Carnegie Mellon University

Dialect and the Making of Modern China

Dialect and the Making of Modern China

From Republican Revolutionaries to Hong Kong Protesters

Wednesday, Nov. 6

3:00-4:20 | Posner Hall 146

Gina Anne Tam is an assistant Professor in the Department of History at Trinity University. She is the author of Dialect and Nationalism in China, 1860-1960, which will be published by Cambridge University Press in early 2020.

Taking aim at the conventional narrative that standard, national languages transform ‘peasants’ into citizens, Gina Anne Tam centers the history of the Chinese nation on fangyan (dialect). She traces how linguists, policy-makers, bureaucrats and workaday educators framed fangyan as non-standard ‘variants’ of Mandarin Chinese. Simultaneously she highlights the 1920s folksong collectors, communist-period playwrights, contemporary hip-hop artists and popular protesters in Hong Kong who insisted that fangyan were more authentic and representative of China’s national culture and its history. Tam argues that these intertwined visions of the Chinese nation - one spoken in one voice, one spoken in many - interacted and shaped one another, and in the process, shaped the basis for Chinese national identity.