Chinese Law Prof Blog

Editor: Donald C. Clarke
George Washington University Law School

Monday, January 23, 2012

Do judges have a duty to speak Mandarin in court?

Ultra-nationalist Peking University professor Kong Qingdong (孔庆东), who boasts of being a direct descendant of Confucius, stirred up a controversy the other day with televised insults to the people of Hong Kong - mocking their accent, calling them dogs (he later claimed he only meant some of them), and declaring that all Chinese had a duty to be able to speak Mandarin. (Here's a video of his remarks and the Hong Kong subway incident that prompted them.)

I want to look particularly at his claim that all Chinese have a duty to speak Mandarin. Here's what he said, in the original and in translation: "说普通话的人没有义务、没有必要掌握任何一种方言。中国人有义务说普通话。. . . 当你遇到一个人,他所操的方言跟你不一样的时候,怎么办?双方都应该说普通话。故意不说普通话是什么人?王八蛋!" ("People who speak Mandarin have no duty and no need to speak any other dialect. Chinese have a duty to speak Mandarin. . . . When you meet with someone and his dialect is different from yours, what should be done? Both parties should speak Mandarin. What kind of person would deliberately not speak Mandarin? A bastard!")

This is where Prof. Kong may get himself in trouble, and not just for his un-Confucian way of expressing himself, which would seem more suited to a Legalist book-burning. In the trial of Li QInghong (黎庆洪) just conducted in Guiyang, the presiding judge decided on the third day of proceedings to stop speaking in Mandarin and began instead to speak on in local Guiyang dialect, making it difficult for Li's lawyer to understand the proceedings. When Li's lawyer objected and said that the judge was required under relevant law to speak Mandarin, the judge said that it was his right to use Mandarin or Guiyang dialect as he pleased. But perhaps Prof. Kong will surprise me and denounce the presiding judge as a bastard.

Thanks for Flora Sapio for bringing this interesting aspect of the Li Qinghong case to my attention.

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Actually, Chinese judges do have such duty as a public servant in a ”state organization.“

第九条 国家机关以普通话和规范汉字为公务用语用字。法律另有规定的除外。
第十九条 凡以普通话作为工作语言的岗位,其工作人员应当具备说普通话的能力。

第一百二十三条 中华人民共和国人民法院是国家的审判机关。

Posted by: chris | Jan 24, 2012 6:52:39 AM

are called by the derogatory term “locusts” and much worse.
"calling them dogs (he later claimed he only meant some of them)"
you deliberately misinterpreted Professor Kong, taking advantage of the fact that most viewers here do not understand spoken Chinese. It is evident in the original interview, that he carefully specified those, who could but intentionally did not speak Mandarin with mandarin speaking tourists in the verbal spat, as running dogs. The context being, Cantonese speaking Hong Kong Chinese are culturally more superior to mainland chinese.
What kind of lawyer are you?

Posted by: ww | Jan 26, 2012 8:28:43 AM

@ww: Looks like the first part of your comment got cut off somehow; I didn't alter it. Regarding the substance of your comment: You are free to disagree with my interpretation of Prof. Kong's remarks, but your imputation to me of malicious intent is exactly the kind of thing that makes anonymous internet commenting so dreary to read. I sign my posts with my own name; why not you?

I think the logic of Prof. Kong's criticism can fairly be extended to cover the judge in the Li Qinghong case. Prof. Kong can't accuse the HKers in the subway video of being more than rude; the judge in this case, however, is not only being rude, but he's violating basic principles of fairness and arguably the law of China as well. You might, of course, believe that Prof. Kong would *not* denounce a judge in Hong Kong who, while capable of speaking Mandarin and even required to do so by Hong Kong law (I'm posing a hypothetical; HK law does not to my knowledge have this requirement), insisted on speaking Cantonese to a Mandarin-speaking mainland defendant. I guess we would in that case have to agree to disagree.

Posted by: Don Clarke | Jan 26, 2012 7:51:14 PM

I cannot imagine how disappointed and ashamed Confucius would be to hear Kong Qingdong saying that!!

For mainlander coming in Hong Kong, the first thing they have to do is to observe the local law and rules. The local law and rules do not allow them to urinate in public place and to eat on the subway. Hong Kong people have the right to live their normal life including speaking their own language! Being a mainlander living in Hong Kong, I am so ashamed for those mainlanders being so uncivilized; being someone from Confucius’ province Shandong, I am so ashamed for Kong Qingdong; fortunately I didn’t go to Pecking University, so I don’t have to be ashamed to have a professor like that!

Posted by: Jie | Jan 31, 2012 7:27:17 PM

This current language game by Professor Kong is, of course, a product of the myth of a unified China that has fueled border expansion and internal cultural cleansing since the time of Qin Shihuangdi and before.

May I interject that Kong Qiu of Qufu also did not speak anything close to Mandarin. It probably sounded something closer to Cantonese or Hokkien, Mandarin's much older ancestors.

All that aside, the issue of linguistic difference in China is problematic. There are those in the world community who fight against the often harsh nature of China's expansion of central authority on the unique cultural and linguistic pockets that survive all over the country. On the other hand, those very same commentators push for a rule of law that is fair to everyone. How can there be rule of law, when the law has its basis in language, and a single language cannot account for everyone under the system?

These problems will continue to haunt the P.R.C. as long as they force an unnatural and too-far-reaching (geographically speaking) system of political control on the people.

Posted by: Matthew McDonald | Feb 11, 2012 10:19:02 AM

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