SGRA Kawaraban (Essay) in English

Bao Lian Qun “Multilingual Localization in China during COVID-19 Pandemic”

Soon after the new coronavirus infections was discovered, Chinese government sent more than 42 thousand medical personnel, which included national army medical teams, to 16 cities including Wuhan city in Hubei Province. We saw the Chinese words like “抗疫(fight with infections)“、”援湖北”(assist Hubei), “最前線(forefront)”、”出征(go to the front)“ in mass media and slogans of each medical teams. Mass media reported repeatedly that medical personnel were sent to the “front” (Hubei province) and was being prepared for “fighting” against infections. People nationwide were strained.



There was another “war” actually besides the “corona”. The “language war”.  Languages are strong “weapons” which are indispensable in daily lives and in social activities. But medical personnel, who were sent to Hubei, had difficulties in languages. Because there were a lot of elderly persons who spoke dialects which medical personnel baffled. Both sides could not communicate with each other’s and medical care was hindered.



As you may know, there are 56 races in the Chinese main land and you may understand there are a lot of dialects also. What I like to draw attention point out here is there are big differences among such dialects, except for few dialects, is standard Mandarin. It is said that they could not communicate each other in the past when they have crossed a mountain. People in Japan, where standard Japanese language is popular, may not be able to believe in such situation. We can say that standard Chinese language are not prevailing in the whole area in China. People, who weren’t had school education, cannot speak standard language. Especially, in the pandemic, elderly people who did not had school education or people who spoke only local dialects had difficulties in communicating with the people who came from other areas.



There are three dialects in Hubei province. Southwestern Mandarin, Lower Yangtze Mandarin and Gan Mandarin. These three dialects are divided to smaller dialects. Medical teams, who were sent to Hubei Province, engaged in their medical treatment divided into nine areas.

Four areas in Southwestern Mandarin speaking area (Wuhan, Jingzhou, Yichang, and Xianyang), three areas in Lower Yangtze Mandarin area (Xiaogan, Huangshi, and Ezhiu), Huanggang dialect area and Xianning dialect area where they speak Gan dialect. Medical personnel could not understand such dialects and that affected treatment.  And patient could not answer the questions which medical staves asked and answered in local dialect as they do not know standard Mandarin.



When the medical team of Qilu Hospital in Shandong University arrived Huangang City, they realized difference of language. A nurse Mr. Z. started “self-help” because he realized communication difficulties between medical staffs and patients and affected to their medical efficaciousness.  He completed “Communication Book between Medical Staffs and Patients” on February 1 and put it to practical use at the Medical Center in Dabie-shan area.  Mr. G. who belonged to the fifth medical team in the hospital and arrived at Wuhan on February 9, realized also language problem and completed “Wuhan Dialect Practical Hand Book” (『国家援鄂医療隊武漢方言実用手册』), under cooperation of doctors and other university staff member in Wuhan, within 48 hours after his arriving at Wuhan. They used it immediately.



Mr. Li Yu-ming, Language Resources High-precision Innovation Center in Beijing, came to know that medical team in the hospital, have edited “Wuhan Dialect Practical Handbook” (『抗撃疫情湖北方言通』). And he organized a service team named “Language Service Team for Fighting Infections” under cooperation with Universities, research institutions and enterprises and completed, in only three days, a “tool” named “Wuhan Dialects for CORONA Infectious Control”. This handbook introduced translation and conversation between nine dialects in Hubei Province and standard Mandarin.  It contains 156 vocabularies and 75 sentences which are used in infection control and medical treatment. He gave this handbook to medical personnel in the “forefront” and to patients.



There are various “tools” for language problem at medical sites. Web-Site- Net-Version, On-Line Telephone, Telephone Counseling, Net Text etc.

DUB (data under voice) and Micro Video are always reproduced. We have “WeChat” version too. In this “tool”, everybody can start sound reproduction system by scanning QR cord and listen sound broad casting so that sentences spoken by standard Mandarin and dialects can correspond.

Moreover, “Fusion Media Pocket Book” is printed in the style of pocketbook and “TikTok” version is also prepared. Beside such tools, there contains various software like dialect translation software, voice sending software by intelligent, telephone medical assistant robots, and retrieval site by the company “Qihoo 360(Technology)” which can confirm whether it is a mere rumor or not. The government of Hubei province and Wuhan city offered video simultaneous interpretation service to overcome “language” problems.   



Utilizing such printed matters, they established “Foreign Language for Corona Control“、and “Easy Chinese Language for Corona Control” (『疫情防控外語通』)and offered to medical sites and foreigners. It is said that “Easy Chinese language” (『疫情防控“簡明漢語”』) was made getting a hint from “Easy Japanese language” which are given to foreigners in Japan. More than 500 people and a lot of organizations and types of industry are involved in participation of “disaster language service” by “Language Service Team for Fighting Infection”.

We understand now that huge number of people, not only medical personnel but people, who belong to other fields than medical field, involved in medical countermeasure and offered “disaster language service”.



SGRA Kawaraban 648 in Japanese (Original)



Bao Lian Qun / Professor, Oita University(Japan), Researcher at 中国言語戦略研究センター(Nanjing University)  



Translated by Kazuo Kawamura

English checked by Sabina Koirala