How Globalization Influenced the Chinese Language Between 1960 to 2011

How Globalization Influenced the Chinese Language Between 1960 to 2011

As Giddens (1999) said ,globalization is not only economic but also political, technological and cultural. Influenced by the developments in systems of communication started from late1960s, culture exchange became increasingly frequent in the next 50 years. During this period, Chinese culture which has lasted for thousands of years is experiencing an extensive attack from western world. Chinese language, an essential part of Chinese culture has developed in a multi-cultural background for the first time. In this essay, I will discuss that the effects of globalization on the development of Chinese language from 1960 to 2011.

In Giddens’ lecture Runaway World (1999) he acknowledges that “[t]o many living outside Europe and North America, [globalization ] looks uncomfortably like Westernization - or, perhaps, Americanization, since the US is now the sole superpower, with a dominant economic ,culture and military position in the global order.” That means globalization made a western center order that the western countries have more influences on the world. The developing countries like China has accepted huge amount of western information that even changes their own culture.

Internet infrastructure firstly started to be built in China in 1986 and finished in 1996. According to the report that CNNIC (Chinese Internet Information Centre) published in 2009, 13 years after the internet could be used by normal families, the number of Chinese internet users expanded to 338 million. As a part of globalization this kind of instantaneous communication has changed the life of Chinese people a lot. New kinds of communication tools like chat rooms, QQ(like MSN), microblog, renren(like facebook) let people express themselves more on the internet rather than the real world.

During the expression, people tend to use Chinese in a more convenient and interesting way that called internet language by some mainstream media in China. One feature of Chinese internet language is that people tend to mix Chinese and English and make up new words. Recently in China, English is a required course for the students from primary school to university and it carries the same weight as Chinese in the final exam. The result is that Chinese students have become more familiar with English and as the main users of the internet they are creating popular internet language by mixing English and Chinese together. For instance, the most fashionable word at the end of 2010 in China was geilivable. Though it looks like an English word, no native speakers know the meaning of it. Geili is the pinyin of a Chinese word means wonderful, great and Chinese internet users add an English adjective suffix after it to make it a new word, geilivable. Consequently, people even make up a word ungeilivable as an opposite word of geilivable. This trend spreads widely on the internet, many Chinese popular words have been changed into that form like niubility (meaning awesome), shability (meaning foolish) and eggache (meaning worried).

These words reflect that “globalization isn’t only about what is ‘out there’, remote and far away from the individual. It is an ‘in here’ phenomenon too.”(Giddens, 1999) The western culture has deeply affected Chinese language which is an essential part of Chinese culture. Except the internet, globalization al economy also effect the development of Chinese language. “In the late 19th century there was already an open global economy, with a great deal of trade, including trade in currencies. ”(Giddens, 1999) However, China was little influenced at that time because of the war. Then, 3 decades after the establishment of PRC “[Chinese] [r]eform and Opening [begined] in1982…The role of foreign trade under the economic reforms increased far beyond its importance in any previous period. Before the reform period, the combined value of imports and exports had seldom exceeded 10 percent of national income. In 1980 it was 15 percent, in 1984 it was 21 percent, and in 1986 it reached 35 percent. ” (China: A Country Study, 1987) The data shows that during that time, lots of foreign products were imported in like chocolate, coffee, hamburger and sofa. Instead of giving new Chinese names to the products, people just straight transfer them from the original English pronunciation. Most of these words became formal and were collected by Xin Hua Dictionary which is one of the most reputational Chinese dictionaries.

The evidences above shows the effects of westernisation which is the main part of globalization at the beginning stage, but in response to westernization, reverse colonization existed. Giddens(1999) states that: “It is fundamental to my argument that globalization today is only partly Westernisation…But globalization is becoming increasingly decentered -- not under the control of any group of nations, and still less of the large corporations.” That means Westernisation is being slightly broken by reverse colonization, the non-western countries’ influence on the west. Though the scale of Reverse colonisation is still smaller than the Western attack, it is powerful. Reverse colonization reveals that globalization is not a one way process, western countries influences other countries but also be influenced during the process. However this kind of interaction is not totally equal, due to the different levels in development, the scales of the effects are different.

Same to Chinese, there are lots of foreign words in English nowadays and some of them are from non-western countries. For instance, Kungfu is a traditional Chinese martial arts, the word reflect the Chinese effects on western society. It is not only a word but also an introduction of Chinese culture. . People’s recognition of the word shows the promotion of Chinese culture.

Chinese calligraphy could also be regarded as Reverse-colonization. In Chinese traditional society, calligraphy was not only a part of language, people appreciated it as art. During the development of Globalization, foreign art collectors have been aware of this traditional Chinese art, they started to make it join their collection and also hold exhibitions to promote this traditional art. Otherwise, Chinese calligraphy tattoo, a little brunch of the calligraphy has been popular in western society. Western tattooists use Chinese characters in their work, even they do not know the meaning of the characters, they just saw the mysterious eastern culture through it. For example David Beckham is a big fan of Chinese calligraphy tattoo, figure 1 is an advertisement he acted for Emporio Armani Underwear in 2009, he showed his new tattoo and it lead a trend of popularity. Later on, many sports stars like Allen Iverson , Sergio Ramos got their Chinese calligraphy tattoo.

Besides reverse colonization, another response of westernization is local cultural identity. “Globalization is the reason for the revival of local culture identities in different parts of the world” (Giddens ,1999). Globalization shorted the distance between countries, cities and tends to make the world like a global village. Westernization and reverse colonization promote cultural communication also reduce the district features at the same time. This situation arouses people’s awareness of local identity.

Before the popularity of Mandarin Chinese, different Chinese provinces and cities have their own language and culture. Half century ago, if two people from north and south china met each other they could not understand each others’ meaning exactly though they all speak Chinese. But now they all speak Mandarin Chinese, it brought advantages but also hindered the development of local culture. Due to this situation, some local medias like newspaper and TV stations started to use local language to identify their local culture. Qingdao, a city in Shandong province has own newspaper and TV channels started to add local language to the city media system these years. A TV series called Shanggala has been showing by a local channel -- QTV-3 from 2009, it is the first TV series that uses local language in Qingdao (qdmtv, 2011).

Globalization connected the world closer and advanced the exchange of different culture, but the influence is not one side. During the period from 1960 to 2011, Chinese language has been effected by western culture a lot, in response to the effects of westernisation, reverse colonisation existed, the Chinese language started to influence western culture. Although at this stage, the power of westernisation is still much stronger than reverse colonization, it reveals that globalization is increasingly decentred. In the globalization al background, the Chinese language has developed in a new multicultural way – influenced by foreign culture while keep and promote local culture at the same time.

Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott. (2009) Emporio Armani Underwear Spring/Summer 2009. [online]

CNNIC(2007) ‘the 17th China Internet network development statistics report’

Giddens, Anthony(1999) ‘Runaway World’ : Reith Lectures [tapescript]

Qdmtv (2011) ‘Programme Introduction of Shanggala’. [accessed 07/09/2011]

Robert L. Worden, Andrea Matles Savada and Ronald E. Dolan, editors. (1989) ‘Reform of the Economic System, Beginning in 1979’ in ‘China: A Country
Study’. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress.[online] [accessed 08/09/2011]