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Speaking Up: Can Social Media Save China’s Dialects?

Content in dialects is booming on social media, but is that enough to save them from extinction?

Qian Shengdong has over 1.5 million Weibo followers, but perhaps less than 30 percent of them can fully understand everything he says in his videos.

That’s because the 34-year-old vlogger’s content, which features him personifying different districts of his native Shanghai or dressing up as a stereotypical local auntie, is not always in Mandarin Chinese (Putonghua), but often mixed with his local dialect: Shanghaihua.

To his fans, Qian, better known as G Sengdong, the transliteration of the dialect pronunciation of his name, is an ambassador of Shanghaihua and contemporary local culture. But off-camera, he rarely speaks the dialect with the team of interns who work on his videos, mostly Shanghai locals born around the year 2000. “It would be weird if I spoke Shanghaihua and they replied in Putonghua,” Qian tells TWOC over the phone. “Half of them don’t speak the dialect at all.”

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Speaking Up: Can Social Media Save China’s Dialects? is a story from our issue, “Public Affairs.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


author Siyi Chu (褚司怡)

Siyi is the Culture Editor at The World of Chinese. She writes about arts, culture, and society, and is ever-curious about the minds, hearts, and souls inside all of these spheres. Before joining TWOC, she was a freelance writer with some additional work experience in independent filmmaking and the field of education.

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