In Shanghai, there are now more television shows in the Shanghainese language than ever before. There is a popular talk show called Three Person Hot-Hot (sanren malatang), broadcast every day in the prime time slot of 8.30pm, which features word play in Shanghainese, including contributions by a Romanian girl whose ability in the local dialect makes me envious in the extreme. There is also a popular comedy show in Shanghainese called Uncle, which delights in the richness of the local language.
This is a huge shift from the past when Shanghainese was effectively banned from the official airwaves of the city. But it is instructive to note that, simultaneously, the Shanghai city government is trying to get announcers on their own TV and radio channels to stop using Shanghainese. So much for the enduring myth of monolithic Chinese communism.
The Shanghai Language Works Commission recently issued a directive saying that Mandarin should be used exclusively in all public news broadcasts and by all teachers in all schools, with Shanghainese reserved for private conversations only. Any new entertainment show in Shanghainese requires special approval from Shanghai SARFT.
Many Shanghai parents are consciously stopping their kids from learning Shanghainese, and talking to them only in Mandarin from birth. The result is a small but growing number of locals who don't speak Shanghainese. Private conversation between Shanghainese people is increasingly infected by Mandarin, but on the other hand there is a growing pride in the language which was not so evident a decade ago. There are language schools in Hong Kong now teaching Shanghainese, whereas in the 1980s and 1990s people across China were keen to learn Cantonese because of its perceived business value.
So while the trajectory for Shanghainese is both up and down, that for Cantonese shows a clearer and downward path. Hong Kong, the headquarters of Cantonese culture for the past half-century, is increasingly accepting Mandarin, and the strong Cantonese cultural forces of Cantopop and Cantonese movies have fallen off dramatically from their peak in the 1990s.
In Shenzhen, in the heart of Guangdong province, it is extremely rare to find anyone who can actually speak Cantonese. It is an immigrant town, but one that runs not on the local language, but on the national compromise – Mandarin.
The renminbi continues its glacial creep upwards, while the US dollar is showing signs of long term weakness. Now the big question is where is the RMB heading and how fast.
One Chinese banker told me he believes RMB7.5 to the dollar is likely by the end of the year, but my friendly black market money changer, Mr Chaw Piaw, disagrees. He sees 7.7 or 7.8 as the likely target point, and on balance I will believe a smart black marketeer over a random banker.
The rise in RMB interest rates, the weakness of the dollar, the huge sums of hedge fund money sloshing around the world looking for investment opportunities in non-dollar assets – it is all pointing to steady pressure on the renminbi to push ever forwards.