Amid backlash, Education Secretary moves to explain remarks on future of teaching Cantonese

Education Secretary Kevin Yeung. Via Facebook.
Education Secretary Kevin Yeung. Via Facebook.

Hong Kong’s education secretary was forced to clarify comments he made on a radio programme yesterday about whether or not it was “sustainable” to continue teaching the Chinese language using Cantonese, after his remarks sparked a backlash.

In a statement published on his official Facebook page yesterday, shortly after his appearance on an RTHK radio programme, Kevin Yeung said: “I didn’t cast any doubt on learning the Chinese language in Cantonese throughout the interview.”

“I was only saying that, in the long run, the question on how to develop Chinese language teaching can be further studied by experts, in order to strengthen Hong Kong’s unique advantage of bi-literacy [in Chinese and English] and tri-lingualism [in Cantonese, Mandarin and English].”


Posted by Kevin Yeung on Sunday, October 7, 2018

Yeung was responding to the backlash that was prompted after he appeared to question whether it was “sustainable” to continue learning the Chinese language using Cantonese, instead of Mandarin which is more widely spoken in the mainland.

Speaking to a RTHK radio program on Sunday, Yeung said the trend was not favourable to Cantonese, as it wasn’t taught anywhere else, adding that Hongkongers should start speaking more Mandarin in their daily lives.

“Where can people learn Chinese using Cantonese? There’s none [except in Hong Kong] Putonghua will be used predominantly in the future development of Chinese language around the world,” Yeung said on the show, as reported by The Standard.

The education secretary went further to suggest the city would lose its competitive edge should Mandarin not be embraced more in people’s daily lives, reported Apple Daily

The comments sparked a backlash among residents who feel the Cantonese language, tied closely to Hong Kong identity, is under threat.  It follows education bureau documents which emerged earlier this year referring to Cantonese as a “dialect” and not a “mother tongue”, which also prompted heated debate.

Those who left comments on Yeung’s post pointed out that Yeung wasn’t practising what he preached as his children attend schools in Australia instead of China.

“Mr Yeung,if you’re so concerned about Hong Kong losing its competitive edge as a world city, then surely English should be more widely spoken in daily lives instead of Mandarin?” Argued one commenter.

“Hong Kong’s students are not a tool for you to impress the Beijing central government,” added another person, while another commenter said: “you think Hongkongers have misunderstood you? Surely you realise that you’re the problem Mr Yeung?”

Speaking to the Hong Kong International Business Channel (HKIBC), education sector legislator Ip Kin-yuen criticised Yeung for his comments, and said the education secretary needed to study the matter closely before making suggestions.

He told the news channel: “When it comes to language, especially our mother tongue, it’s not always about competitiveness. It’s about a kind of sense of belonging, it’s a kind of identity, it’s a kind of emotional connection between oneself and the language.”

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