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Thursday, March 14, 2019 - 19:30

China’s search for a common language: Issues of teaching Chinese in the 21st century

David Moser

Embassy of Romania
Dong Er Jie Ritan Lu Chaoyang District

罗马尼亚大使馆 东二街 日坛路 朝阳区


Throughout the world, hundreds of millions of people, Chinese and foreign, are learning a version of Chinese called Putonghua. Yet few are aware that the Chinese they’re learning is not the naturally existing “language of the Chinese people” – for there never was such a thing – but is an artificially constructed hybrid form, a linguistic patchwork of compromises based upon thorny linguistic, historical and political factors. Since the turn of the twentieth century a host of linguists and political leaders, from the radical intellectuals of the May Fourth Movement, to leaders such as Chiang Kai-Shek and Mao Zedong, all fought linguistic wars to establish a national language for a linguistically fractured China. In the process, many radical proposals were made, such as abolishing the Chinese language itself and replacing it with Esperanto, or eradicating the Chinese characters in favour of an alphabetic script. This talk traces the story of China’s language unification project, the current language policy in China, and the pedagogical issues of teaching Chinese language and script in the 21st era of cyberspace and the internet.


David Moser has been based in Beijing for 25 years and is Associate Dean of the Yenching Academy at Peking University. He holds a Master’s and Ph.D. in Chinese studies from the University of Michigan, with a major in Chinese Linguistics and Philosophy. He appears often on BBC radio as a commentator on Business Matters, and is a regular China analyst on Al Jazeera television. He also contributes in Chinese and English on Chinese news shows such as CCTV Dialogue and World Insight.

Moser is author of the book A Billion Voices: China's Search for a Common Language, and is a co-host of the Sinica Podcast, an influential China current affairs podcast.


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