The National Common Language Law, the first of its kind in China’s history, was adopted by the 18th session of the Standing Committee of the Ninth National People’s Congress (NPC) on October 31 and will go into force as of January 1, 2001.
The law provides the legal status of Putonghua (commonly spoken Chinese) and standard Chinese characters as the national common language, the state policy towards language, citizen’s rights of learning and using the national common language, the general principle of using national common language, the responsibilities of government bodies concerning the national language as well as specific rules governing the use of national common language in several major social sectors.
China boasts 56 ethnic groups and 73 languages, of which 50-odd languages of 30 ethnic groups are now in use.
According to Ms. Fang Guangwei of the Education Division under the NPC Education, Science, Culture and Health Committee, the existing languages in China are divided into two categories in terms of their use scope: one is applied at the national level while the other is applied in regions where ethnic minorities live in compact communities. Putonghua and standard Chinese characters are applied at the national level, including the regions exercising autonomy and where ethnic minorities live in compact communities.
Ms. Hou Xiaojuan, deputy division chief of education under the NPC Education, Science, Culture and Health Committee, stressed that the law does not regulate the personal application of the national common language, but the behavior of social communication, for instance, the expressions, wording and writing involved in government operations, mass communication and on public occasions.
To be specifically, the law aims to standardize expressions and writing styles for government bodies, schools, radio and TV stations and the public service sector, as well as publications, advertisements, packaging and directions for commodities, names of enterprises and institutions, IT products, film and TV messages, public facilities and signboards.
It guides but does not interfere in personal application of language.
The languages of the different ethnic groups enjoy equal status. Popularization of Putonghua and standard Chinese characters does not mean restriction on the use and development of ethnic minority languages. In autonomous regions and places where ethnic minorities live in compact communities, the national common language and the minority language applied locally can be used simultaneously. This complies with China’s basic language policy, that is, the languages of each ethnic group shall coexist peacefully, and no form of language discrimination is allowed; each ethnic group has the freedom to learn, use and develop its native language; the state encourages various ethnic groups to learn each other’s languages.
It is learned that testing the level of Putonghua is an important step to promote its spread. The law stipulates that announcers, anchor people, movie actors and actresses, theater performers, teachers and government employees as well as other people specified by the department concerned should pass a Putonghua level test and reach the grade specified by the state.
In addition to Putonghua commonly used by the Chinese nation, the country has a number of local dialects. The promotion of Putonghua does not mean the elimination of dialects, and dialects will exist for long time in certain areas and special regions. As a result, the law sets rules governing special cases and areas which need to use dialects, for instance, local operas, some programs of local TV stations.
The law also defines the scope of using the original complex forms and variant forms of Chinese characters, for instance, in calligraphy and on cultural relics.
The principle of persuasion and education should be pursued during the process of popularizing Putonghua and standard Chinese characters, said Hou Xiaojuan. According to the law, a violator of this law shall be ordered to make a correction within a given time by the department concerned, and those who refuse to make such corrections, with serious results, shall be punished with a warning or a fine. The purpose of this legislation is to guide people in observing the norms, standards and related rules concerning the application of the national common language.