The 'Please speak Mandarin' T-shirt

please speak mandarin

please speak Mandarin

Some of you may have noticed that when I put up my new Tone Pair Drills I added a new Products section to this website along with it. I’ll introduce one of the items here from various fascinating sociopolitical angles.

The shirt says 请讲普通话 which means “please speak Mandarin” (rather than some other local dialect). The inspiration for this shirt can be seen at countless bus stops all over Shanghai: completely ineffectual “请讲普通话” propaganda. The Shanghainese continue blissfully barking at each other in their dialect regardless.

Simply by wearing this one shirt, you can:

– subtly poke fun of the PRC’s language policies
– inform Chinese people around you that you want to talk to them in Chinese
– inform Chinese people around you that you don’t want to engage them in whatever crazy dialect they speak (especially useful in Shanghai)

But I also created this shirt for another special reason. My roommate Lenny plans to move to Taiwan in December. He has made it clear on several occasions that he won’t put up for the degenerate dialect of Mandarin the Taiwanese call 国语, and he has made it his personal mission to reform the speaking habits of the whole island.

While I’m sure he will have no problem at all with that task (maybe he can even get Prince Roy to help, although Mark and Poagao may be thorns in his side), I thought he could use this shirt to aid his righteous crusade in some small way. The shirt is great for Taiwan because:

– The Taiwanese never say 普通话 (Mandarin), as that’s a politicized PRC word; they say 国语 (also Mandarin).
– Three out of five of the characters on the shirt are simplified. Simplified characters are, of course, an aesthetic affront to the Taiwanese which offends every fiber of their being.

Obviously there are many reasons why you need to order this shirt now. (Oh yeah, also: I ordered some merchandise before deciding to go with CafePress, and I can confirm that the quality of their stuff doesn’t suck anymore.) For more Sinosplice merchandise, check out the Sinosplice Store (more stuff to come soon).


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. John, can I suggest a t-shirt that addresses gawkers, pointers, and people discussing the “laowai” within earshot of the “laowai”? I’ve been wracking my brains trying to think of a phrase for a t-shirt that would blow the minds of laowai rubberneckers for months.

  2. I was going to ask for a traditional version that used the word “國語” instead of “普通話”, but that looks like a lost cause now.

    Lennet’s Chinese will be Taiwan-Guoyu-ified, though. It’s a hopeless battle that no-one could win against the onslaught of uber-southern speech here. He should just give up on the whole “sh” vs “s”, “zh” vs “z”, etc… Then he’ll have the energy to make sure his “f”s don’t turn into “hu”s. Otherwise the results could be unthinkable:

    Shopkeeper: Nĭ yào jĭ fèn?
    Corrupted Lennet: Sénme??? Te-a-bo lah!
    Shopkeeper: Nĭ yào jĭ huen?
    Corrupted Lennet:Wŏ yào yí huen.

  3. They say the word 國語 in many parts of southern China as well. I know I’ve heard it at least in HK, Macau, and Fujian.

    What you people on the mainland think is Taiwanese-accented Mandarin (no retroflexes, etc.) is actually fairly common all over China. I believe that particular accent (I’m sure someone can correct me if I’m wrong) originated from Zhejiang. I doubt that it rubbed of from people’s Minnan, since Minnan is fairly gutteral.

    The true enemy is 台灣國語, which is different from Taiwanese-accented Mandarin. Patterns like 有…過 like 你有去過台南?, which are directly translated from the Minnan. Or saying ‘jie’ instead of ‘jue,’ ‘cou’ instead of ‘cuo,’ or ‘dai’ instead of ‘tai.’

    After a little while of living in Taiwan, you should be able to mix up 台灣國語 and 台語. So saying something like 我跟你講, 我覺得他不錯 comes out as “Wa a li gong, wa jiede ta bucou.”

    John, can I suggest a t-shirt that addresses gawkers, pointers, and people discussing the “laowai” within earshot of the “laowai”? I’ve been wracking my brains trying to think of a phrase for a t-shirt that would blow the minds of laowai rubberneckers for months.

    Didn’t some laowai pull that stunt back in 2003? He had a T-shirt with some pithy “Ten Commandments” written in Chinese. A bunch of people got offended, made him apologize, and it made a minor ripple in the China blogosphere. I’d have to say that the locals were in the right on that issue. A t-shirt like that would be super tacky.

  4. Why not have a T-shirt that says “Yes, I speak Mandarin.” That would alert readers that you can speak Chinese &, at that same time, possibly have the same effect as the “Please speak Mandarin” shirt as well.

    Maybe you could leave off the “Yes”.

  5. Da Xiangchang Says: October 31, 2006 at 11:02 pm

    Branching into merchandise now, are we? What were the responses of the Chinese people when reading the words–did they actually speak to you in Putonghuao?

    “He has made it clear on several occasions that he won’t put up for the degenerate dialect of Mandarin the Taiwanese call 国语, and he has made it his personal mission to reform the speaking habits of the whole island.” I hope he’s kidding; if he’s not, that’s incredibly presumptuous of him. It’s like a Chinese guy who speaks imperfect English going to the South and telling the people there to use standard Midwestern American English!

  6. John:
    I don’t agree with your campaign. A dialect is a culture. This T-Shirt smacks of linguistic and culture chaunvanism. It like wearing a T-Shirt telling the Southerners to speak standard English.


  7. Wayne,

    I think the same guy (or site) had shirts that said “Lao wai lai le” on the front and “Lao wai zou le” on the back. I seem to remember seeing them online a year or two back.

  8. Um, the “Sinosplice” T-shirt on your products page looks like it says “Sinospliec”. Are you sure you haven’t taken a photo of a black-market ripoff of your own product?

  9. the new black Says: November 1, 2006 at 7:16 am

    Aaaaarghh… not a white shirt… how is that supposed to last in China? 🙂 Any plans for a darker China-friendly version?

  10. I’ll take Taiwanese accents over the freakin’ beijing “er” crap I constantly hear toted as “standard chinese”. Bullcrap, that’s pirate chinese, er matey. I think every student in beijing, harbin, and tianjin should be obligated to take a semester in Zhejiang or taiwan, where they speak chinese like normal people.

  11. @Dave: Just make a cafepress t-shirt with: 听懂了!

  12. Wayne said:

    The true enemy is 台灣國語, which is different from Taiwanese-accented Mandarin. Patterns like 有…過 like 你有去過台南?, which are directly translated from the Minnan. Or saying ‘jie’ instead of ‘jue,’ ‘cou’ instead of ‘cuo,’ or ‘dai’ instead of ‘tai.’

    You’ve gotta be kidding me! I’ve seen 有…過 patterns in my first grader’s textbooks (i.e. 我們警衛叔叔的辦公室.) Are you sure it’s not just not just standard Mandarin?

  13. Dave — my girlfriend made me a sweater that has one of those red armbands on the sleeve — the kind that usually say 巡警 or whatever. My armband just says ‘胳膊’.

  14. I think that if Lennett can make it out of here without sounding like a 台灣小姐 that will be victory enough. Speaking of which, Lenny, send me an email at your convenience.

    Mark, the 有 usage that Wayne is referring to, and which I’ve posted on myself, is indeed a feature of 台灣國語 and is not ‘standard’ Mandarin. It comes directly from the Minnan dialect.

  15. I don’t agree with your campaign. A dialect is a culture. This T-Shirt smacks of linguistic and culture chaunvanism. It like wearing a T-Shirt telling the Southerners to speak standard English.


    I am in agreement with Eric. I don’t think this “campaign” will ever be realized until concepts like “sense of humor” and “irony” are sweeped completely off the face of the earth.

  16. I always thought the 有过thing was just Taiwanese mandarin being influenced by the english past-perfect grammar. I had no idea it was Minnan! Very interesting.

  17. I wanna T-shirt that simply has your pic from above (next to the counter) on it. In bright orange. Yes please.

  18. Yes, and put the counter on it too! That way, collectors and enthusiasts will buy a new shirt ten times a year!

  19. davesgonechina,

    I’ll work on that. I have a few other ideas, but I wanted to start with something simple to try it out.

  20. Mark,

    Yeah, I think you’re right. His Mandarin is “doomed.”

  21. if we’re talking about John’s photo here, I’d have to insist on one from his Vanilla Ice phase. Long-time readers will know what I mean. He’s since taken it down.

  22. Wayne,

    You’re totally right that many features of the Taiwanese accent are just generally “Southern Chinese” features, but Taiwanese Mandarin is nevertheless quite distinctive.

  23. Andrew,

    Um, the “Sinosplice” T-shirt on your products page looks like it says “Sinospliec”. Are you sure you haven’t taken a photo of a black-market ripoff of your own product?

    Take a look at the larger size. It’s the exact same font that you see at the header of this page.

  24. I’d wear that shirt in HK, but they would drag me to an MTR station that isn’t yet retrofitted with the sliding glass barrier and throw me in front of the train. Or take me to 上海街 in 旺角 district and throw me to the triads.

    However, back in the States, I like to go around saying, “你的訪問不夠普通。請說普通一點。請說普通話。“ when someone speaks a non-mandarin dialect to me.

    or sometimes I say, “我不喜歡你的訪問。請說普通一點。請說普通話“

    or should I have written than 簡體字 because 全體字 is far too.. 太麻煩(繁)!

    I also try to speak Standard Chinese grammar in Cantonese dialect… to mock how silly it is to make everyone speak with putonghua grammar. but it’s not catching on. Ppl just look at you funny and don’t know how to respond or they try to correct you in colloquial Cantonese. Or they assume that this poor ABC doesn’t know the different between Mandarin and Cantonese.

  25. @Wayne: this is why it’s so difficult to figure out a good phrase. I don’t want something that’ll offend people like the Ten Commandments, I want something witty that will make those who truly gawk go “oh… I am gawking, aren’t I?” Perhaps no such thing exists, but some of these suggestions I like:

    @Tim P: doable, though too a-matter-of-fact.

    @Hannah: Funny, though not necessarily mind blowing.

    @The new black: I agree, darker colors.

    @Humanaught: hehhehheh

    @Brendan: BWAHAHAHA!

  26. I think it’s interesting that Lenny wants to reform the whole island of Taiwan’s Mandarin. I used to feel that way too about Taiwanese Mandarin until I thought of it in a different light: Can you imagine a Brit having the same ideal of going to America and reforming all of the US’ American English? It’s the same thing! Language always changes, and if the whole world can accept American English now as “standard”, who could really judge and say that Taiwan’s Mandarin is incorrect? Let’s face it, there is some spoken American English that is also grammatically incorrect (case in point: “real quick”, “real good”, arg my personal pet peeves!) But it’s just the natural evolution of language. Have you ever heard a Brit complaining that the standard word for the “garbage/trash” is actually “rubbish”? that “pants” are not pants, but “trousers”. No! Why would anyone really care…I really believe you’re only being influenced by Chinese politics (having had lived on both sides of the Taiwan Straight and hearing both sides of the story) when you say that this Mandarin is standard and the other’s isn’t. This is how language is, and what makes it interesting, I think.

  27. Have you ever heard a Brit complaining that the standard word for the “garbage/trash” is actually “rubbish”? that “pants” are not pants, but “trousers”. No!


  28. carl & ben: i’m in!! (but not bright orange…)

  29. OOH! carl, his head can have a word bubble coming out that says, “please speak mandarin”! it’s gold! and if everyone on the street read the comments here, it should totally say, “please speak standard mandarin.” yeah, i love it. 😉

  30. Can we have another version that says: “I don’t understand Chinglish”?

    Thank you.

  31. I’ve never understood people who take a particular ownership of the patricular brand of chinese they study and somehow feel obligated to promote it. Maybe it comes out of a sense that if you promote a particular local dialect, you must be more local somehow?

    To be honest, people arguing about taiwan guoyu, proper grammar, wearing mildly offensive t-shirts and what not just strikes me as the immature behaviour of china nerds. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a china nerd, but no need to be immature.

  32. Personally I prefer speaking Shanghai dialect with the people in my neighbourhood. They are much more at ease in expressing themselves in the language they always think in, especially the older people. If I was Shanghainese I’d find it offensive to see a nagouning dictating to me which language I should speak. And in business Shanghainese takes you the extra mile and gives tremendous face to the local businessman who is tired of being dominated by his Taiwanese colleagues.

  33. You guys, the sentence 请讲普通话 is taken verbatim off of signs put up by the Chinese government that are all around Shanghai.

    As I wrote in the original post, I see wearing this shirt as a way to “subtly poke fun of the PRC’s language policies,” and not to promote the PRC’s language agenda. Wearing this shirt is not going to make a difference either way in that respect, but it may actually result in more Chinese people talking to you in Chinese.

  34. OK, I just hope you don’t encounter a grumpy policeman or self-important Audi driver while you’re wearing that t-shirt. 😛

    I saw a tshirt in Japanese that had a much better effect in getting people to talk to you and not offending them because it involved humour. It said something like “I have no idea this tshirt says I am stupid American!’. A friend of min living in Tokyo struck up a lot of conversation with it!

  35. @ amber: What makes you think the whole world regards American English as standard? I am English, and I certainly don’t.

    As for “languages always evolve, and so there is no point in having a standard grammar etc”, this is potentially dumbing down. Languages do evolve, but the standard evolves more slowly as the educated class assimilates changes. Many people in the UK say “could of” instead of “could have”, and indeed write that way! But to write down “could of” is still seen by the educated minority as a horrible corruption. When the educated classes are no longer concerned about defending this pass, then such corruptions will become the standard.

  36. For Taiwanese gawkers, you could have a shirt with 看啥小 on it, but you’d be running the risk of being beaten up by laughing gangsters.

  37. Hi DJW,

    I understand what you mean, and agree. Actually, on the point of American English being thought of as “standard”, I guess I’m more just referring to what my experience living and teaching in Asia has taught me, which is that a lot of people who are learning English prefer to learn American English, and view it as standard.

    Personally, I agree with you, I think British English is much nicer! (oh no will all the Americans be mad now?) Better grammar and use of vocabulary than most American English (and sounds nicer too!). Believe me, I often wish I had a nice British accent!! Although, being Canadian, I can comfort myself with the fact that I spell the British way, haha.

    This being said, though, back to the Mandarin issue: I think that just as it’s impossible to change an entire nation’s way of speaking English, right or wrong, I have now just accepted that with Mandarin, sometimes there are just two ways to say the same thing. You might not like it but you have to live with it, and just try to learn as well as you can.

  38. Da Xiangchang Says: November 9, 2006 at 7:07 am

    Well, American English is standard for the simple reason that American pop culture dominates the world. No matter where you go in the world, you cannot escape American movies, songs, food, etc.

    Personally, I find British English needlessly complicated (and therefore am more partial to Mainland Chinese than that traditional crap on that little island). I mean, if I can use “plow,” why the hell should I spell it “plough”–it’s just adding two letters for no reason. Or colour, honour, and all those other -our words. And foreigners who want to learn Brit English have a hopelessly out-of-date view of the world–i.e., if you speak Brit, you’re somehow noble or something. Just check out the GDP per capita rates of the two countries, and you’ll how see how silly this idea is. It truly annoys me when foreigners affect Brit accents.

  39. “It truly annoys me when foreigners affect Brit accents.”

    Well, sometimes it can’t be helped, say for non-native speakers of English who learn British pronunciation.

    What has always bugged the crap out of me are native speakers of English, not from the UK, who affect the accent. These are almost always Americans. Madonna was doing this for the longest time. And university kids who go over there to study for a semester or something.

    As far as the spelling goes, guilty as charged. I studied a year in teh UK and so I now regularly confuse the two systems. Leave it to Bill Gates’ Microsoft Word grammar/spell check to bash me back in line.

  40. DXC, you seem confused. First you start by saying that American English is standard because of the dominance of trash culture emanating from that place and economic grow rates. It would make more sense to just say that most people learning English are not learning it to experience high culture, but for economic reasons. Either way, Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen, Bronte, Hardy, Blake, Milton were English. At some point, if you want, not just to watch MTV or the trade in widgets, but to read English literature, then you have to recognise the central role of England in the English-speaking world’s cultural heritage. Now, trying to think of non-English contributions to English literature, I can think of Scots poems by Robbie Burns, various Hiberno-English novels and poems, and then the trail goes dead. Huckleberry Finn from the US? Anne of Green Gables from Canada? Nothing from Australia, nothing from New Zealand, nothing from South Africa, nothing from Rhodesia, nothing from the West Indies….

    Eniway, if yoo wontid to reform Inglish speling,yoo cood cum up with a much beter solushan than Websterz ocasianal jab at a mispelt werd. Thare iz sumthing veri harf arst about just chainjing a fyoo werdz here an there. It wood snap the link with historikal formz ov Inglish, but that probably wood not bee a problem for the MTV jenerashan.

  41. Da Xiangchang Says: November 12, 2006 at 8:10 am

    Everytime a European–or wannabe European–talks about Europe being more cultured than America, I suddenly think of Al Bundy from “Married with Children.” That even though he’s just a lowly shoe salesman now, he was a football star back in high school. That’s how modern-day Europe is: a wasteland whose modern culture (from the 20th-century onwards) is either American culture or knockoffs OF American culture (French action movies, German rap, etc.). Now, I ain’t knocking Europe’s glorious past–which is indeed glorious–but a lot of people there are living in the past and unwilling to see that culture doesn’t only mean something with a pillar or written with a bird feather. Tell you the truth, the most impressive thing I saw in Paris was EuroDisney. And come on, outside of Cubism, name me a single significant cultural invention to come out of Europe in the last 106 years? And with its crappy economies and aging shrinking populations, Europe will become even weaker in the future–and more resentful of Americans and their vitality and their “trash.” Al Bundy indeed.

    Oh, here’s an unbiased list of non-English contributors to English: Melville, Twain, Joyce, Yeats, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck. I could go on but you get the idea.

  42. DXC: I will overlook the fact that you included two Irishmen in your list of American writers. I just want to answer your question about cultural inventions in the last 106 years. Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, George Orwell, C S Lewis….er…. do Lenin and Trotsky count….they certainly changed the world…

    no one is denying that post-WWI high-cultural production has been a little on the low side, not just in Europe, but the US and elsewhere.

  43. Post-WWI high-cultural production is on the low side because people watch too much TV!

  44. Da Xiangchang Says: November 15, 2006 at 11:33 pm

    “High-cultural production”? “High”?! When is a cultural production “high” and when it is “low”? I mean, give me 3 benchmarks. Personally, I think people use the word “high” to describe their culture cuz they’re incapable of making the “low” culture that dominates the world so they become snooty and dismissive. Here’s list of 20th-century American cultural inventions: jazz, rap, rock, cartoons, blockbuster movies, talk shows, sitcoms, theme parks. I could go on. Of course, some would go, “Oh, that’s trash!” even though the world is watching this “trash” and not the “high” culture, whatever that means. I mean, I’ve been on 5 continents and dozens of countries, and the most impressive big-scale human feat I’ve ever seen is Disneyland. You have this entirely underground mechanical world–robots and rides that go on for like 16+ hours a day. You go to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride or the Haunted Mansion, and it just amazes me how the illusion of a great space is created even though you’re in this tiny space and with simulated ghosts, dancing pirates, cannonfire, etc. It’s mind-bogglingly This trumps Versailles, Westminster Abbey, the Great Wall, everything. And if this is low culture, then there is NO high culture.


    “I will overlook the fact that you included two Irishmen in your list of American writers.” WTF? You wrote and dismissed “non-English contributions to English literature,” and I countered with a “list of non-English contributors to English.” And Irishmen, last time I checked, are from the “non-English” world.

  45. DXC, this conversation is non-productive. Can I just say that there is a difference between high culture and low culture? See Professor Harold Bloom’s book on the Western Canon, where he explains why Great Books are great. The dumbing down is extraordinary in the West; there is even a English lit course in England studying the language of bus tickets, because this is “accessible” and “inclusive” !! China, on the other hand – admittedly there are no new Hong Lou Meng’s just been written, but at least there is Lang Tu Teng, which might qualify as a great book, and they do value their literature. If some DXC in China said “why are we studying Hong Lou Meng, written by some dead person, when we could be studying the language of train tickets instead?”, no one in China would take that seriously! Yes, Chinese people do like pop culture, eg Disneyland and pop music, but they respect their high-cultural traditions too. Maybe we should learn from them.

  46. A long time ago, DJW mentioned the fact that I should read some Harold Bloom too, and I did so.

    DJW, even though I found you a little annoyingly persistent (I am probably the same way, mind you), I want to thank you for throwing that suggestion out there. He’s got some very important things to say about modern American academia and modern American culture. Thanks, man!

    Have you ever read any Terry Eagleton? You might find it too basic, but I really liked his introductory booked called “Literary Theory”. Though he’s basically the polar opposite of Bloom in terms of ideology, in the end he comes up with some very old-fashioned, “conservative” solutions about how to approach the very concept of literature itself, which seems relevant to the distinctions you are making above.

  47. Matt, no, I won’t waste my time reading stuff by cultural Marxists. Thanks for the “suggestion”. I am a bit persistent: that’s because I despise retardism and like to combat it wherever I find it.

  48. That’s a shame! Keep on digging those trenches!

  49. For the record: 1) I don’t recall ever saying what John says I said, and if I did then it was in a moment of levity and not ment to be taken seriously and expounded upon in a blog post. Dummyhead. 2) I would like to retain a relatively standard – i.e. CCTV news standard, not Beijing standard – pronunciation. But it is not my “personal mission to reform the speaking habits of the whole island”; only to talk sh*t about the speaking habits of the whole island. 3) I do find heavy Taiwanese accents grating, but only slightly more so than heavy Beijing accents. 4) Accents in and around Shanghai can be far from standard, and are often no better than those that charm the ear in Taiwan. 5) My Chinese pronunciation isn’t all that great anyhow, nowhere near as precise as Mr. Pasden’s. In particular I tend to play fast and loose with tones. 6) I am looking forward to only using traditional characters, and to learning Taiwanese slang, which seems richer than what you get in the mainland.

  50. Today’s high culture was yesterday’s low culture (and you can guess what tomorrow’s high culture will be), so DJW, when you say that there is a difference between “low culture” and “high culture”, you’re really just showing yourself to be a perspectiveless snob. I love Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton, but ragtime and jazz use to be the music played in whorehouses and certainly wasn’t considered high-class fare. Peking opera originated as stories sung by illiterate, itinerant street performers living hand-to-mouth. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales was considered a collection of vulgar stories written in a vulgar tongue. You get my drift, hopefully.

  51. as for T shirts to get under people’s skin, not that I would want to, but how about: “这是我的国家.你才是老外.”

  52. 6) I am looking forward to only using traditional characters, and to learning Taiwanese slang, which seems richer than what you get in the mainland.

    Unless you’re talking specifically about slang in Taiwanese dialect, then you are the first person in the history of the world to ever make the argument that slang here is richer than on the Mainland. In fact, part of the problem with Mandarin here is that is lacks almost any inherent color or interesting linguistic versatilityunless you consider 超 to be the ultimate in hep. I think the reason is that for over 70% of the population, it was an imposed language.

    For those of us who learned Mandarin here, I think we’re always a little awestruck and intimidated by how much richer the language seems over there. Even in froofy Shanghai.

    note: the preceding absolutely does not apply to Taiwanese, which rocks, and can hold its own with any Mainland dialect in the slang department, off-color or otherwise.

  53. The prince is right, 台語 slang rocks. The best is when you watch WWF broadcasts here. Each wrestler will get into the ring, chest-thump, brag a bit and then degenerate into “I’m gonna beat you the shit out of you so badly that you can’t even blah blah blah” stuff. Every time, the announcer starts talking in Mandarin and then switches to Taiwanese in order to sound more “hardcore” for the insults part. The Taiwanese dude doing the announcing even wears shades and a bandanna.

    Like Buddhist televangelists, Taiyu-cussing WWF stars are just one of those things you have to see before you leave this place.

  54. Maybe I haven’t been paying enough attention, but so far I’ve been completely underwhelmed by the depth and ingenuity of the slang I’ve heard here in the mainland (Hangzhou and Shanghai). First off young people here hardly ever cuss, EVER, which disappoints me a great deal. And even non vulgar slang is thin on the ground. My impression of Taiwan slang is that at the very least it includes not only the best of mainland and HK slang but also Japanese and Western as well. Maybe I’m wrong. Still, it can’t be much worse than here in the PRC.

  55. That’s because you don’t understand the local language in Shanghai. You’re like an English-speaker in the Netherlands who remarks that the Dutch have an underdeveloped slang vocabulary (in English). Learn Shanghainese, and you’ll discovered a truely rich argot (though I don’t know if the younger generation cusses in wu2yu3, my father’s generation sure as hell did).

  56. Richard makes a valid point, the same one Mark and I are making. In places where people speak a different dialect than Mandarin or one of its close relatives, the local lingo is naturally more colorful and vibrant.

    If you really want to get a handle on Mandarin slang in all its glory, anywhere south of the Yangtze (or across the straits from it), is probably not where you want to be.

    But to be honest, I always found the idea of non-native speakers using too much slang to be kind of strange. Especially once past the age of 30. ‘Never trust anyone over 30’, especially if they talk in slang. So maybe you have a few years yet.

  57. I am over 30 and I don’t trust myself, so no problems there ; )

    I’m interested in slang not so much because I want to use it – old people trying to be cool by talking like kids is no less ridiculous than old people trying to be cool by dresing like kids – but because it’s a kind of short cut into the culture, contemporary culture, pop culture, ‘daily life’ culture. I know that slang in the south is concentrated in the dialects, but that also means its trapped in the dialects, which doesn’t do me or anyone who doesn’t speak the dialect any good.

  58. @ Richard: a debate over the merits of dumbing down if off-topic here. But just because some people think jazz is high culture doesn’t make it so; may I direct you towards Beethoven and Schubert for your cultural education? Canterbury Tales: these are ribald in part, but greatly influenced Shakespeare who borrowed his iambic pentameter therefrom. Harold Bloom explained in his book the Western Canon how many later works referred back to Chaucer and and are inferior to Chaucer’s works. You seem to think Beavis and Butthead would become great culture as long as people in an even more dumbed down world thought it was….

  59. I like classical music as well (Beethoven more than Schubert; Rachmaninoff way more than Mahler; Telemann more than Handel) , but if what determines an artform to be high culture is whether it influences other high culture artforms going forward, then jazz is definitely “high culture”, as classical composers have borrowed ideas from it liberally.

    Also, “Beavis & Butthead” isn’t crap because it’s a TV cartoon show, but because it’s crap. “The Simpsons” have better plot development, wittier humor, and more originality than the plays of your beloved Shakespeare, for instance (who was a wizard with the English language but a rip-off artist and hack when it came to actually presenting a coherent story).

    Stop listening to the wheezings of an old dead man and learn to think and judge art for yourself.

  60. […] When John recently designed a “please speak Chinese” T-shirt, I was immediately tempted to buy one. I always love it when locals talk to me in Chinese, instead of trying to use English first. 请讲普通话。 […]

  61. […] When John recently designed a “please speak Chinese” T-shirt, I was immediately tempted to buy one. I always love it when locals talk to me in Chinese, instead of trying to use English first. 请讲普通话。 […]

  62. @Richard: I’ll try to keep this short as I know JP doesn’t like off-topic debates. You felt the need to “name-drop” 6 classical composers, so I must have touched a raw nerve. No, being referenced in later high culture is not in itself proof of high cultural status. Bolero is based on a folk song, or so I understand. But whether you think this or that piece of cultural production belongs in the category of high culture or not, your comments on Beavis and Butthead do admit that there is such a category. No two persons who agree on the need to uphold standards in the cultural field will agree on everything, and this accords with the principle that says “de gustibus non est disputandum”. The Simpsons may be witty, but that doesn’t make it high culture. Truly classic works tend to pass the test of time. Watch the Simpsons in 20 years’ time and tell me then whether you still think it is high culture. But the worst thing in your post is the final sentence: “Stop listening to the wheezings of an old dead man and learn to think and judge art for yourself.” This implies that each individual is ultimately his own judge of culture, and that the opinions of the least educated are just as valid as those of the most educated. Put that way, there is no reason why Beavis and Butthead should not be considered great culture, as all standards would have been jettisoned. I was talking to a Chinese friend the other day, who said how in the GaoZhong many classic works of Chinese literature are studied, eg Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Dream of Red Mansions, Lu Xun etc, whereas I said that the British government in its “national curriculum” for schools had reduced to a minimum the time spent studying great books in British schools. You can now pass your school exams in English literature without having read a syllable of Shakespeare. This is “inclusive” and “accessible” and a few other buzz words. The reason of course is that China has moved on from its Cultural Revolution, while the West is still in the throes of its one.

  63. You know what’s ironic? The Romance of the Three Kingdoms and the Dream of the Red Mansions were considered by the literati of their day to be the same status as where folks like you would put today’s trashy romance novels. You also misunderstand me: I think that there is a difference between quality and trash (and they exist in all media), but the distinction between “high culture” and “low culture” (also laws of manners) was created by those with an interest in maintaining a class-based society, not those who have good taste. Back in the European Dark Ages (and in to the Middle Ages), when the distinction between a noble and a serf was that a noble could wear fine clothing and command bodies of troops to kill and plunder while a serf couldn’t. Everybody had the same (by our standards, uncouth) manners and everybody enjoyed the same (by your standards, low-brow) culture. It is only when a middle class started to exist and non-nobles could look like nobles and even form forces to threaten the power of nobles that stuff like manners and “high culture” came in to being. That’s why I feel that you should learn to think, instead of apeing the fashions of others. Finally, I also feel that you should work on your logical deduction skills: I fail to see how you infer from me urging you to think for yourself the conclusion that I thought “the opinions of the least educated are just as valid as those of the most educated”. You should think, instead, that I would judge the opinions who can think for themselves and defend their opinion on a piece of art/literature/culture cogently to be superior to those who can not and have to fall back on the judgement of others.

  64. Jeanne Wang Says: January 6, 2007 at 11:20 am

    Re:Lenny – Why would Taiwanese want to speak mandarin like a mainlander? When I hear a mainland accent in Taiwan I would think that person could be an ‘illegal’. There was a time when Taiwanese would report illegal mainlanders to the authorities and maybe they still do. My mandarin teacher said learn the mandarin for the area you will use it in. Personally, I can’t stand the sound of mainland mandarin…it’s high pitched and sounds like they are swallowing their tongues.

  65. I speak mandarin, but I’ve been told my mandarin sounds “textbook” or “proper” with none of the “er” sounds that wave in and out of the local’s speech. Basically I speak the clearest version of Mandarin. And I still find Beijing dialect and taiwanese dialect strange and just plain whiny. I don’t care about distinction in government on this issue, they just sound like that too me. However, I hate the pseudo english they use in taiwanese. And I hate “la”. Like Baibai La! Argh, travesty on the Chinese language(Yes. Taiwanese people still speak chinese under all the regional changes).

  66. After my 2nd visit to Shanghai, my ex-roommate and I were discussing strategies for shooing away the pesky vendors from Nanjing Road. We’d started with polite “不要,谢谢” which transformed into “不要” and led to experiments with various dirty looks, explaining that we already have watches or DVDs, or seeing how far vendors would walk with you by just making small talk. We’d been studying Mandarin in our off-time away from our English-based business classes in Tianjin and we worked out how to offer our own watches for sale which led to some amusing bargaining.

    Later, while recollected our experience, I started a joke about making a shirt that would say in Chinese:


    On a subsequent trip that I couldn’t join, he found some promotion where workers were making customized t-shirts. He convinced them to skip the required advertising copy and actually make the shirt we’d been joking about. It’s strictly a shirt for Nanjing Road and, as I understand it, it made many vendors break out in laughter in the middle of their sales pitches. Sometimes a vendor would make his pitch without noticing, until my friend would smile brightly and point to his shirt causing a moment of surprise followed by big smiles and approving laughter.

  67. […] liked the idea of designing t-shirts. Last year I did a tiny experiment in the form of a “Please speak Mandarin” t-shirt. I wanted to know if anyone would buy a t-shirt I put up. I figured if anyone went […]

  68. […] PHOTO: This t-shirt is brought to you via Sinosplice and it reads: “请讲普通话” whi… […]

  69. Yikes! I was just about to order one until I saw the hefty $5 S&H charge.

    Where does this item ship from?

  70. The idea of this shirt is quite funny. Although, wearing this kind of shirt in Taiwan would be similar to someone from England wearing a shirt in New York city that read, “Speak the Queen’s English”.

  71. wearing this kind of t-shirt in south taiwan is closer than ” I support China, F…. Taiwanese”. Some people here still remember Chinese invader from KMT punishing the kids for speaking their own language (hoklo) or japanese (national language before KMT). It means that in some places you’d better wear a t-shirt saying “kick my ass” directly.

    And remember, Taiwan is not China (ask Lee teng hui)
    Besides there are 15 ethnics groups speaking another native language in Taiwan, Chinese is a lingua Franca. 80 percent of taiwanese speak hoklo as a native language.

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