This is my question, almost every program, TV Show, movie... everything has subtitles, one reason could be that there are many different accents in different provinces but I don't really find that convincing, because that happens in every language.

Does anyone know the real answer?


8 Answers 8


There are Chinese-language-only reasons like the many mutually-unintelligible dialects/topolects, the huge difference between spoken and written Chinese languages, but this doesn't explain why subtitling is ubiquitous, even when the entire show is in perfect Mandarin.

This is because subtitles are somewhat required under PRC state authorities, so there are a few other benefits/purposes for subtitling.

  • It improves literacy; according to OECD standards of literacy, China has about 80% literacy rate, meaning there are large sections of the populace that are illiterate. SLS (same language subtitling) has been shown to improve literacy, and apart from China this is also done in parts of India for the same reason.
  • It makes it easier to understand regional colloquialisms, as the subtitles will replace them with Mandarin versions. For example, the Cantonese "nei hai bin dou", instead of being shown as "你喺邊度", will be subtitled as "你在哪里".
  • It is more accessible to deaf viewers. Note that most other countries provide optional closed captions for this purpose.
  • It pushes Mandarin/putonghua hegemony, national unity and so on.

This is all enforced by SAPPRFT/SARFT (the equivalent of FCC, but much more powerful) under something called the Language Law. It is constantly evolving, and only really became prominent around the late 90s I believe. This is why if you look at older TV shows, they may not have subtitles. This state organ enforces many other things like requiring Mandarin proficiency for TV presenters, standardised Mandarin terminology, quotas for types of shows deemed less beneficial like reality-TV, historically-inaccurate dramas etc.

  • 1
    Israel has similar practices.
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 1:54
  • Singapore has similar practices. I watched a show that the host switched between Cantonese and Mandarin. The subtitles provide explanations such as "馬騮" in Cantonese is "猴子". Commented Jul 17, 2021 at 3:04

There are not just different accents in different regions. There are different spoken languages, using essentially the same written language.

And on this point, very distinctive English accents such as Jamaican or deep country accents from Appalachia are sometimes subtitled on American English language television.

  • Yeah, regional differences are much, much more dramatic in China. Comparing to the USA is a telling example... Before Europeans, there were many prominent and significantly different languages in North America, but they were largely wiped out. The groups of east Asia that ended up in modern China didn't face that and their languages continue.
    – Mike M
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 5:20
  • I think your view is correct. The most upvoted answer just talking about this is a rule of authorities, but he didn't go deeper to interfere why authorities need to do that.
    – Kevman
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 18:40

That is mainly to make sure deaf people can understand.


Ref: 为什么在中国流通的影视作品普遍显示字幕? - 知乎用户的回答 - 知乎


Chinese can't be without the subtitles. Except those people study few years and speak like a broadcast man/woman. Other people cannot make it 100% clear even if they're speaking the mandarin. This is for a normal people, needless to say seniors/disability people. Those actors clearly not gonna spend few years to learn that. So it needs a subtitle.


Chinese has a lot of dialects, but most of them are written the same way. And in the country with the most people in the WORLD, some of them are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Hardcoded subtitles are also the best option, because some people mightn't be able to switch on optional subtitles because they might have a very old TV or can't find the remote.


1 reason is that it helps disambiguate homophones. You're not talking with the person on screen, so you can't just ask them to disambiguate.



最早,至少是我小时候90年代,电视剧啥的都没字幕。只记得《三国演义》在咏诵古人文言文的时候有字幕。 一次偶尔看到采访一位聋哑人,他提到他喜欢看的电视剧是《笑傲江湖》(张纪中版),因为那个有字幕。这大概是我记忆中最早的有字幕的电视剧了吧。


我想起一个事,以前说中文学习需要五年才能达到读新闻的水平,这比起表音文字差太多(通常只需要半年时间就可掌握。)但是我家孩子从小看动画片,同时看中文字幕,在她上小学一年纪的时候,大概常用汉字都能认识了。之前的那个统计,应该是基于50年代,大家文化水平普遍较低,接触到文字机会较少得出的结论吧。 印象最深的一次,我给我家看英文动画片《少年泰坦》,我为练她英文听力,把字幕用一个窗口挡上(为避免影响观看效果,我尽量让这个窗口窄点,大体挡上就行了),就像这样:

enter image description here



For English (or other languase) TV series, without subtitles ordinary people can't understand or follow them.

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  • You already answered this question, in a more substantial way. In this case it's better if you edit it, instead of posting a new one.
    – blackgreen
    Commented Jul 15, 2021 at 14:24

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