“A language lost”

South China Morning Post has an article about the disappearance of Manchu language and culture- Mongols, Tibetans, and Uighur take note:

Although there are more than 10 million people in China who are classified as ethnic Manchus – most of whom live in Heilongjiang, Liaoning and Jilin in the northeast – linguists say that Sanjiazi is the last Manchu-speaking community in China.

Even then, only three villagers – all over 80 years old – are fluent in their native language and another 15 – above 70 years old – are conversant to some degree in their mother tongue, says Professor Zhao Aping , director of the Manchu Language and Culture Research Centre at Heilongjiang University.

The traditional nomadic lifestyle Ji knew as a boy is gone forever. And the Manchu language, which is rich in hunting terms and the names of wild animals, has never seemed more irrelevant or obsolete in the lives of the villagers.

“My grandfather took me hunting and together we would catch foxes, eagles, rabbits. But I haven’t hunted for more than 40 years and children these days don’t even learn to ride horses anymore,” Ji said. “People have forgotten the Manchu language. I suppose it will disappear in 10 or 20 years – I guess this can’t be helped.”

But even with Shi’s enthusiasm and the classes he teaches at the school, linguists say it will not be easy to revive Manchu. Social and economic changes as well as years of persecution of the Manchu identity mean the language is not in a fit state to survive.

But the Manchu language has been in gradual decline since the population migrated to other parts of the country with the Qing court and was assimilated into the mainstream Han culture through social contact and intermarriage, despite an official policy of maintaining a separate identity.

With the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911, the Manchu identity, with its association with the ruling class and the special privileges it enjoyed, became an embarrassing liability. During the Cultural Revolution, Manchu speakers were labelled as spies for using their mysterious tongue, forbidden from speaking it and often jailed. Many ethnic Manchus adopted Chinese surnames, changed their officially recorded ethnicity to Han, abandoned their language and hid their ancestry from others, including their children.

To arrest the decline of the language, linguists are calling for government initiatives to promote the use of Manchu in education and society. They would like to see Manchu classes included in school curriculums in traditionally Manchu-speaking areas, to give residents social and economic incentives to use it.

“This is an endangered language and the task to preserve it is very urgent, yet there is no plan to save it,” said a Manchu expert who declined to be named, bemoaning the lack of a government strategy or funding to save Manchu from extinction.

Maybe there isn’t a plan to save it because the death of the language is the plan? In Zhongnanhai there’s only one language, one culture, and one ethnicity, and it definitely isn’t Manchu.

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Filed under culture, ethnic conflict, Manchu

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