Ip Iam-chong, who teaches cultural studies at Lingnan University, thinks the lukewarm response from the general public can be attributed to the fact that Cantonese is not prohibited in Hong Kong. Therefore, the campaign is merely symbolic and abstract.
However, Anita Poon Yuk-kang from the Department of Education Studies of the Hong Kong Baptist University thinks otherwise. While she agrees Hong Kong people are not aware of the need to defend Cantonese, she thinks they have a strong sense of identity tied to their language. Cantonese is an official spoken language in Hong Kong and we still use it in every aspect of life, she says.
Sze On-na, a secondary school teacher who also joined the pro-Cantonese Campaign in 2010, thinks there is a creeping sense that Putonghua is superior to Cantonese in Hong Kong. She refuses to draw a line between Putonghua and Cantonese and say any one of them is better but sees a need to protect Cantonese.
To Sze, doing so is to defend the freedom to use her own language to express herself. Language is related to our thinking, learning and communication, she says, and if Hongkongers give up Cantonese, they will lose their ways of expression. She does not mind learning Putonghua but is opposed to using Putonghua to teach other subjects in schools.
Sze also regards the Guangzhou experience as a warning. “Some people say if we don’t care and are not aware of it, one day we will face the same destiny. Aren’t you scared?”
In mid-December last year, the Guangdong provincial government announced new restrictions on the use of Cantonese. Starting from this month, all government meetings, classes in schools, television and radio programmes must be conducted in Putonghua. The use of Cantonese has to be approved by the government.
This proposal has reenergised the pro-Cantonese movement across Guangdong province. Pro-Cantonese pictures and slogans are all over Facebook and Twitter. But Choi, who organised the Hong Kong rally last time, says she has no plans for another campaign. She feels the time has not come yet. After all, Hong Kong people can still speak Cantonese.
When asked what is most needed in the pro-Cantonese campaign, Choi says it is manpower. “The most important thing is the awareness. We need to have a sense of crisis,” says Choi. “When there are risks, don’t tolerate them. Don’t think they are inevitable.”
“We have sowed the seeds. We have left the experience,” Choi says, hoping the younger generation will stand up to protect what they stand for.
Ng Man-kit, a secondary student, is a newcomer to the pro-Cantonese campaign. He says the younger generation should inherit the language and culture. “We are the educated people of the future and Hongkongers should unify to fight for our language,” he says.
It may be harder to mobilise people for the fight than Ng realises.