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This article reviews debates over the nature of fangyan (local language or dialect) vis-à-vis a unified national language and explores the discourse of the local in China’s quest for modernity in the early twentieth century. It examines four major literary movements and intellectual debates: the romanized script reform and the national language movement that began in the late Qing period; the vernacular movement, including the folk song collection movement in the May Fourth era; the discussion on mass language and the Latinized New Writing movement in the 1930s; and the debate on “national forms” in the late 1930s and early 1940s during the Second Sino-Japanese War. This paper explores how Chinese intellectuals conceived the role of fangyan in the construction of national language, national literature, and the modern nation-state. It demonstrates that Chinese intellectuals’ primary concern in language debates and movements, for all their differences, lay in building a unified modern national language.