Nearly 15 years after Hong Kong was returned to China, the Wall Street Journal reports that the new census results show the former British colony is now replacing English with Mandarin as the city’s most commonly spoken second language.
At 48%, the census results show that nearly half of the city’s residents speak Mandarin as a second language, besting the 46% who speak English. The figure is a significant jump in Mandarin proficiency from the last time the census was conducted in 2001, when only a third of the city’s residents reported being able to speak Mandarin Chinese.
Though the native Cantonese of Hong Kong (spoken by 96% of the city’s residents) is a Chinese dialect with the same linguistic roots as Mandarin, the dialect is distinct enough to be mutually unintelligible with Mandarin, a feature it shares with several other Chinese dialects including Shanghainese.
The uptick in Mandarin proficiency is attributed to the city’s active promotion of Putonghua in schools, a trend similarly propagated in other regions of China, including in the western autonomous regions of Xinjiang and Tibet.
Native Tibetans and Uighurs living in western China have been known to voice protests over the promotion of Mandarin at the expense of their native languages, which is similar to pro-Cantonese demonstrations which have taken place in Guangzhou in recent years.