Dialogue: About Kyowa-Go (Language)

  • TypeText
  • Time2021
  • SourceLee Kai Chung
  • CreditIsaji Yugo, Hiko Lee, Pan He
  • CopyrightLee Kai Chung

‘Kyowa-Go’ (協和語), also known as ‘Nichiman-go​​’ (日満語, ‘Japanese-Manchu language’), ‘Koa-go’ (興亜語, ‘A language makes Asia strong again’) and ‘Daitoa-go’ (大東亜語, ‘Greater Asia language’), was a language spoken in the Manchurian belt. It was a combination of Japanese, the local Chinese language of Northeast China and Manchurian. It was mainly used from the end of the Qing Dynasty after the Russo-Japanese War (late 19th century), after the founding of Manchukuo, the government promoted Kyowa-Go through propaganda, but it was not popular. Kyowa-Go eventually died out after the end of Manchukuo in 1945.

When I thought about what language or dialect the characters in The Shadow Lands Yonder (2021) were speaking, it revealed the historical context, settlers’ background, the atmosphere in which they grew up, and also the way they saw themselves. In the course of research and discussion, various collaborators and friends, including myself, had expressed rather diverse views on the use of Kyowa-Go. In the context of the Chinese language, there is always a certain degree of ambiguity; in contrast, the usage of Kyowa-Go in Manchukuo in the contemporary context, the interpretation of the legal provisions as well as the multi-ethnic environment opened up a more detailed discussion and discourse about the dissonance and conflict between self-identity and legal nationality.


C: Lee Kai Chung

IY: Isaji Yugo

H: Hiko Lee (a Chinese-Japanese translator of Chinese-Japanese origin, he translated the Chinese script and plot of The Shadow Lands Yonder)。

P: Pan He (a friend who is from Wonderland Club in Shenyang)


H: Before doing the translation, I'm now doing some research about ‘Kyowa-Go’, a kind of mixed language which was used in Manchukuo at that time.
There are 8 characters in your script, do any of them speak ‘Kyowa-Go’?
Just thinking, maybe some young people will use some ‘Kyowa-Go’ rather than pure Japanese in Manchuria.

C: I am thinking the same.
In fact, I do not know the differences between Kyowa-go and Japanese.
Can you tell? or can you find some references about Kyowa-Go? it is a very very good point Hiko!

H: For 2 females talking with a North-Eastern accent, it's okay not to change to Kyowa-go as the North-Eastern accent is too strong, they probably don't change a lot about their accent.
Yes, I found some research pdf on the web, it’s not that difficult to understand Kyowa-go for me . just mixing both Chinese and Japanese

C: I see!!!
I wonder, how does Kyowa-go sound to Japanese nowadays in your opinion?
If we can find voice actor/actress, I may need to tell them how to pronounce

H: I think it is easy, just tell the voice actors to speak Chinese like Japanese people. But the sentences are just a mixture of Chinese and Japanese. Like ‘姑娘’ (Lady), ‘馬車’ (Carriage), it pronounce ‘Gu-nyan’, ‘ma-Cha’ in Kyowa-go (but in Japanese accent), which you can see is a Putonghua pronunciation.


C: Pan He, have you heard of Kyowa-go?

P: Yes. It was developed with Chinese vocabulary, but  Japanese, Korean and Manchu grammar. The sentence structure was exactly the same with those three languages.

C:  My friend was helping with the translation from Chinese to Japanese. We were wondering if there were some conversations in which the Japanese were speaking Kyowa-go. Not many people spoke it at that time, did they? Because it was a new language.

You said that Japanese and Korean Manchu sentence structure were the same, it is grammar, not pronunciation, right?

My Japanese friend sees Kyowa-go as a way that Chinese vocabulary was being spoken in Japanese.

P: It was grammar, not  pronunciation. Yes, Chinese vocabulary spoken in Japanese.

C: Got it!


C: Like you said, it mixed with vocabularies borrowed from Korean and Manchu. But the sentence structure is the same as Japanese.

H: Grammatically using Japanese but some nouns/adjectives using Chinese.


IY: Kyowa-go was made for non-Japanese people. And Japanese never used it. But I think I can make her (voice actress) influenced by Kyowa-go.

If the translator can make it just Japanese text, it will be helpful.


P: Kyowa-go was probably spoken between Japanese people who did not know Chinese, and Chinese people who did not know Japanese.

C: It wasn't spoken among Japanese, right?

P: Correct.

C: I checked Wikipedia and it says that there was a linguistic mix in Manchuria, and  also a Japanese version of Kyowa-go, which was different from the local Kyowa-go. I was discussing this with a Japanese artist, who thought that the Japanese must not have spoken the language at that time.

P: Since there were also many Koreans in Manchuria, the Japanese did not speak Kyowa-go among themselves; the Japanese and Koreans may have communicated with some strange languages.

C: Got it. Do you think that the Manchuria-born generation would speak Kyowa-go? 

P: I don't think so. Because the Manchurian-born Japanese also lived in Japanese enclaves.


H: Yes yes. So when they were speaking with Japanese probably they wouldn’t use it, but I wonder, if a young person  grew up there, they probably will use a little of it

C: I agree, some young people learnt about Kyowa-go, just like trendy slang.


C: I double checked with my Shenyang friend, who researches a lot about Manchuria. he said Japanese spoke Kyowa-go to non-Japanese only, even those people born in Manchuria.

So it comes down to a very specific question to my script,

Whom are the characters speaking to?

If they are speaking to Japanese, there would be no Kyowa-go.

But if they are speaking to Koreans, Chinese, or someone else, Kyowa-go would make sense totally

IY: Aha, so it looks like a monologue but they can be speaking to someone.

C: If it is monologue, definitely no Kyowa-go.

My translator friend found a document, two Japanese soldiers spoke in Kyowa-go to each other. Language is like a living thing.

We can do it this way, we record both versions, and decide the languages depending on the exhibition context. Does it make sense to you?

IY: I thought it was monologue.

And sorry I still can't imagine she speaks it in this situation. I have to understand more to find a voice actor and ask them. If I can understand, I can modify it in the best way.