Barbarians at the Gate

The Common Tongue1 min read

How putonghua, standard spoken Chinese, remains controversial

An episode of Barbarians at the Gate

In this episode, Jeremiah Jenne and David Moser examine putonghua, the spoken Chinese language most people refer to as Mandarin. What is its history, and what does that say about competing national and regional identities in Chinese history? What’s the difference between a dialect and a language? And how do we differentiate between Mandarin in the Qing Dynasty, guoyu in the Republican Period, and putonghua in the PRC? The hosts discuss David’s research for his 2016 book A Billion Voices on the evolution of Putonghua in China, as well as the recent controversy over the app Douyin penalizing users who post videos in other Chinese languages, especially Cantonese. They also get an assist from Zhang Yajun, host of the Wo Men Podcast on Radii China, who talks with David about the differences between Beijing or Northern-Chinese “dialect” and “standard” putonghua. If you enjoy this, also listen to the recently released follow-up episode with guest Gina Anne Tam.

This is an episode of the Barbarians at the Gate podcast, syndicated with permission. Header: A Song era scroll depicting Khitans using eagles to hunt.