Manchu, Once China’s Official Language, Could Lose Its Voice

May 30th, 2017 by Tao Qinglan can still speak her mother tongue, Manchu, but everything else has changed since she was born 72 years ago in Sanjiazi Village. She now lives with her Manchu daughter and Han son-in-law in a modern brick house, and they speak Mandarin at home. None of the houses in the village have preserved the traditional Manchu feature of a kang stove-bed surrounding three sides of the room, and almost all their traditional clothes and books were wiped out during the Cultural Revolution. “The clothes we wear, the house we live in, and the language we speak are now no different from those of the Han people,” Tao sighs. At the Two Sessions political meetings earlier this year, policy advisors proposed multimedia and educational strategies to protect ethnic minority languages, which they say are disappearing at an alarming rate. Manchu is one of 15 languages with fewer than 1,000 speakers. Read more: Sixth Tone

Last words: language of China’s Manchu emperors in peril

June 28th, 2016 by It was the language of China’s last imperial dynasty that ruled a vast kingdom for nearly three centuries. But 71-year-old Ji Jinlu is among only a handful of native Manchu speakers left. Traders and farmers from what are now the borders of China and Korea, the Manchus took advantage of a crumbling Ming state and swept south in the 1600s to establish their own Qing Dynasty. Manchu became the court language, its angular, alphabetic script used in millions of documents produced by one of the world’s pre-eminent powers. Now after centuries of decline followed by decades of repression, septuagenarian Ji is the youngest of some nine mother-tongue speakers left in Sanjiazi village, one of only two places in China where they can be found. “We mostly speak Chinese these days — otherwise young people don’t understand,” he said, in his sparsely furnished hut beside cornfields, before launching into a self-composed Manchu lullaby. Manchu is classed as “critically endangered” by the United Nations’ cultural organization UNESCO, which says that half of the more than 6,000 languages spoken worldwide are threatened with extinction, a major loss of knowledge and diversity for humanity. But plans to save Manchu are spreading as ethnic consciousness grows among the 10-million-strong minority. Read more: The Japan Times

Manchu, Former Empire’s Language, Hangs On at China’s Edge

January 12th, 2016 by QAPQAL XIBE AUTONOMOUS COUNTY, China — Loyal to the core and prized for their horsemanship, several thousand Manchu soldiers heeded the emperor’s call and, with families and livestock in tow, embarked in 1764 on a trek that took them from northeastern China to the most distant fringes of the Qing dynasty empire, the Central Asian lands now known as Xinjiang. It was an arduous, 18-month journey, but there was one consolation: After completing their mission of pacifying the western frontier, the troops would be allowed to take their families home. “They were terribly homesick here and dreamed of one day going back east,” said Tong Hao, 56, a descendant of the settlers, from the Xibe branch of the Manchus, who arrived here emaciated and exhausted. “But sadly, it was not to be.” Two and a half centuries later, the roughly 30,000 people in this rural county who consider themselves Xibe have proved to be an ethnographic curiosity and a linguistic bonanza. As the last handful of Manchu speakers in northeast China have died, the Xibe have become the sole inheritors of what was once the official tongue of one of the world’s most powerful empires, a domain that stretched from India to Russia and formed the geographic foundation for modern China. Read more: NY Times‎