To Censor Or Not To Censor – Dialect in Singapore

February 14, 2008

The following paragraph is quoted from Wikipedia.org:

Owing to the Government’s policy of promoting Mandarin Chinese, for many years local television was not allowed to show programmes in other dialects of Chinese. The Cantonese used by popular TV serials from Hong Kong had to be dubbed into Mandarin, while local television series or programmes may not use dialects. Similarly, local newspapers were not allowed to carry listings for Malaysia’s TV3, which showed programmes in Cantonese. However, Hong Kong’s TVB, broadcasting in Cantonese, is now available on cable.

It all seems contradictory to me.

On one hand, our government is attempting to spearhead the “Hua Yu Cool!” campaign which encourages our fellow Chinese comrades to speak proper ‘Mandarin Chinese’ (Well, since we’re supposed to speak like them, we ought to use terms like ‘comrades’). Why? I suppose it’s to transcend whatever language communication barriers which may be omnipresent between the different dialect groups in Singapore, should everybody go on talking in their Teochew or Hokkien or Cantonese. After all, Singapore is multi-racial, and within each and every race, Singapore is also multi-dialectal.

However, on the other hand, our leaders themselves, being the people who championed the campaign (and all the other campaigns which campaign-loving Singapore has; we seem like such a wonderfully-motivated group of people who really needs campaigns, just to ensure that we’re on the same page as the government, and to nudge us into the same direction if we’re not), are also the ones who are finding it a real pity that our culture and heritage are gradually being lost as times go by. We call that globalisation and losing touch with our past. AND (trying to) speak Good Mandarin Chinese and English. So, on the latter note, it does not really come as a surprise that censorship laws regarding the usage of dialects in the media today has gradually become more laxed. And that is why it really came as a pleasant surprise to me as I read in the papers yesterday, an article a columnist wrote on the above issue as two CNY films (namely, “Kungfu Dunk” and “Ah Long Pte Ltd”) had featured dialect dialogues in the movies, while he tried to kick up a brouhaha that “CJ7” was fully dubbed.Of course, the standpoint to take is that censorship laws have not been laxed to such an extent that a movie can be shown in entirety in its original dialect language without flouting the rules. Naturally “CJ7” has to be dubbed. Also, it makes entirely no sense to dub a few lines of the movie Chinese and to leave the rest of the movie undubbed in Cantonese. That’d probably affect the enjoyment of the movie in viewers. So, two choices – show the film entirely in Chinese (more profitable locally as well as it does not alienate any Chinese dialect groups) or show the film entirely in Cantonese (which is kind of impossible).Over the past few years, dialect has already been appearing in the media over various instances such as the movies or songs or even charity programmes. Remember “881”, Roystan Tan’s phenomenal box office hit regarding Chinese Opera in Singapore which is predominantly in dialect? How about Wang Lee-Hom and Selina’s duet “You’re The Song In My Heart”, or Ocean Au’s “How’re You Lately, My Friend”, both of which feature Hokkien lines?

So, what’s so surprising about the usage of dialect coincidentally, in an astonishing total of two movies released together that warrants a column?

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