Taking aim at the conventional narrative that standard, national languages transform 'peasants' into citizens, Gina Anne Tam centers the history of the Chinese nation and national identity on fangyan--languages like Shanghainese, Cantonese, and dozens of others that are categorically different from the Chinese national language, Mandarin. She traces how linguists, policy-makers, bureaucrats, and workaday educators framed fangyan as non-standard 'variants' of the Chinese language, while simultaneously highlighting, on the other hand, the 1920s folksong collectors, communist-period playwrights, contemporary hip-hop artists and popular protestors who argued that fangyan were more authentic and representative of China's national culture and its history. These intertwined visions of the Chinese nation--one spoken in one voice, one spoken in many-interacted and shaped one another, and in the process, shaped the basis for national identity itself.
Dr. Gina Anne Tam is an Assistant Professor of Chinese History at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. She received her Ph.D. from Stanford in 2016, and has had her research funded by the Fulbright, Fulbright-Hays, and Blakemore. Her book, Dialect and Nationalism in China, 1860-1960, will be published by Cambridge University Press in early 2020.