Resisting Linguistic Imperialism: A Response to the "Chinese Dream."

By Zhou, Xiaozhou | Law, Social Justice and Global Development Journal, Annual 2016 | Go to article overview

Resisting Linguistic Imperialism: A Response to the "Chinese Dream."


Zhou, Xiaozhou, Law, Social Justice and Global Development Journal


Introduction

The "Chinese Dream" is a term that has become globally renowned and frequently discussed since the President of People's Republic of China Xi Jinping came to power in March 2013. It is rightly and commonly understood as a politically engineered neologism that expresses China's national plan to rejuvenate the nation, improve living standards, construct a better society and build a strengthened military. Within this 'top-down' policy framework, there are countless supporting strategies being implemented, including the promotion of Chinese language and culture. One such strategic innovation has involved changes with regard to English language education in China. China's new found eagerness to promote its language and culture, not only within its own ethincally and culturally complex domestic territories, but also globally, can immediately be interpreted as a countermeasure to the worldwide spread of US popular culture as well as English as a Lingua Franca (henceforth ELF). The latter, of course, is commonly understood as a consequences of economic globalisation, or at least the economic interconnection of regional markets and concommitant flow of goods, services and capital. Recent decades have witnessed a tremendous transformation--often unnoticed--in how the languages of nations, tribes, and whole civilisations, have been undergoing, and the cultural implications of language. It is an assumption of this paper that language is not a 'neutral' media of communication, but embedded in the political economy of a country. By implication, culture itself is neither neutral nor insignificant with regard the economy of state politics and the orientation of national policy changes.

The central government of the People's Republic of China have indeed recognised that culture can no longer be taken for granted, or assumed to emerge from the routine social development and education of its people. Culture is a realm of values and beliefs, as well as aptitudes and capabilities, and these can change and will change. The question remains, under what conditions will cultural change ensue. China's government are providing for new policy conditions of cultural change, and these conditions are in relation to what is calls "core socialist values" and the recognition of the creative and cultural industries as a central dimension of national economic policy. Resulting from this, (and other measures), is a renewed concern with heritage, identity, cultural production and cultural content of which the Chinese language is one pervasive dimension. In the West, the production and function of language is rarely considered as a part of 'cultural production', and yet this is what I am assuming in this paper, largely by way of observation of such recent developments in China's policy frameworks. Given how the "creative and cultural industries" as an economic concept, along with its range of creative practices (in design, fashion, gaming, music and so on), are so heavily mediated by globally disseminated Western products, the role of language within the creative economy is also, I venture to say, one seriously ignored subject for research. My study will undertake a linguistic analysis--but one which I hope will demonstrate a relevance and viability for cultural economy research, (where cultural economy is subject to a 'politics' of government policy making).

The phenomenon of ELF has been warmly received in some quarters and criticized in others. Scholars in support believe that ELF is a natural pan-national social development and its priority of communication allows for new spaces of cultural variation and accommodation (Guido and Seidlhofer, 2014; Jenkins, 2012, 2013; Motschenbacher, 2013; Schneider, 2012). The opposing view would understand ELF as promoting a monolithic English dominance and is merely another form of linguistic imperialism--where, like all imperialisms, linguistic diversity and cultural identity will be potentially under threat (Pennycook, 1994, 1998; Phillipson, 1992, 2003; Phillipson and Skutnabb-Kangas, 1997, 1999; 2008). …

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