Saturday, 22 December 2012

Guangdong - The Santa of Shantou

It's that time of the year again when Santa is getting ready for his epic annual journey, delivering toys around the world and I'm sure that his elves are very busy cataloguing, packing and piling gifts onto, what has to be, the biggest sledge in the world! 

Christmas in the 1970's

The expectations that kids have around Christmas time seem to have increased since I was a child in the late 70's and early 80's.  Actually, my generation was already spoiled.  Whilst we listened to our parents tell stories about stockings filled with sweets and the excitement of getting an orange on Christmas day, we would have been very disappointed if we didn't at least get a bike, not to mention the latest action figures, board games and the annuals of our favourite comic books, Beano for boys and Bunty for girls. 

I'm sure many of today's generation would equally be disappointed by board games or annuals, it's all about Xboxes and Kids' tablets! 

Made in the North Pole?

Despite being made in the North Pole, many of the toys delivered by Santa on Christmas Day have stickers saying Made in China.  I was four-years old when Deng Xiaoping undertook his economic reforms, which were to thrust China into the spotlight of globalisation.  Many of those 'Made in China' stickers were applied by Santa's lesser-known 'little helpers' in Guangdong's Special Economic Zones, Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Shantou. 

The Global Toy Market

Toys in the £1 shop by kkalyan
Despite Health and Safety controversies, like the one in 2007, China still dominates the world toy market, with many major brand-names having outsourced production to places like Guangdong.  The Global revenue for toy sales in 2011 was $83 billion dollars, with more than a quarter of toy sales in the North American market, including the US.  An estimated 88% of toys sold in the US were made in China.  Toy imports to Europe show similar statistics, with 86.2% of non-EU-made toys coming from China. 

It's a massive industry, employing more than 645,000 people in China - it's estimated that more than 70% of the world's toys are made in China.  Within China, Guangdong dominates the toy industry, producing 73.9% of the Made in China toys. 

A carnival of consumerism

Far from its humble religious origins (or some might say, pagan - see my earlier blog post), Christmas has escalated into a large scale consumerist carnival, which makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable. It seems especially extravagant in these (as we are constantly being reminded) 'difficult economic times'.  It's also pretty bizarre, when you sit down and think about the fact that this nominally Communist nation has fed the consumerist/capitalist shopping sprees of recent years.  Whilst toys are incredibly important for a child's development, I can't help wondering when they became so expensive!

So which toys do Chinese children play with?

Santa feeding monkeys in Xi'an by vivido
I was curious to find out about the toys that Chinese children play with and, surprise surprise, Xboxes, video games and tablets feature just as highly on a Chinese child's' 'Santa list', as they do anywhere else in the world.  Interestingly, as a result of China's economic reforms and large-scale industrialisation, provinces like Guangdong have developed a middle class which is becoming a consumer of toys, as well as the manufacturer. 

Whilst various factors (the economic crisis, aging populations) have seen the demand for toys drop recently, in traditional markets like the US and Europe, domestic demand for toys in China has been increasingly annually by about 13%.  Astute toy manufacturers and (ahem!) Santa Claus himself will have noticed that, whilst there are more children in the world than ever before, the market for toys is ever-so-slightly shifting from the traditional US and European markets, to the growing markets of countries like Russia, China and India. 

So, as you're opening your gifts on Christmas morning, spare a thought for all of Santi's helpers, in the North Pole of course, but also in Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Shantou!

Image credits:

The image of the soft toys was taken by flickr member kkalyan. a.k.a. Kalyan Kanuri, who is an engineer from Bangalore in India.  You can see more of kkalyan's images on his photostream.  

The photo of a girl in a Santa costume feeding monkeys was taken in Xi'an Qinling national park, by flickr member vivido, who is a web editor from Dublin in Ireland.  You can see more of vivido's images on her photostream

Thanks to kkalyan and vivido for sharing these images with us using the Creative Commons License. 

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Guangdong - Neih sīkm̀hsīk góng gwóngdùngwá a?

Like most people, I commonly use the word Chinese when I'm talking about the language that people speak in China.  Of course, the reality is that there isn't one single language called Chinese, but rather a collection of dialects and topolects that, collectively, make up the Chinese 'family' of languages.  I'm sure that the distinction between a dialect and a language, is every bit as controversial and as equally dependent on the political situation, in China, as it is anywhere in the world.  I like the word topolect, as it suggests something more than a mere dialect.

Pǔtōnghuà and the rest

There's no disputing that Mandarin rules the roost in China - with more than 840 million speakers, Mandarin is, by far, the biggest Chinese topolect.  Its is also politically important, as it is the official language of the Chinese government and power structures.  Mandarin has been adopted as the 'standard' version of Chinese, called Pǔtōnghuà or 'common language'. 

Other major Chinese topolects include Wu which is spoken around Shanghai by about 90 million speakers, Yue (a.k.a. Cantonese) spoken in Guangdong and the south, including Hong Kong, by about 70 million people, Xiang (65 million) spoken in Hunan, Min (60 million) in Fujian, Hainan and parts of Taiwan, Hakka (50 million) spoken in Fujian and Guangxi and Gan (30 million) spoken in Jiangxi, Hubei and Hunan. 

The bigger linguistic picture

The Languages of China
The Chinese languages themselves belong to a wider language family that includes Tibetan and many of the languages of Myanmar (Burma).

As well as the Chinese languages, there are minority languages of hill tribe peoples, as well as Turkic languages in the west and Mongolian and Korean in the north.  The overall picture makes for a greater level of linguistic diversity than you would, at first, imagine.

Mandarin has the largest number of native speakers in the world, followed by Spanish, English, Hindi and Arabic, but Cantonese itself is a substantial language, equivalent in its number of native speakers to languages like Italian or Turkish.  Cantonese is also very much a world language and is spoken in immigrant communities all over Asia, Europe and the Americas.

Trying to learn Cantonese?

I tried to learn some Cantonese before taking a trip to Hong Kong - not so much to speak the language, as to get a sense of its sound and 'feeling'.  Whilst I have learned a tonal language before (Thai) and could, on a very basic level, understand the importance of hearing the different tones of Cantonese, it was the first time that I ever studied a language where there are two tape scripts for every listening exercise; one at the normal speed of a native Cantonese speaker and a second recording, slowed down for the benefit of the Cantonese student.  I think that says it all really! 

Lexical environment analysis

The different dialects of Yue/Yuet (Cantonese)
As part of my research, I did a very rudimentary lexical analysis of Mandarin and Cantonese, to get a sense of how different they are, at least in terms of some basic vocabulary.

I've used a simple test that I call Lexical environment analysis to determine the relationship between words in different languages.  I used a very similar test with Uighur to explore its relationship with other Turkic languages and possible influences from (Mandarin) Chinese. 

The concept is straightforward and is based on my knowledge of the relationship between English, German and French.  I believe there are certain words that are part of the Natural environment of a language - things such as body parts, natural elements, native animals etc. that surely existed in the language before colonisation or influence by another people/language.  Then there are things which are part of a Constructed environment - furniture, inventions and other innovations that were (perhaps) introduced by another people in their own language.

English, French and German

You can see what I mean by the comparison of English, French and German (below):

Natural environment lexicon

English German French
Finger Finger Doigt
Father Vater Père
Moon Mond lune
Rain Regen pluie
Swine Schwein cochon/porc
Earth Erde terre

It's obvious here that English has much more in common with German, which makes sense as English is, fundamentally, a Germannic language.

Constructed environment lexicon

Glove Handschuh gant
Boss Chef chef
Candle Kerze bougie
Umbrella Schirm parapluie
Pork Schweinefleisch  porc
Chair Stuhl chaise

The picture is more complicated here and you can see the influence of French on English words such as pork and chair.

Mandarin and Cantonese

 Natural environment lexicon

English Mandarin Cantonese
Finger shǒuzhǐ sau ji
Father fùqīn foo chan
Moon yuèliàng yuet
Rain yue
Swine zhū jùe
Earth Dìqiú dei kau

At a very basic level, it's clear that Mandarin and Cantonese are incredibly close in terms of their basic natural environment lexicon.  If we look at the constructed environment lexicon however, it's clear that the two 'languages' are in a process of separating and developing lexicons which are unfamiliar to each other's native speakers.

Glove shǒutào sau mat 
Boss lǎobǎn boh si
Candle làzhú laap juk
Umbrella sǎn
Pork zhūròu jue yuk
Chair yǐzi dang

I think it's a process that takes centuries, but you can definitely see a bigger difference with these more 'modern' words.  It's also interesting that, despite the fact that this is such a small sample, I can already see the influence of English on Cantonese, more so than on Mandarin (boss and boh si).

Cantonese Wikipedia

I think Wikipedia can be a good indication of how languages are doing in terms of their online presence, so I did a quick survey of which Chinese languages have their own Wikipedias.

Not surprisingly, Mandarin is right up there and is the 11th biggest Wikipedia in terms of the number of articles, not far behind Portuguese.  Cantonese is currently number 92 - not great in European terms (less articles than Sicilian!) but equivalent to other 'big' languages from outside Europe, eg. Gujarati, which has 49 million native speakers.  Min is also present on Wikipedia - interestingly written in a Romanised script. Wu, Hakka and Gan are also there, but with very small numbers of articles, equivalent to Maltese, Cornish and Corsican, respectively! 

It will be interesting to see how the 'other' Chinese topolects compete with Mandarin in the future - I wonder if they will forever be consigned to 'dialect' status, or whether they will become languages in their own right?

I'm going to leave you with a sample of how Cantonese sounds - you can find almost everything on YouTube, even a recital of Bai Juyi's beautiful poem, Song of Unending Sorrow, here spoken by Cantonese businessman James Chan.  Enjoy!

Image credits:

Both maps were taken from Wikimedia Commons and are in the public domain. 

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Guangdong - Made in China

China is a big country!  Both in terms of its land area (third biggest in the world after Russia and Canada) but, more significantly, in terms of its population, currently more than 1.3 billion people.  I've already skirted around the edges of China, during my blog posts about Hong Kong and Xinjiang/Uyghuristan.  Guangdong 广东 (literally eastern expanse 广) is also a bit like, 'the other China' - the heartland of Cantonese culture and language, as opposed to the official Mandarin.  Guangdong is 'the south', far away from the northern cultures of Beijing and Shanghai.

The capital of Guangdong is Guangzhou, a city of 12.7 million people, bigger than London, Paris or New York.  If Guangzhou doesn't ring any bells, that's probably because it's better known in English as Canton.  A European mispronunciation of the Chinese name, Canton gives us the English word for the language, Cantonese.

Actually, Guangdong has twenty cities with more than one million people, most of which you'll never have heard of.  The next biggest ones are:

Shenzhen, Guangdong's main economic powerhouse: 10.3 million
Dongguan, home to the world's largest shopping mall: 8.2 million
Foshan, famous for its tradition of martial arts: 7.2 million
Zhanjiang, the 'French Hong Kong': 6.9 million
Jieyang, where people speak the Teochow dialect: 5.9 million
Maoming, a diverse city with large minority populations (Yao, Zhuang, Miao): 5.8 million
Shantou, the toy-manufacturing hub: 5.4 million

Guangzhou waterfront by Wilson Loo
Never heard of them? Well neither had I, until I started researching for this blog post!

Guangdong itself has a population of 104 million people!  If it was a country, it would be the 12th biggest country in the world, in terms of population, almost the equivalent of Mexico!  In terms of land area, Guangdong is about the same size as Cambodia

Coming from Ireland, with our meagre population of just over six million (the same as a medium-sized Cantonese city!), it's hard to get my head around the number of people who live in China!

There were approximately 4.6 million people in Ireland when I was born, in 1975 and Ireland's population has increased by about 36% in that time.  China's population has increased by about 47% in the same time period but, as I'm beginning to realise with China, it's all about scale and China's 47% increase means an extra 428 million people, which is twice the population of Indonesia (the world's fourth biggest country) or 1.5 times the population of the United States!

Shenzhen skyline by Wilson Loo
The Chinese government has been trying to deal with population growth via its well-known 'one-child policy', which is especially relevant to people living in one of China's many giant cities.  The government states that a further 400 million births were prevented as a result of the 'one-child policy' between its inception in 1979 and the time of the statement, in 2011.  It's a weird thing to try to calculate, when you think about it, counting 'people who were never born'? 

Approximately 20% of the world's population (1 in 5 people) is Chinese (literally made in China!) Another interesting statistic, and something I didn't realise before now, is that 90% of China's population lives on 1/5 of Chinese territory, mostly in industrial coastal regions like Guangdong and in places like China's most populous city/state, Chongqing.  So there is a whole 4/5 of Chinese territory where a mere 10% of the population lives.  That's still 130 million people though, which is equivalent to the population of Russia or Japan!

Shenzhen modern building by Wilson Loo
Guangdong's second-biggest city, Shenzhen, didn't really exist when I was born - it was established as China's first Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in 1979 and, since then, has seen its population grow to 12 million people.  Admittedly, about half of Shenzhen's population is composed of migrant workers, who return to their villages at the weekend.  Nevertheless, it's interesting to think that, in my life-time, a city of 12 million people can 'suddenly' appear, as if out of nowhere!

It's quite a challenge taking on Guangdong and I'm sure I'll only really manage to scratch the surface of this fascinating Chinese province.  Hopefully my research will help me unlock some of the mystery that is China!

Image credits:

For this blog post, I want to highlight the photography of fellow flickr member, Wilson Loo, who is originally from Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia, but currently lives in Singapore.  You can see Wilson's Chinese photos on his photostream.  Thanks Wilson for sharing these photos with us, using the Creative commons license.