The dialect of the Southern Min region is spoken by 45 million people, and makes for great pop music
When Chinese linguist and philosopher Lin Yutang traveled around the country in the 20th century, he would often seek out the elegant tones of his hometown dialect: 闽南话 (Mǐnnán huà, or Hokkien), or as Lin called it, “the sound of homeland (乡音).” In fact, when Lin traveled to Taiwan, Hong Kong, or other southern regions, he would deliberately frequent restaurants and shops owned by Minnanhua speakers and while away hours in their company. Such was his love of his mother tongue.
Born in Banzi, Zhangzhou, Lin was from the heart of China’s Southern Min, or Minnan, region, which covers the southeast of Fujian province, mainly the cities of Quanzhou, Xiamen, and Zhangzhou. There, and in other areas including Taiwan, Hainan, Zhejiang, Guangdong, as well as in many Southeast Asian counties where Minnan folks have migrated to over the years, an estimated 45 million speak Minnanhua, making it one of China’s most widely spoken dialects.
The Southern Min dialect has a gentle flowing sound, perhaps from the laidback attitude of the region’s inhabitants. With the steamy climate in southern Fujian yielding abundant fruits, flowers, crops, and seafood, Minnan folks are often said to enjoy a comfortable slow-paced life and positive mindsets. Indeed, popular modern Minnan music includes tracks such as the 1988 classic “Fight to Win (Ài pià chiah ē iâ 《爱拼才会赢》)” by Ye Qitian, who sings of life having “ups and downs” with success dependent on “one third luck, two thirds hard work.” Chen Lei espouses a similar philosophy in his Minnanhua pop song from 2002 “So Long as You’re Happy (huann-hí tio̍h hònn 《欢喜就好》)” where he tells us life can be great even without a fancy car or big house.