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Mandarin classes are a new battleground between China and Taiwan

May 15, 2023

The Los Angeles Times


In the relaxed cadences of her native Taiwan, Kelly Chuang instructed her students to repeat after her.

Wo bu shi taiwan ren. Wo shi meiguo ren” — “I’m not Taiwanese. I’m American.”

She projected the written Chinese for the phrases onto a whiteboard. “Taiwan” appeared in the traditional form, with 25 strokes in the second character alone.

The four adults were studying Mandarin, Taiwanese style — elaborately written characters over the simplified versions used in China, no “ers” appended to words, less of a curled tongue for “sh” sounds.

In a small way, as they struggled over the language’s four tones and learned how to make Taiwanese spring rolls last month in a classroom in San Marino, they were part of a high-stakes global chess game.

“It looks intense,” said Deseree Oaxaca, 25, as she stared at the characters for “Taiwan” on the board.

The class and others like it in the U.S. and Europe are backed by the Taiwanese government, which hopes to spread its version of Mandarin — along with its values of freedom and democracy — as China’s threats against Taiwan become increasingly bellicose.

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