Best Standard Chinese speakers not from Beijing: report

Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/27 19:53:40

Photo: CFP

Photo: CFP

Getting ready to learn Chinese in China?  Well, here's an interesting fact you might want to hear - according to a report from the People's Daily the best speakers of Putonghua (Standard Chinese) in China are not actually Beijingers but residents in the small county of Luanping in Chengde, Hebei Province.

Located in the northeast of Hebei appropriately 165 kilometers away from Beijing, Luanping county, with an estimated population of 315,000 residents, has the honor of being the hometown of Putonghua. 

According to the People's Daily report, early in the 1950s prior to the establishment of a national standard, two linguists from the Chinese central government were sent to Luanping to conduct field research among the villagers. One of the interviewees, Bai Fengran, a 14-year-old student at the time, now 77, was introduced to the Beijing experts by his teacher. They asked him to read aloud a newspaper article and then another two articles from a Chinese book.  Listening carefully, the two researchers were amazed and surprised by the young man's perfect pronunciation. This young man and many other interviewee they met caused Luanping to stand out.

Recordings were collected and brought to Beijing by the linguists, which in turn led to the county being chosen as one of the example sites for pronunciation when it came to establishing and promoting a national standard language to other parts of China where local dialects were the daily spoken language.

This movement was very important, since at the time there was still no uniform standard spoken language in China, which made it difficult for people from different parts of the country to understand each other. For instance, dialects such as Cantonese or the Southern Fujian dialect are unintelligible to people who only speak Beijing dialects.

Through decades of persistent effort and promotion, Putonghua has become the lingua franca which can be understood by the majority of the population. Dialects still do exist and in some provinces continue to be the main daily spoken languages, but most people can understand or speak Putonghua as well.

So why is Luanping considered as speaking the most standard form of Putonghua instead of Beijing?

This mainly comes down to historical reasons.

Wang Guoping, a historian and vice chairman of the Luanping County Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, explained to the People's Daily that in the beginning of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the Yongle Emperor, in order to protect the empire's northern border from the military threat of Mongolia, ordered all of the residents and armies in that threatened area to relocate to the inner side of the Great Wall. Luanping was part of that abandoned zone.

This policy continued for more than 200 years, during which almost all the previous dialects from the Luanping area disappeared. At the beginning of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), however, people began moving back to the region. Most of those migrants were nobles, imperial ministers and their families, who spoke the official language of the period that later formed the foundation of today's Luanping Putonghua.

For Chinese culture and language lovers, be they foreign or Chinese, most imagine Beijing is the ideal place to study and learn Putonghua, but actually many international students in Beijing end up picking up the local Beijing accent, which actually has certain very local elements which are not seen in Putonghua, such as a heavy use of the -er suffix and the omission of certain syllables when speaking.

So, if you want to experience the most standard pronunciation of Putonghua in China, you may want to consider taking a trip to Luanping.
Newspaper headline: Loud & clear


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