According to the Ethnologue, ever since 2009, Mandarin has been the world’s top language, having the most number of native speakers. Second is Spanish and third comes English. This has been 1 of the reasons why people have suggested that China will replace America to become the world’s global powerhouse in the near future. This means the international language of commerce will be Mandarin (with China being the centre of commerce), and aliens will choose to invade China when they come to Earth. Will this really happen?
Well, all I can say right now is that I’m really not sure. I can’t commit myself to either stand yet. It can be hard to shift a paradigm, where currently everyone’s busy learning English and picking up American influences, to one where people learn Chinese and eat Chinese food and wear Asian garb. Considering languages like Japanese have already incorporated English words into their growing list of katakana, and English is the second language of even China, it can be a startling progression to find that English becomes not as important anymore. That said, what I can definitively say about our globalising era today is that knowing more languages is always better, no matter what language. It is no longer a place for monolinguals. If one wants to get ahead in life, one needs an edge over one’s competitors, and the easiest way to have a niche is to learn a language.
Setting language aside, though, I don’t think the Chinese are ready to lead the world just yet. China grew out of nowhere in recent years, marking a kind of explosion of economic growth. Will this explosion last? Also, it has not been the most co-operative in global economics. It has irked other countries when it comes to trade and also when it comes to history, such as its conflict with Taiwan and Japan. Currently tourism industries worldwide treat the Chinese with grudging welcome. There is still a bunch of uncultured Chinese who suddenly find themselves with money to go overseas, so their mannerisms still remain loud and coarse. And yet these brash Chinese people spend lavishly. Everybody is in a panic now because prices of property and other goods are going steadily up. Why? The Chinese are sweeping them all.
“Sweeping” is really the word to describe the Chinese. There is nothing subtle about a country with a population of 1 353 821 000 at last count in 2012. Look at the traditional train crowds near the Lunar New Year period. It is also because of this size that everything can happen in China. Compare Shanghai, one of the world’s metropolitan cities, with Yunnan, home of all the minority tribes in the mountains. China has great scenery and great culture, great history and great technology. Now that it is opening its doors to the world, it will get what it wants.
If we start to lean towards China rather than the United States, it seems our entire worldview has got to change too. Business has always been done with the assumption that the Western way is best — direct, non-hierarchical, individualistic. China doesn’t work like that. China works with contacts, with a respect for the higher-ups. One sign of its economic growth is its gradual adoption of Western values of directness and equality. But if China becomes even more powerful than the West, why should it be doing things in the Western way? Westerners may have to learn how to maintain workplace harmony and give “face” in its business dealings in the future. Westerners may have to learn to have deals over dinner.
As we inch towards the Lunar New Year, I wonder, will it ever become the world’s main holiday, like Christmas is now?