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Is China’s TikTok Equivalent Banning People from Speaking Cantonese?

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ByteDance, the makers of TikTok, have come under fire for warning Cantonese-speaking creators to speak Mandarin in their posts and live content on TikTok’s Chinese sister app Douyin. The reports follow a series of others criticizing ByteDance’s content moderation practices.

The company has allegedly warned and even temporarily blocked users for publishing Cantonese video content and speaking Cantonese while livestreaming. On Monday, a Guangzhou-based WeChat account Yang Chengwang (羊城网) published an article (link in Mandarin) that details the shared experience of several Cantonese-speaking Douyin users. One user’s Cantonese language livestream was halted by a pop-up message that banned the user for 10 minutes, and requested that they “please speak Mandarin” in order to rectify the issue.

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Another account that promotes Cantonese culture, Biaoxin Yueyi (彪新粤意)contacted ByteDance after receiving multiple warnings in the month of March. ByteDance reportedly responded by telling the user to “add a little bit of Mandarin” to avoid further complications.

Other Cantonese users also apparently received warnings, but not all Cantonese accounts, including some extremely popular ones, have received them. Technically, ByteDance does not have a specific prohibition on Cantonese or other foreign languages. However, creators have circulated a set of unwritten rules that discourage straying from Mandarin while broadcasting for fear of being moderated.

Informal guidelines posted by a user on a creator forum

“Why are foreign languages okay,” asked one WeChat user. “Cantonese is also a Chinese language, how can it not be accepted? […] This could kill Cantonese!”

When asked for comment on the situation, a ByteDance spokesperson told RADII that “Douyin live-streaming is building out content safety capabilities for additional languages and dialects. As one of the most widely spoken languages in China, Cantonese is a top priority and we hope to have it fully supported in the near future.”

Whether or not these capabilities will be released in the near future is unclear. But hopefully, ByteDance is working toward an inclusive environment where users from all walks of life can celebrate their heritage with confidence.

Cover Image: Aaron Yoo

Markus Sherman
    Markus Sherman is a fourth-year at the University of Southern California. Markus has travelled all over the world and is obsessed with sharing unique stories with anyone who will listen. In his free time, Markus likes to take photos, listen to music, study Chinese and play chess with the homies.