Taiwanese resurgence

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We have often experienced vexation and consternation over the future of Taiwanese / Hoklo, especially in light of what's happening to Cantonese in the PRC.  Now comes some welcome news from Ilha Formosa.  A renewal of Taiwanese has recently been spurred by a least expected source, China.

Chinese Pressure Fuels an Unlikely Language Revival in Taiwan:

Local tongues gain popularity as more people on the self-ruled island, where Mandarin predominates, disavow their connection with China

By Joyu Wang, WSJ (12/22/21)

Pranav Mulgund remarks:

A recent aversion to the CCP has pushed people in Taiwan to stop speaking Mandarin. For instance, “One enthusiastic participant is Lala Sin, a 35-year-old mother of three, who has largely avoided speaking Mandarin Chinese, the most used language in both Taiwan and China, since last winter, instead talking with her children exclusively in Taiwanese Hokkien, or Taigi (pronounced 'dye-ghee')”. Teachers of the language have experienced a tripling in enrollment from 2012 to 2020. I think it’s quite an interesting idea to revolt through language. It’s obviously not an unprecedented idea, but quite fascinating to happen in modern times.

The WSJ article continues, quoting Lala Sin:

“Speaking our mother language is the most effective vaccine” against a more assertive China, said Ms. Sin, one of a growing group of Taiwanese parents who are trying to steep their children in the island’s local languages—while also brushing up themselves—in what they see as a form of resistance against China’s authoritarian influence.

China’s Communist Party, which considers Taiwan a part of China and has vowed to take control of it by force if necessary, has been steadily increasing diplomatic and military pressure on the island of 23 million, partly in response to a tightening of relations between the Taiwanese and U.S. governments under Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.

Amid the tensions, more Taiwanese people are disavowing their connection with China. Roughly 63% of people polled on the island identify themselves exclusively as Taiwanese, according to a survey conducted by Taiwan’s National Chengchi University in June, up from 54% in 2018, when Beijing stepped up efforts to lure away the island’s allies and increased military drills nearby.

According to the poll, 2.7% of people in Taiwan see themselves exclusively as Chinese.

Taking into account the more two million mainlanders who came to Taiwan with Chiang Kai-shek's armies, and compared to the number of people who thought of themselves as Chinese as late as the 2000s, that's a remarkably low percentage.  In my classes at Penn and among my friends and acquaintances from Taiwan, in the 80s and 90s I already started to see a shift in their opinion on where they considered themselves to be from, with more and more of them thinking of themselves as Taiwanese rather than as Chinese from the mainland.


Selected readings

[h.t. Chau Wu; thanks to Kerry Gershaneck]


  1. Phyllis Dickstein said,

    December 24, 2021 @ 1:27 pm


    Prof. June Teufel recommended your blog to me. I have always been interested in languages and studied Chinese to an advanced level, although not as a major.

    Did you ever see Hou Hsiao-Hsien's wonderful movie 悲情城市? What fascinated me was who spoke what language to whom. Americans reading subtitles here cannot get it.
    You have to see the scene where the Governor (a Shaohsing native) was addressing the public in a language few of them understood and he himself could barely speak!

    Before the world closed down I did Karaoke in a senior center where almost everyone else was ethnic Chinese, from the mainland, Taiwan or elsewhere. The Taiwanese in their 70s sang mostly in Japanese, the ones in their 60s in Taiwanese, sometimes Mandarin or English, and a few of the Waishengren from Taiwan actually tried to sing in Taiwanese occasionally (one very well, the other not so well but at least he tried).

    Just my unprofessional social observations, but please put my email address on your list.
    Phyllis Dickstein

  2. Victor Mair said,

    December 24, 2021 @ 3:25 pm

    Thank you for your observations, Phyllis.

    Most people who want to receive regular announcements of our posts do so through RSS feeds. It seems that the e-mail notifications haven't been working well lately.

  3. Coby Lubliner said,

    December 24, 2021 @ 3:26 pm

    It's reminiscent of the German-Swiss asserting their distance from Germany by holding on to their local speech forms, all the while using standard German for official purposes (as do the Taiwanese with Mandarin, of course).

  4. Chas Belov said,

    December 24, 2021 @ 5:54 pm

    I saw 悲情城市 (distributed with the English title A City of Sadness) many years ago. I remember the scene where they had to go through two translators to conduce their business as well as the scene where the deaf character was nearly beaten for speaking Mandarin.

  5. Chas Belov said,

    December 24, 2021 @ 5:55 pm


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