A topic which I have raised here and elsewhere a number of times is that of Sinitic topolects and languages (www.sino-platonic.org/complete/spp029_chinese_dialect.pdf), and I have also called attention to the increasing domination of Mandarin in education and the media. Even native speakers within China sometimes don't appreciate quite how varied the Sinitic group of languages can be. People often say that someone can move from one valley to the next, or one village to the next, and just not be able to make themselves understood. But until you've been in that situation yourself, it doesn't really hit home. Before long, I'll post on Shanghainese and will provide audio recordings that will demonstrate clearly just how different it is from Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM). There are countless other varieties of "Chinese" that are just as different from each other as Shanghainese (or Cantonese or Taiwanese, for that matter) are from MSM.
As I reported some time ago in "The Phasing out of Chinese 'Dialects'", this extraordinary richness is steadily diminishing and the government is gradually removing "dialect" programming from prime-time TV.
A new website called Phonemica, or Xiāngyīn Yuàn 乡音苑 (lit., "garden of local accents / pronunciation"), is part of a project to collect recordings in every variety of spoken Sinitic. It has 50 recordings from the mainland and Taiwan as of now, mapped and categorized according to the variety of "Chinese" being spoken, and is aiming to have 500 within the next year, including recordings from Chinese-speaking communities outside "Greater China", i.e., throughout the "Sinosphere".
The recordings are all made and transcribed by volunteers, with the goal of getting close friends and relatives to record each other speaking their most casual, unrehearsed, and authentic mother tongue. Anyone who doubts just how different the so-called dialects of "Chinese" are can click on a map to hear samples of speech from different parts of the country. The homepage is here in English or here in Mandarin.
I believe that Phonemica is a valuable site. I would urge everyone who is interested in Sinitic dialectology and phonology both to use it and to contribute to it.
[Thanks to Steve Hansen and Kellen Parker]