TikTok Users In China Temporarily Banned For Speaking Their Own Cantonese Language Instead Of Using The Official Mandarin
from the linguistic-censorship dept
Most people know about TikTok, from the company Bytedance, but not many know that it is the international version of the similar, but separate, Douyin app. The What’s on Weibo site has a good explanation of why the two versions came about, and how they differ:
Why would Bytedance go through the effort to create two apps running on different systems? The answer partly lies in China’s strictly controlled online environment, where (social) media companies have to adhere to local policies on what is and what is not allowed to be published on their (user-generated) platforms.
Having two distinct apps allows Bytedance to enforce China’s strict rules for the domestic market, while granting foreign users more freedom in what they can post. Overt censorship is unacceptable in many other countries, and would probably have throttled TikTok’s rapid rise. As a result of this split market, people outside China are generally unaware of the rules imposed on Douyin content. David Paulk is Head of News on the Sixth Tone site, which provides valuable independent news and commentary on the country. A recent Twitter thread from him offers a rare chance to see the kind of thing that happens on Douyin:
On Monday, the Guangzhou-based WeChat account Yangcheng Net posted an article detailing how several Douyin users had received 10-minute bans from the platform for speaking their native Cantonese during livestreams.
A pop-up notification told the streamers to “Please speak Mandarin to involve more users from other areas (of China).” Among the suggestions for “rectification” was “please speak Mandarin.”
A person who manages a Douyin account promoting Cantonese culture to its 230,000 followers said he had received two bans and multiple warnings for using Cantonese. Clearly, using Mandarin instead of Cantonese would nullify the whole point of the account. Naturally, Paulk wanted to know why Cantonese was being discriminated against in this way:
When we contacted PR for ByteDance, TikTok’s large & powerful parent company, they strongly advised us against pursuing the story. We said we were going to anyway, but they went over our heads to get it canned.
Paulk wrote that he suspected Douyin was under pressure from the Chinese government to make sure nothing “objectionable” was being said, and a Mandarin-only rule made that easier. His suspicions seem to be confirmed by a later comment from Douyin’s PR:
Douyin is building out content safety capabilities for additional languages and dialects. As one of the most widely spoken dialects in China, Cantonese is a top priority, and we hope to have it fully supported in the near future.
Cantonese is already supported in livestreams — you just start talking. In this context “support” clearly means censor. It’s also interesting that Cantonese is dubbed a “dialect” in Douyin’s statement. There are around 68 million native speakers of Cantonese — more than most languages around the world — notably in Hong Kong. Moreover, Cantonese is not merely a “dialect” of Mandarin, as Douyin implies when it talks of “languages and dialects”: they are quite separate languages that derive independently from Middle Chinese. As Wikipedia notes: “Middle Chinese texts sounding more similar to modern Cantonese than other present-day Chinese varieties, including Mandarin.” Maybe Mandarin users of Douyin should be told to speak in Cantonese so they can get closer to their language’s ancient roots.