The Past, Present and Future of Mandarin


"A Tale of Two Languages" Lecture I

By David Moser 莫大伟

In this opening lecture at TranslateSingapore 2017, renowned linguist and writer David Moser (A Billion Voices: China’s Search for a Common Language) explores the question, "Where did our current global version of standard Chinese come from, and where is it going?" Whether it is called Mandarin, huayu, guoyu, or putonghua, the world's Chinese now have a common tongue. In the 21st century the problems are largely pedagogical: What is the best way to teach the language to the tens of millions of foreigners and Chinese heritage learners who tackle it every year? How can we address the problems of learners in Chinese diaspora communities in Singapore, and around the world? How can we make the Chinese characters easier to learn in the new cyberspace century? And how can the study of the language serve as a vehicle for the spread of Chinese culture itself? David Moser answers these questions and more.

The lecture will be followed by a roundtable discussion:

Roundtable Discussion: Chinese and Me

Featuring: David Moser, Ho Ai Li, Lai Chee Kien, Sukanya Pushkarna, Tan Chee Lay

With the rise of China, Chinese is gradually becoming a global language. But as the language spreads around the world, could more local variants develop, as in the case of English? How connected does a Chinese person in Southeast Asia feel to Beijing Mandarin compared to the vernacular version? A diverse panel of speakers discuss their own relationship to the Chinese language and the roles the language plays in their cultural, economic, and social lives.

The programmes will be in English with some Mandarin.

See also:

For more information about TranslateSingapore 2017 programmes and to get tickets, please click here.

TranslateSingapore is back for the third year as we celebrate “SG Translation Month”! Click here to find out more about the highlights this year.



David Moser holds a Master’s and a PhD in Chinese Studies from the University of Michigan. He has been based in Beijing for over 25 years, active in academic and media circles. He is currently Academic Director at CET Chinese Studies at Beijing Capital Normal University, where he teaches courses in Chinese history and politics. He appears often on BBC radio as a commentator and is also a frequent China analyst on Al Jazeera television. He has worked at China Central Television (CCTV) in Beijing as a programme advisor, translator, and host, and continues to be active on Chinese television as a commentator in both Chinese and English. Moser is also co-host of the Sinica Podcast, an influential China current affairs podcast widely listened to by journalists and China watchers throughout the world. Moser is author of the book A Billion Voices: China's Search for a Common Language, published by Penguin.


Dr Tan Chee Lay has lived in Singapore, Taiwan and UK, and has studied Chinese literature, English Studies and Business Administration. He completed his doctorate in Oriental Studies (Chinese literature) in Cambridge University, specializing in Chinese poetry and exile poets. He is currently Associate Professor of Chinese at National Institute of Education, and is the Executive Director (R&D) of the Singapore Centre for Chinese Language, Nanyang Technological University.


Ho Ai Li writes, edits and reports for The Straits Times. A copy editor, she also contributes articles on heritage, culture and language. The topics she has written about include Singaporean Chinese culture, "female" road names in Singapore and Taiwanese new wave cinema. Ai Li, who studied History and Politics at Warwick University in Britain, was the anchor writer of a 2015 weekly history series in The Sunday Times, called This Week In 1965. She was also one of the contributing writers of the book 50 Things To Love About Singapore. She has won awards for long-form features carried in The Straits Times' former Saturday Special Report section. She did her Master's in East Asian studies at Columbia University in New York and was previously a foreign correspondent for the paper based in Taipei and then Beijing.

SUKANYA PUSHKARNA (Singapore/ India)

Sukanya Pushkarna has a background in Chinese language and literature from India. She was a recipient of a scholarship from China and studied at Fudan University in Shanghai between 1986 and 1988. She is a docent at the Asian Civilisations Museum and the Indian Heritage Centre. She also actively volunteers with the Indian Women's Association, Singapore and is its immediate past president. Under her leadership, IWA received a special award for integration from the National Integration Council in 2017. She volunteers actively with local nonprofit organisations like TWC2 and Beyond Social Services and is a member of the Chinese language chapter of Soroptimist International in Singapore. Sukanya moved to Singapore seven years ago after spending 23 years in the Silicon Valley and is thoroughly enjoying it.


Lai Chee Kien is Adjunct Associate Professor at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (Architecture and Sustainable Design pillar). He graduated from the National University of Singapore with an M Arch. by research (1996), and then a PhD in History of Architecture & Urban Design from the University of California, Berkeley (2005). His publications include A Brief History of Malayan Art (1999); Building Merdeka: Independence Architecture in Kuala Lumpur, 1957-1966 (2007); Cords to Histories (2013), and Through the Lens of Lee Kip Lin (2015). He researches on histories of art, architecture, settlements, urbanism and landscapes in Southeast Asia, and is also a registered architect in Singapore.

  • The event description was updated. Diff#274874 2017-09-04 05:56:37
More updates
Sat Sep 9, 2017
10:00 AM - 12:30 PM SGT
Add to Calendar
Standard SOLD OUT $22.00
Students and senior citizens SOLD OUT $18.00
Venue Address
1 Old Parliament Lane, Singapore 179429 Singapore
5 to 10-min walk from City Hall, Clarke Quay and Raffles Place MRT stations. For list of buses: theartshouse.sg/visit
The Select Centre