Not “MOTHER TONGUE”: Cantonese is Hong Kong’s Official Language

Not “MOTHER TONGUE”: Cantonese is Hong Kong’s Official Language

In the post-1997 Hong Kong, “mother tongue” is a political issue designed to control and brainwash Hong Kongers. This issue was brought about by former Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa in his policy of using Chinese as the medium of instruction in schools in Hong Kong (the so-called “Mother Tongue Education Policy”). When would you ever need to declare what your mother tongue is? When you are in a foreign place. For instance, if you are emigrating to France, the immigration official would customarily ask you what your mother tongue is. This is because you, as an immigrant, are considered a foreigner in France. Would a French official ever ask someone who appears to be a French national what his/her mother tongue is? Of course not, as people native to the country would feel offended by such a question.

The concept of “mother tongue” detaches you from your homeland and your native country. It is a concept that puts Hong Kongers and new immigrants to Hong Kong on an equal footing. Since you are no different from a new immigrant in your homeland, sooner or later the government will say to you, “Well since you know how to speak Mandarin, but the newcomers do not speak Cantonese, you should start speaking Mandarin from now on.” When the government gets you running around in circles and declaring your “mother tongue” as Cantonese, you have fallen into their traps and gotten into trouble. You have turned yourself into a stranger in your homeland. When you act like a sheep and start talking about your “mother tongue” like everyone else, Hong Kong will soon become foreign and unrecognizable.

So you think that the communist party is stupid? They’re not. The upper echelon in the Hong Kong communist regime consists of a bunch of specialists who are good at playing the evil game of manipulating herd mentality and reconstructing language, something that the good-for-nothing communists are exceptionally good at. For example, in Cantonese we say “zou2 san4” (Jyutping pronunciation) or “zou2 on1” (Jyutping pronunciation) in Classical Chinese when we say “good morning”. Yet these government officials in their 50s or 60s, all born and bred in Hong Kong, would deliberately use the northern Chinese vernacular and say “zao shang hao” (Mandarin pronunciation) instead.

Let me reiterate: Cantonese is Hong Kong’s official language. Cantonese has been the lingua franca (in addition to English) of Hong Kong for over a century. It is an immutable fact that is not up for debate, unless you are stupid. The Hong Kong Education Department has employed Mainland Chinese academics to deny the fact that the Cantonese language is Hong Kongers’ “mother tongue”, relegating it to a mere dialect. This begs the question: what is “mother tongue”?

Let me tell you something: the concept of “mother tongue” is dangerous. It originates from the European concept of “native” or “vernacular language”. If we borrow from the concept of “mother tongue education” and define Cantonese as a mere “mother tongue” of Hong Kongers, all would be lost. When Tung Chee Hwa first promoted “mother tongue education” after 1997, everyone assumed that what he meant was “Cantonese as the medium of instruction”. It turns out that Mandarin Chinese (or Potonghua) as the medium of instruction is what they have in mind. This lays the foundation for turning the next generation of Hong Kongers – all the young children being educated in schools that use Mandarin as the medium of instruction – into endorsing Mandarin as their “mother tongue”. It is therefore evident that the concept of “mother tongue” exists only to confuse Hong Kong people.

The Cantonese language is not just the vernacular for the majority of people in Hong Kong today, it is also the official language of southern China. Cantonese is the southern legacy of the Classical Sino-Language once spoken throughout central China. It is the lingua franca used in the southern parts of the Sino-civilisation. It has preserved the precious elements of Old Chinese (principally the official language of the Sui and Tang dynasties) such as its phonology, tone, vocabulary and syntax. It has inherited the languages and cultures of the ancient Sino-civilisation as well as of the Bai-Yue and other Yue nations of the south.

If we must resort to the concept of “mother tongue”, it implies that Hong Kong should be employing a composite language policy, by including Mandarin Chinese as one of the languages of instruction in schools.

Many advocates for the Hong Kong localist movement – especially those in the Hong Kong independence faction – do not understand my academic judgement. They labelled “Hong Kongese” (the vulgarised native vernacular of Hong Kong) as the mother tongue of Hong Kongers, without realising that they have fallen into the communists’ trap hook, line and sinker. This is because when one day the proportion of Mainland Chinese immigrants in the population reaches 30 to 40%, Cantonese as the native vernacular of Hong Kong will lose its standing. To add fuel to fire, the student council of a Hong Kong university chose to use the vulgarised, colloquial form of Cantonese rather than the formal literary Chinese in their official emails. This gives Mainland Chinese students more reasons to see Hong Kong as a place of vulgarity, making them even more arrogant when speaking their Putonghua/Mandarin.

Cantonese is Hong Kong’s official language and the Chinese lingua franca for Hong Kongers in official settings. It doesn’t matter whether Cantonese is your “mother tongue”. What matter is: it is Hong Kong’s official language. Clear enough?

Hong Kongers had been lucky that the British colonialists back in the day adopted the use of Classical Chinese. During the Qing Dynasty, Britain sent its colonial officials to Canton to learn the language and study the classic books under the instruction of court historians and academics. They also studied in local schools to learn how to converse in Cantonese in a refined and sophisticated manner. Afterwards, these colonial officials designated Cantonese as the Chinese lingua franca for Hong Kong. They then further refined and purified Cantonese, promoting Cantonese as the formal language used for radio broadcast and education. If back in the days the British colonial government chose to resort to the idea of “mother tongue” and native vernacular instead, they probably would have chosen crude vernaculars such as Waitou, Hakka, Teochew, Hokkien and Tanka as Hong Kong’s lingua franca rather the refined and standardised Cantonese at the time. Just take a look at radio stations in Guangzhou for comparison – since they do not use the classical, refined form of Cantonese that Hong Kongers use, their Cantonese often comes across as coarse and crude, allowing Northern Chinese to look down on Cantonese people. We see the same thing in Malaysia, where they use the crude vernacular forms of Cantonese and Hakka language in their radio broadcast.

I myself am of Hakka descent, but I am still good at using proper Cantonese and continue to promote the refined and standardised form of Cantonese, because Cantonese is a classical language. If we resort to the subjective concept of “mother tongue” to define language use, I should have rejected Cantonese given my own heritage. The Hokkien language spoken by people in Taiwan is also a legacy of Old Chinese, but the Taiwanese localist movement has gone off in the wrong direction and ended up promoting the crude vernacular form of Hokkien rather than its classical form.

And one more thing: despite the fact that there is a multitude of languages in the Guangdong and Guangxi regions, Cantonese manages to stand the test of time and emerges as the lingua franca in these regions. This is a result of the consensus and the choice of the local people, rather than the result of government promotion or suppression. There runs some deep and special reasons why the local people of these two regions would recognize Cantonese as their lingua franca, and continue to do so for such a long time.

(Editor’s Note: This article has been published in the 58th printed edition of Passion Times. Please support us by subscribing to our printed newspaper here: