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About the

Speak Hokkien Campaign

The Hokkien language was a thriving language until the mid-20th century. It even expanded out from its place of origin and became the lingua franca in many places in southeast Asia.


However, Hokkien suffered a twist of fate in the second half of the 20th century when the development of the language was undermined by policies inspired by Han Chinese nationalism; the new idea that all Chinese people descended from the same ancestor (i.e. the Yellow emperor), and the emergence of nation-states.

This brought about its removal from schools, media, workplaces, and communities, and as a result, the language started to decline.

12 January 1920

During the New Culture Movement, the Ministry of Education of the Republic of China issued a decree that Literary Chinese be replaced by ‘vernacular Chinese’ to bring spoken language in line with the written language in all first and second-year classes in lower primary schools. The political classes captivated by the nationalist ideology made the assumption that written Mandarin was the vernacular Chinese.

2 April 1946

The government of the Republic of China launched the National Language Movement to promote Mandarin in Taiwan after establishing its rule over the island. Students were punished for speaking the local languages such as Hokkien, Hakka and the native Austronesian languages.


17 October 1955

Churches in Taiwan were banned from using Romanised Hokkien (Pe̍h-ōe-jī).

Kuomintang banned Peh-oe-ji.jpg.png

11 February 1958

The Chinese government approved the phonetic scheme for the Mandarin language by referring to it as the ‘Phonetic Alphabets for the Hàn language’ (Hanyu Pinyin). Such a name promotes the nationalist idea that Mandarin is the only Hàn Chinese language.

12 November 1963

The government of Taiwan issued a directive putting a cap on Hokkien and Hakka radio and TV. These were limited to no more than 50% of their total programming.

8 January 1976

The government of Taiwan made a law compelling all radio stations to reduce the number of programmes in Hokkien and Hakka every year.

Soong Chu-yu removed Hokkien and Hakka.png

22 March 1980

The Selangor Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry 雪蘭莪中華工商總會 imitated Singapore’s Speak Mandarin Campaign and launched a similar campaign in Malaysia. The Promote Mandarin Working Committee of Selangor and Kuala Lumpur 雪隆推廣華語工作委員會 was formed on 22nd March 1980 with the support of many newspapers and media outlets, teachers associations, including Hokkien, Hainanese and Teochew associations.



The Singapore government launched a campaign to discourage people from speaking Hokkien in the workplace.


The Selangor Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry launched the Speak Mandarin Campaign for the second time in Malaysia.

31 October 2000

The People’s Republic of China passed the Law on the Standard Spoken and Written Chinese Language 中華人民共和國國家通用語言文字法 to restrict the use of regional languages. Any broadcast in regional languages now needed approval from the National Radio and Television Department. The government’s slogan ‘Speak Mandarin and be a civilised person’ implied that speaking one's mother tongue was an uncivilised act.

15 February 1913

The newly founded republican government took the view that Chinese is a single language consists of many ‘dialects’ and set up a commission to unify the pronunciation of all the characters contained in the rhyme dictionary, Subtleties of Phonology (音韻闡微). The commission (讀音統一會) employed the voting system where each province was given one vote gave Mandarin an advantage and provided the basis for its domination.

Yellow Emperor.jpg

May 1932

The Ministry of Education of the Republic of China published the National Pronunciation Dictionary for Commonly Used Vocabulary 國音常用字彙, the pronunciation of which was based on Peking’s Mandarin. This solidified Peking’s Mandarin as the official Chinese language.


Cinemas in Taiwan were banned from employing Hokkien narrators.

6 February 1956

The State Council of the People's Republic of China issued a directive to promote Mandarin and started replacing regional languages in the public domain such as education and broadcasts with Mandarin.

November 1959

Cinemas in Taiwan were prohibited from screening Mandarin films with Hokkien interpretation. Cinemas had to ‘rectify their mistakes’ or to cease operation altogether for non-compliance.

1 December 1972

The government of Taiwan intensified its restriction on the use of Taiwanese Hokkien in TV broadcasts to just one hour per day.

7 September 1979

Singapore launched the Speak Mandarin Campaign. All broadcasts in southern Chinese languages are banned on TV and radio channels up until today. The campaign used several slogans that promoted the nationalist view by equating Chinese or ethnic Hàn to Mandarin, relegating other Chinese languages to patois, or corrupted versions of Mandarin. The slogans used were as follows:


(Speak more Mandarin, speak less dialects)

(Ethnic Chinese should naturally speak Mandarin)

(Mandarin is Chinese)


27 April 1980

The Government Information Office of Taiwan instructed all TV stations to reduce the number of programmes in Hokkien and Hakka every year until they completely disappeared from the airwaves.


The Singapore government discouraged parents from speaking Hokkien to their children.

16 December 1985

The government of Taiwan intended to pass a draconian language law to ban all conversations in Hokkien and Hakka, including any group of more than three people in public. Repeat offenders would be fined between NT$3,000 to NT$10,000.

18 October 2004

The National Radio and Television Department of the People's Republic of China issued a directive to forbid foreign films from being dubbed into regional languages except Mandarin.


About the Speak Hokkien Campaign

The Speak Hokkien Campaign is a campaign that focuses on revitalising the Hokkien language. The campaign is organised by the Hokkien Language Association of Penang, which is a non-clan based and non-partisan organisation founded in Malaysia in 2014. The campaign advocates for reestablishing and expanding the use for Hokkien and encouraging parents to speak the language to their children. It also campaigns to reinstate Hokkien in the community and elevate the status of Hokkien to relieve the pressure for language shift.

Our Proposition

The campaign proposes to reform the traditional ideology that associates language with individual ancestry to one that associates language with a territory. This proposal would prevent the domains of Hokkien from being taken over by other languages due to intermarriages and migration.

About  Hokkien

What is the Hokkien language?

Hokkien is also known as Minnan, Southern Min, Hoklo, Taiwanese or Fukien in different parts of the world. It refers to the language originally spoken in Amoy, Tsiang-tsiu (Zhangzhou), Tsuan-tsiu (Quanzhou), and most coastal areas of Taiwan. More broadly, it also includes the language spoken in Swatow (Shantou), Teochew (Chaozhou), Swabue (Shanwei), Huizhou in Guangdong and various counties surrounding Wenzhou and Taizhou in Zhejiang Province. There are several mutually intelligible varieties of Hokkien and Amoy Hokkien was typically regarded as the standard accent during the 20th century. However, due to the increasing prevalence of Taiwanese media, Taiwanese Hokkien is gradually taking over as the new standard in the 21st century.

Is Hokkien a dialect of Mandarin?

No. Mandarin originated from Beijing while Hokkien originated from Fujian province. A statistical analysis carried out, which aimed to determine the interrelatedness of languages using Swadesh list has shown that only 49% of 198 most basic words share a similar origin with Mandarin whereas 59% of the most basic words in English and German are cognates. [1]

This goes to say that German is not a dialect of English, neither is Hokkien a dialect of Mandarin.

Can Hokkien be written?

Yes. Hokkien literature wasn't given much emphasis as writing in Hokkien was discouraged in the past. The Classical Chinese was the only written language recognised by the Chinese imperial rulers. The earliest surviving book written in Hokkien was a playbook republished in 1566 called Le-keng-ki (Tale of the Lychee Mirror). Two copies of the book are kept in the libraries of Tenri University in Japan and Oxford University in the United Kingdom. It was a playbook written in the Teochew and Tsuan-tsiu dialects.


Hokkien written in the Latin alphabet was introduced by Christian missionaries in the 19th century. From 1835 onwards, Rev. Samuel Dyer of Penang collaborated with the editors and readers of the Chinese Repository to devise a spelling system for all Chinese languages and this attempt laid the foundation for the Hokkien spelling system. The system continued to evolve and later became known as Peh-oe-ji. The Taiwanese government improvised and standardised it in 2006 to cover major accental differences and renamed it as Tâi-lô

In the past few centuries, many versions of informal characters were appropriated to write Hokkien, which sometimes lead to confusion. In September 2009, 700 Chinese characters were published as a recommended written form for Hokkien.

How to write in Hokkien?
Please go to 'Learn to Read and Write Hokkien' page. Click here to enter:

圖片由CJ Bug提供



[1] 平山久雄,2002,〈從語言年代學看閩語的地位〉丁邦新、張雙慶(編),《閩語硏究及其與周邊方言的關係》香港:香港中文大學,頁4

[2] DeFrancis, J. 1972. Nationalism and Language Reform in China. New York: Octagon Books, pp. 20.

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