Today’s Historical Text comes from the Chinese Students’ Monthly of November 1908. The paragraph, on page 24 of the issue, addresses something that has been a difficulty of Chinese peoples for thousands of years: the diversity of languages among the different regions of China. What many in the US think of as “Chinese” is typically either Mandarin – a northern dialect – or Cantonese – a southern dialect – but in fact there are dozens of other languages within the borders of China. Although these languages all use the same Chinese characters, many are not mutually intelligible when spoken. Much like the solution the current People’s Republic of China has come up with, the CSA suggests using Mandarin as a lingua franca among the students of different dialects.
The desire to use our national language at conference sessions instead of using English as heretofore marks another great feature of the Conference in which a signal touch of loyalty to one’s own country is made. We all lament that we do not have one spoken language, although we have one written language. Let us not moan over a great handicap but rather set to work right away to remove it. This can be easily done, if only those who speak the Mandarin—better call it Chung Kuo Hua [ed. note: 中国话, pinyin ZhōngGuó Huà, meaning “the speech of China”] –will teach those who do not. An hour or two in a week will produce wonderful results, provided consistency and regularity are strictly observed. Let each local club take up this matter as soon as possible. An advisory committee shall be appointed to assist the various groups desirous of learning their own Chung Kuo Hua. While we do not propose to make the change at the next conference, we hope that some of the meetings may be conducted in our own tongue.