Book Launch: Remaking a Global Cantonese Community with Television and Social Media

Simone(Szeman) L.
4 min readSep 29, 2023

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Writing on the relationships between language and identity has proven to be a challenge. I distinctly recall the time when I submitted an incomplete proposal to my then-supervisor, Dr. Guoguang Wu. He seriously quipped that it resembled a declaration of Cantonese independence. Although voices advocating for independence do exist on the internet, academic research on this subject has often felt like a distant dream. Unlike the vigorous research scene in Hong Kong, where the political landscape has undergone rapid transformations since 2014, nationalism in Guangdong is less conspicuous. Consequently, my journey from conceiving the thesis proposal to completing this book has been marked by an ongoing struggle to define its research position within the intricate relationship between language and identity.

Furthermore, the writing process brought unexpected challenges. In the summer of 2019, I had meticulously planned a visit to Guangzhou, reaching out to a professor at Jinan University and another at the Chinese University of Hong Kong to discuss the possibility of a visiting scholar program via emails. My university had also offered funding support for a field trip beyond Canada, where I aimed to gather academic materials on the Cantonese language, conduct interviews with the show producers in Guangzhou, and seek guidance from linguistic scholars. However, the
outbreak of Covid-19 and the months long protests in Hong Kong abruptly disrupted my plans. I never imagined that the pursuit of my second master’s degree could potentially be life-threatening. Consequently, I had to relinquish my original method of data collection and adapt to an online
approach.

Additionally, the process of reading and writing was far from smooth. As one of the early English-language researchers in Guangdong Cantonese studies, I grappled with limited reference literature, the reluctance of interviewees to participate online, and the ever-increasing cost of living
in Vancouver. Particularly, for interviewees within Guangdong, expressing any opinions during the era of Xi Jinping posed significant risks. Hence, I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the five interviewees whose contributions are featured in this book. The responsibility to preserve my mother tongue and honor my hometown consistently motivated me to complete this work, despite the moments when thoughts of giving up crossed my mind. In this regard, I am deeply appreciative of my parents’ financial support for both my research and my livelihood in Vancouver.

This book has something to offer everyone, regardless of age or background. For those residing in mainland China, it’s a journey back in time. Older Cantonese speakers will reminisce about their childhood, with memories of delicious Cantonese food, playful children’s songs, and cherished customs. Even those who aren’t native Cantonese speakers will recall the Cantonese TV shows, movies, and music that colored their youth. Younger readers will find familiar elements in the short videos they currently enjoy. For language preservation advocates, this book sheds light
on Cantonese speakers’ efforts to protect their native language and the challenges they face. For readers outside of mainland China, it offers insights into the country’s internal changing landscape, especially grassroots practices and identities. By blending the disciplines of linguistics, political science, and communication, this book provides a broad perspective on how language is intertwined with our sense of belonging.

Simultaneously, my research focus underwent a significant shift. Contrasting with the time I spent writing my first book, “Discourses of Asian societies: cases from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan”, from 2014 to 2019, I transitioned from social dynamics and international relations in the
Asia Pacific region to a more localized approach. The inspiration for this shift emerged from my recent observations and research experiences in Taiwan and Hong Kong, leading me to concentrate on Guangdong and its global diaspora. Guided by my research intuition into China’s internal
dynamics and its external relationships, I formed the belief that overseas studies would assume increasing importance. Consequently, I hold the expectation that the future will see a surge in Guangdong studies and scholars with Guangdong backgrounds.

Lastly, I wish to express my sincere gratitude to my supervisor, Dr. Xu, who spared no effort in supporting my research, as well as Dr. Chau and Dr. Chong, friends from London, Victoria, Vancouver, and the United States, who provided invaluable advice or emotional support. Furthermore, I extend my thanks to the scholars from the United States, Canada, and Australia who contributed the book’s foreword. The challenges I encountered during the pandemic were numerous, but I am immensely fortunate to have had these individuals by my side. It is my hope that this book not only offers fresh perspectives on local studies but also serves as an inspiration to emerging scholars.

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Simone(Szeman) L.

Cantonese with interdisciplinary and transnational background living in Canada, big fan of South East Asia and Big Data. Live for big city.