In May, Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor dismissed a controversy over the use of Mandarin in public schools and whether Cantonese should be considered the city’s mother tongue as a “nonissue,” telling legislators her administration had no plan to change its policy on the language of public instruction.
The issues arose after a task force was set up last year to review elementary and high school curricula. “[The task force] has not yet formed any views, and people are already worried, doubtful, or even saying that there are influences from the ‘north,’” Lam said, referring to Beijing.
The controversy started after the online publication of an article by a former official of the central government’s State Language Commission stating that the city’s official language should be one commonly used by the Han people, which was Mandarin, instead of its “mother dialect,” Cantonese.
Hong Kong’s secretary for education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung also denied any plans to begin teaching the Chinese-language curriculum in Mandarin. “In fact, our primary education is mostly done in Cantonese… So you can see clearly the government’s stance on educational language,” he said.
Chao Zongqi, a linguist on a committee advising China’s State Language Commission, said the city should not be forced to teach in Mandarin instead of Cantonese. “Over the past two decades, since Hong Kong was returned to China, people there have different opinions, including those advocating independence, so the situation is really complicated and schools will not be forced [to teach in Mandarin],” Chao told the South China Morning Post.
More than 88% of Hongkongers aged between six and 65 identify Cantonese as their native language, according to official statistics from 2016.