hugely shaped a few generations of HK Chinese and since then there has been a lot of tension and discussion wrt what being 'back and part of China' means. Ranging from macro-political (HK governance has a lot of democratic principles vs China which does not) to everyday cross-cultural tensions (e.g. a huge online furore over a Mainland Chinese mother letting her child relieve themselves in the HK street - http://www.scmp.com/news/china-insider/article/1494356/hongkongers-clash-mainland-parents-after-allow-two-year-old?page=all)

So... lots there! Depends what is relevant in order to guide your research :)

slhuang
07-09-2015, 08:37 AM
Take all this with a grain of salt because I am diaspora, and I mostly come from my (very filtered) family perspective.

First, you have to distinguish between languages and people. Mandarin and Cantonese are languages. They're sometimes called "dialects," but since they share a writing system some people find that inaccurate. One of my Chinese teachers used to go with "topolect."

Cantonese is the language spoken in the region of Canton, which is a province in southern China. So you can have Cantonese people, Cantonese cuisine, etc., meaning "from Canton," and you can also have Cantonese the language. But these are distinct uses of the word -- for example, a non-Cantonese person can speak Cantonese. (eta: And, ofc, Cantonese is also spoken other places, like Hong Kong.) I believe an apt comparison might be Spanish the language (spoken in many countries) versus Spanish people / Spanish cuisine (from the country of Spain).

Mandarin, on the other hand, is only a language. I have never heard "the Mandarin people," and in fact that sounds very strange to me. Mandarin in Mandarin is "putonghua," literally "the common spoken language," whereas Cantonese in Mandarin is "Guangdonghua," or "the spoken language of Guangdong," where Guangdong = the Mandarin name for the region we know in English as Canton. (Someone from Beijing and someone from Guangdong would both be "Chinese people," as in people from China. But the person from Beijing would likely speak Mandarin and the person from Guangdong would likely speak Cantonese.)

There are MANY topolects in China. If your book deals with political and social pressures, my understanding is that the PRC government in trying to enforce Mandarin everywhere might be a big one. Research this; I don't know much about it but I've sort of heard things. :)

Mandarin and Cantonese are similar but not mutually intelligible -- perhaps a good comparison might be the similarities between Spanish and French. However, unlike Spanish and French, the written Chinese is the same for both; only the spoken words differ. To expand on Spleen's point about the different writing -- that's something that's specific to governments in modern times, not the topolects themselves. You can read traditional characters aloud in Mandarin, or read simplified characters aloud in Cantonese. In fact, Taiwan has maintained the traditional character set as well, and Mandarin is spoken there, not Cantonese. For another example, my dad speaks Cantonese, but since his childhood was some time ago he learned traditional characters for it. Now he can read simplified as well, but he would read them both in Cantonese if he were reading them aloud. I am not a linguist, but I would say that Mandarin and Cantonese share a writing system but that, for example, the PRC and Taiwan governments differ on the traditional/simplified character sets (rather than saying Mandarin/Cantonese differ on character sets). Does that make sense?

Hong Kong was under the aegis of Great Britain for so long that a lot of English is spoken there -- I haven't been back in a while so I'm not sure how much of the Official Stuff is still in English, but the times I've been there it was a fair amount. Cantonese is the main spoken language, but again (and check me on this, because I am NOT at all certain of the minutiae of it), I believe there's been a push by the PRC to teach Mandarin in the schools and try to push Mandarin everywhere, including Hong Kong now that they have it back. I do NOT know specifics of this, though, or how it's viewed politically by HK natives.

Given how heavily you're delving into HK culture here, I highly, highly suggest you get a HK native as a beta for your book. :) (Which is not me; I've only visited family there.) There will likely be stumbling blocks you won't even know to ask about!

eta: Rereading your post, I think(?) it might be possible you're accidentally asking the wrong question. I think the question you may be trying to ask, if I'm not misunderstanding, is what the tensions are between the people of Hong Kong and the people of Mainland China. Rather than about language? That is definitely a different question! And it might be why you got such odd responses from your friends, because the difference between "someone who speaks Mandarin" and "someone who speaks Cantonese" could easily be said to be just a dialect (with any cultural differences only implied). But that's a hugely different question from "mainland China" versus "HK natives" (or "Taiwan natives" or "any-other-Chinese-speaking-place-including-some-regions-the-PRC-claims-ownership-over natives", some of whom may speak the same language). Er. Clear as mud? :greenie

krinaphobia
07-10-2015, 03:18 AM
Thank you one and all for your responses! I realize now the mistake I made in my first question. I knew Cantonese was a language and a people, and I incorrectly assumed that Mandarin was the same! Thank you all, slhuang in particular, for setting me right on the score.

I clearly need to get some HK natives to beta the book, although I'm very nervous about asking!

Snitchcat
07-15-2015, 06:24 AM
So as my signature say, my current WIP is set in future Hong Kong. 70% of the book is about racial and ethnic tensions within the city, which is hilarious because I'm white, American, and have never been to Hong Kong, especially not in the future. *groan* In all seriousness, I'm really scared of messing things up, because it's a serious issue. There's a million questions I have about various things related to the book, but the biggest is this: How much of a distinction is there in China, and especially Hong Kong, between people of Mandarin and Cantonese background? Mandarin friends from mainland China have said the Cantonese language is just a dialect and there isn't a big difference. But I live in Scotland and am used to the English saying one thing and the Scots saying entirely another. It's a very niche bit of knowledge, but if anyone knows about Cantonese identity in China, I would love some clarification.

(To complicate things, my MC is Indian-South African and Muslim, but born and raised in Hong Kong, and the city is controlled by refugees from Finland. I genuinely don't know how I got myself into this mess.)

Oh dear, this is quite the question. Will give a stab at the answer; it won't contain a huge amount of detail, but perhaps enough to answer some of your questions. Btw, HK resident here; could be considered an HK native.


How much of a distinction is there in China, and especially Hong Kong, between people of Mandarin and Cantonese background?

1997 Tensions:
There were mixed feelings throughout the HKers (Hongkongers as we call ourselves) about this "return to China". Reasons simply centered around the freedoms enjoyed and established while being a colony that would be massively restricted or removed once China took over, despite the 50-year agreement to remain autonomous. Many Hongkongers, who had the means and options, left HK.

1997 - 2015:
Since then, China has "flooded" the region with Mainlanders, with the intention of taking over HK before the 50-year agreement was up. HKers have resisted and tensions have escalated.

Schools are now required to teach Putonghua (aka, Mandarin) as the official second language to Cantonese, but English is still a mainstay and remains an official language. Legal documents mainly contain a phrase similar to, "If there is any discrepancy between the English and Chinese versions, the English version shall prevail."

Present Time:
Recently, relations between HKers and Mainlanders have reached an explosive height, with the more vocal and impulsive HKers victimising various residents, especially if they have an accent when speaking Cantonese.

Baby Formula Issues:
China has been embroiled in a shameful scandal involving false baby food, where the milk powder was grossly faked. This forced Mainlanders to flood HK and buy up almost all the baby formula here, thus depriving HKers of food for HK infants and forcing HKers to pay tax for goods that they do not benefit from. As a tourist in HK, you enjoy DFS. HKers foot the bill. Mainlanders buying ridiculous, outrageous amounts of baby formula (e.g., 10+ large cans per person per trip) in HK basically meant HKers were paying Mainlanders to remove essential food for HK babies.

However you look at it, this was one of the main situations that increased the already-simmering animosity and sparked protests. Hence, the number of Mainlanders allowed to visit HK per year was capped.

Cultural Differences: the Biggest
Behaviour, attitude and manners.

HKers, overall, tend to be more respectful and understanding of different cultures. We've had a long time to adjust and become familiar with cultures outside our own thanks to being a colony. You'd notice the British influence -- posture, attitude, etc. But in a word, we're "worldly" compared to the our Mainland counterparts. We also don't spit (mostly) and are more conscious of public spaces, hygiene practices and behaving appropriately in public in an international city. HKers, while we can be conceited and rude, do accept that we need to compromise when it comes to space -- there's just too many of us to "take up lots of personal room". So, we don't; we try to accommodate and mutually agree that we'll be tolerant.

Mainlanders, mostly the "New Rich", in HK stroll around and take up as much personal space as possible -- towing large, unwieldy suitcases; standing in the middle of the street in big groups blocking said street; crouching in a "toilet is a hole in the ground" position because there's nowhere to sit, thus obstructing pathways; making outrageous demands because "money talks". (It does, but many HKers do not dance to that tune.)

However, HKers and Mainlanders do swap roles. It's a medley of subtle nuances, minuscule differences, and unspoken cultural tensions here.

Both groups, though, are highly educated -- another "war" if you will.

But, HK's focus is always, "don't get in the way of business".


Mandarin friends from mainland China have said the Cantonese language is just a dialect and there isn't a big difference.

Chinese
Consider the size of the country and the regions and provinces. Everyone speaks the same language with the main difference being the dialect. However, all these dialects fall into the language category of "Chinese"; there's no distinction between "North Chinese" or "West Chinese", etc. However, some dialects are unintelligible without actually learning them, e.g., Shanghaiese and Chiuchowhua.

Spoken
Cantonese is a dialect. Legend says that it is older than Putonghua / Mandarin, which was brought to China by the Manchurians.

Myths aside, Cantonese has 6 core tones and about 3 extra tones, while Mandarin has 4 tones only. However, note that Guangdong Cantonese has slightly different pronunciations to HK Cantonese, but for all intents and purposes, both places speak Cantonese.

Except for certain words, the spoken form of both languages are incompatible with each other.

Vocabulary / Grammar
Mainland Chinese and Hong Kong Chinese have the same grammar structure, but the vocabulary differs significantly in some cases. For example, "laisee" is HK Chinese for "lucky red envelope"; "hongbao" is the Mainland Chinese equivalent, i.e., "red packet".

Another example: HK Chinese tend to say, "sou tai deen wah", aka, "hand held portable phone" (common short form is "sou tai", i.e., "hand held"); Mainland Chinese defaults to, "shouji" which is "hand device".

And Guangdong Cantonese is slightly different to HK Cantonese.

Btw, just to confuse the issue more, Taiwanese Chinese is also slightly different when it comes to vocabulary and for Taiwan, they have 2 separate languages: Chinese and Taiwanese (this is not a Chinese dialect).

Written
HK (and Taiwan) uses Traditional Chinese (T.Chi) while the Mainland uses Simplified Chinese (S.Chi). Your browser should be able to render the following example:

T.Chi: 這裡是香港不是中國大陸 (tseh lui see heung gong buht see dai luk) (This is HK, not Mainland China)

S.Chi: 这里是香港不是中国大陆 (zheli shi xianggang bushi dalu) (This is HK, not Mainland China)

The difference is mainly in the number of strokes.

By-the-bye, the Cantonese written version would be: 呢度係香港唔係大陸 (nee doe hai heung gong ng hai dai luk) (This is HK, not the Mainland)


my MC is Indian-South African and Muslim, but born and raised in Hong Kong

While I love the combination, I see a huge problem that your protagonist will need to overcome or at least find a workaround:

Some HKers are as racist and bigoted as they come when talking about race. Extreme example: Muslims, Africans, Indians, anyone not HK Chinese are assumed to be impoverished, thieves, liars and worse. They also all live or stay in a place called Chung King Mansions. It's (almost) exclusively all those nationalities mentioned; HKers rarely go there (but there's 2 really great Indian restaurants in that building!). So, accordingly, the building itself has a reputation for being a rough, uneducated, filthy, crime-ridden place filled with unsavoury characters from those nationalities.

Ergo, the protagonist will face incredibly bigoted trouble because of their heritage. However, bonus is, the MC speaks the local language and should have local friends who are not prejudiced against him/her.


the city is controlled by refugees from Finland.

This sits wrong with me, basically because there are, perhaps, only a handful of Finnish people here, if that. And for refugee Finns to control HK, there must have been utter anarchy here -- this is now a territory of China, and as such, the PLA (People's Liberation Army) have a presence. And while HKers aren't happy with China and many would prefer to either be independent or be a colony again, being controlled by Finns is too anomalous. How many are actually controlling HK? The Government, as it stands, employs several thousand people, and the the "controlling" parties total in the hundreds. Even in chaos, there would be a measure of control. And if necessary, the Central Government would step in -- they've waited too long to regain HK to lose it again.

So, the story would have a very difficult time convincing me that refugee Finns could be the government, let alone control the territory.


Hope this helps!

Bing Z
07-15-2015, 07:34 AM
Cantonese is not a language. It is a dialect. It can, nowadays, largely be written (see wikipedia for examples). Mandarin is (was) the Beijing (region) dialect mandated by the government as Chinese national spoken language (check Wikipedia, me thinks they have the timeline.) Listening to these dialects is like listening to English vs Spanish. It is, generally, inconceivable to speakers of one another. Chinese, as a language, means the written language. It has been what connects people who speak/spoke various Chinese dialects (prolly hundreds of them).

To OP: I stand by my suggestion--Change the region/city name. Call it Neo Hong Kong or Sunny Side Up or whatever. What makes you think Finns who take up a notable population there will speak Cantonese? Go visit Hong Kong. Visit the International School. Ask the American, British, French kids how many of them speak decent Cantonese. Heck, go ask kids (if any) of senior Chinese officials station in Hong Kong. The only way you can have them muddle together is to create a totally new mixture and culture that you conceive yourself. It will have no resemblance to what it is today. Thus whatever is right to you and the story is wrong to what it is today. Whatever is right today over there can't be right in 200 years in a totally different environment.

ETA: Study British colonial histories. Wherever they controlled, they changed the official languages to English. Why learn another language when you have all the guns?

Snitchcat
07-15-2015, 07:56 AM
Cantonese is not a language. It is a dialect. It can, nowadays, largely be written (see wikipedia for examples). Mandarin is (was) the Beijing (region) dialect mandated by the government as Chinese national spoken language (check Wikipedia, me thinks they have the timeline.) Listening to these dialects is like listening to English vs Spanish. It is, generally, inconceivable to speakers of one another. Chinese, as a language, means the written language. It has been what connects people who speak/spoke various Chinese dialects (prolly hundreds of them).

Just to clarify:
Putonghua is the official spoken language of Beijing; this hasn't changed since the government (whatever shape it took over the centuries) implemented it.

All Cantonese words can be written, but it's a pain to read. Not recommended. However, Cantonese has a slang version and a polite / formal version that are very distinct, and more noticeable than the Putonghua equivalents.

The spoken dialects may be unintelligible to each other, but this largely depends on the compared regions. Examples: Putonghua vs. Cantonese -- mostly unintelligible. Cantonese vs. Zhongshanhua -- mostly intelligible. Shanghaiese vs. Cantonese -- unintelligible. Chiuchowhua vs. Cantonese -- mostly unintelligible. Hakkahua vs. Cantonese -- somewhat unintelligible. Taiwanese Mandarin vs. Putonghua -- intelligible. Guangdong Cantonese vs. HK Cantonese -- intelligible. Shenzhen dialect vs. Putonghua -- unintelligible. Shenzhen dialect vs. Cantonese -- unintelligible. Sichuan dialect vs. Cantonese -- unintelligible. Sichuan dialect vs. Putonghua -- mostly unintelligible.


To OP: I stand by my suggestion--Change the region/city name. Call it Neo Hong Kong or Sunny Side Up or whatever. What makes you think Finns who take up a notable population there will speak Cantonese? Go visit Hong Kong. Visit the International School. Ask the American, British, French kids how many of them speak decent Cantonese. Heck, go ask kids (if any) of senior Chinese officials station in Hong Kong.

You'd be surprised at the number of senior Mainland Chinese officials' kids who can speak decent Cantonese. But you'd have to have senior Mainland Chinese officials here in the first place. To my knowledge as at writing, there isn't a senior Mainland Chinese official here seated in the Government; it would have been huge news if that were the case. Again, the 50-year autonomous agreement is still in place; it's approximately 30 years from being over.

And a lot of Mainland Chinese employees in HK these days actually speak decent Cantonese, hence the ever-fiercer competition.

In HK, if you're Chinese (regardless of region), you had better be fluent in at least 2 of the 3 spoken languages (yes, 2 dialects, 2 languages, if you want to be very accurate) here: Putonghua, Cantonese, English. And 1 of those languages needs to be English. The ideal, however, is all 3. And yes, the majority of HKers speak, read, and write, all 3 to some (excellent) degree. (Yours truly included.)


Whatever is right today over there can't be right in 200 years in a totally different environment.

Take a look at the history of HK, of China, of the Chinese people (from when the actual nation stabilised onwards), and you'll find that 200 years includes changes, but nothing so dramatic as to be totally wrong in another 200 years. You might take a look at "Pacific Rim". Part of the film takes place in a futuristic HK. It stays true to the concept and culture (albeit the seedy side) but allows the story to plausibly exist.

Bing Z
07-15-2015, 03:26 PM
Take a look at the history of HK, of China, of the Chinese people (from when the actual nation stabilised onwards), and you'll find that 200 years includes changes, but nothing so dramatic as to be totally wrong in another 200 years. You might take a look at "Pacific Rim". Part of the film takes place in a futuristic HK. It stays true to the concept and culture (albeit the seedy side) but allows the story to plausibly exist.

We are talking about 200 years whereas Finns who have fled disasters in their homeland have governed this place once called Hong Kong (why not change official language to Finnish like what happened in 1842?). Its political system has changed; it's racial composition has changed drastically; people of Chinese descendent may (will, according to the SYW excerpt I have read) be called something else. Tell me how things can stay true.

As for officials, is it Sin Wah Agency? But yeah, I have no clue how well they speak Cantonese.

Snitchcat
07-15-2015, 05:53 PM
As for officials, is it Sin Wah Agency? But yeah, I have no clue how well they speak Cantonese.

Xinhua Agency.

This is a news agency, much like AP or Reuters. And the reporters speak excellent Cantonese, English and Putonghua.

It's not government officials.


Btw, didn't know there was an excerpt in SYW. Looking at it now.

Bing Z
07-15-2015, 06:04 PM
Yeah, Xinhua Agency has always been a news agency. And more than that.

You know Zhou Nan and Jiang Enzhu, no?

Snitchcat
07-15-2015, 06:44 PM
Yeah, Xinhua Agency has always been a news agency. And more than that.

Xinhua Agency is a true press agency in HK. This form was established after 2002.


You know Zhou Nan and Jiang Enzhu, no?

This is a baiting question. If I provide an affirmative, I admit I'm wrong; if I provide a negative, I admit I'm ignorant. So, my answer: I am neither debating nor comparing who knows HK better, as that would derail this thread.

Either help the OP with her question, or bow out.


Moving on:

@Krinaphobia

I read the excerpt and left a quick response in the thread, but will repeat the gist of what I said here.

There were 2 huge things that leapt out at me:

Why would the Finns flee to HK? Being politically stable is fine, just doesn't sit well with me.
And what is meant by "Midcity"?


I promised I would take a closer look if I have time; do you need me to do that still, or are you okay for information? Let me know; would be happy to help out. :)

Good luck!

Snitchcat
07-15-2015, 06:49 PM
To my knowledge as at writing, there isn't a senior Mainland Chinese official here seated in the Government.

Gah. I should've made this clear: "in the Hong Kong Government".

Apologies for the confusion.

snafu1056
09-06-2015, 10:30 PM
Tension would probably be ethnic, not lingusitic. We don't make much differentiation among Chinese people in the west, but they have over fifty recognized ethnic minorities, with the majority being the Han Chinese.