The First Art Newspaper on the Net   Established in 1996 United States Wednesday, September 18, 2019


Last words: language of China's emperors in peril
This picture taken on May 4, 2016 shows Meng Xianren, 84, sitting inside the house of his friend Ji Jinlu (R) in Sanjiazi village, Heilongjiang province. It was the language of China's ruing Dynasty just a century ago, but now the country's only Manchu speakers are a handful of pensioners in a remote village. Locals are struggling to pass it on amid a extinction which experts forecast could lead the loss of half the word's languages by the end of the century. NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP.

by Tom Hancock


SANJIAZI (AFP).- It was the language of China's last imperial dynasty which 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 preeminent 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 organisation 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 schemes to save Manchu are spreading as ethnic conciousness grows among the 10-million-strong minority.

The sign for the village primary school in Sanjiazi, in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, is in Manchu's vertical script, with posters in the language written by pupils lining its corridors.

Staring intently at an electronic display, a class shouted the Manchu alphabet, followed by words for "umbrella" and "cow".

But instruction was in Chinese, the everyday language of school life, as were the bellowed lyrics of a song titled: "We are the good Manchu children".

Teacher Shi Junguang, who painstakingly learnt Manchu from older residents and records native speakers before they pass away, wore a red and turquoise robe with gold sleeves reminiscent of the group's traditional apparel.

But, now, he said, the Manchu "don't really have any special ethnic characteristics in food or dress."

"The main thing we have here is the language."

- Barbarian Manchus -Under the Qing -- or "pure" - dynasty, China saw massive territorial expansion before it weakened in the 19th century, assailed by corruption and pressure from European and other foreign powers.

Discrimination against non-Manchu Chinese remained rife and helped fuel a series of rebellions which finally saw the dynasty overthrown in 1911.

Republican leader Sun Yat-sen declared: "To restore the Chinese nation, we must drive the barbarian Manchus back to the Changbai Mountains," their ancestral homeland.

Many remaining Manchus hid their language, a trend which intensified under Communist leader Mao Zedong, who launched campaigns to eradicate foreign and traditional culture.

At the height of Maoism, "No one spoke the language," recalled Ji. "It was a time of destroying old culture. Who would dare?"

Political controls relaxed in the 1980s following Mao's death, and Yang Yuan, an ethnic Manchu historian in Beijing, said: "Manchu consciousness has started re-emerging, and now it's getting stronger and stronger."

Several universities currently offer Manchu courses, and enthusiasts in major cities have formed clubs to study it. 

China has launched a massive project to translate Qing documents into modern Chinese, an effort aimed at promoting a view of the dynasty as essentially Chinese.

But the language is also studied by academics abroad, including many in Japan and the US.

Last year overseas historians were branded "splittists" whose work "endangers Chinese unity" in the official journal of the state-run Chinese Academy for Social Sciences, in a sign of official fears over Qing history.

But Harvard University professor Mark Elliott said that teaching Manchu was considered less of a threat by the ruling party than Tibetan or the language of the mainly Muslim Uighur minority, as China's northeastern provinces were now "so firmly welded" into the country that accusations of separatism were implausible.

"That makes Manchu a little bit safer," he added.

'Our English is better'
Sanjiazi is "more of symbolic value as the last bastion of Manchu speakers," Elliot said. "If the effort is to revive Manchu in a way that it would be used in everyday life, I don't see much chance of success."

Teacher Shi admitted that his charges only have "some understanding" of the language. Internet savvy young people have little use for it and dream of leaving the remote settlement.  

Outside school, a group of blue-uniformed children struggled to remember the Manchu word for "goodbye", one adding in Chinese: "To be honest, our English is better."

One of the few mother-tongue speakers, Meng Xianren, 85, recalled a poverty-stricken youth punctuated by traditional Manchu pursuits, such as rabbit hunting using trained eagles.

He repeated a Manchu phrase meaning "where are you from?" to 14-year-old Li Kechao, who hovered in his doorway.

She did her best to parrot the question back to the village elder, before admitting: "I don't understand."

Spitting on a stone floor, Meng declared: "Manchus once ruled over the Han people. But that time is over".

"We've become like them," he added with resignation. "There's no difference."



© 1994-2016 Agence France-Presse






Today's News

June 29, 2016

Exhibition of works by Dutch master of landscape opens at Rijksmuseum

Jenny Saville record shattered at Sotheby's Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Artist Wayne Thiebaud donates major works of art to new UC Davis Museum

"Made in Japan: Kakiemon and 400 years of porcelain" on view at the British Museum

Bonhams Scotland appoints new Chairman

Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center receives archive Donation from architect Hugh Kaptur

Founding member of the Fluxus international art movement Ben Patterson dies

"Rana Begum: The Space Between" opens at Parasol unit

Last words: language of China's emperors in peril

Site-specific artwork by Jorge Otero-Pailos presented at at Westminster Hall

Kunsthalle Bern opens exhibition of works by Vittorio Brodmann

Driscoll Babcock Galleries presents a selection of works by Don Nice

Robin Rice Gallery opens the annual Summertime Salon

Parrish Art Museum announces the appointment of Chris Siefert as Deputy Director

Empirical Intuitive Absorption: Group exhibition opens at Andrea Rosen Gallery

Maurizio Cannavacciuolo: A Lecture on Martian History on the Anne H. Fitzpatrick façade

Australia's great crossover indigenous artist comes to London for a one-man show at Messum's

Spaghetti western film star Bud Spencer dies

Solo exhibition by Los Angeles based painter Tahnee Lonsdale opens at De Buck Gallery

The City & The City at Denny Gallery East Broadway

Two-part summer group exhibition on view at gallery nine 5

First retrospective in Argentina of Yoko Ono's work on view at MALBA

Jean Shin unveils new major public artwork in Seattle

Most Popular Last Seven Days



1.- Holocaust 'masterpiece' causes uproar at Venice film festival

2.- To be unveiled at Sotheby's: One of the greatest collections of Orientalist paintings ever assembled

3.- Bender Gallery features paintings by up and coming Chicago artist Michael Hedges

4.- Lévy Gorvy exhibits new and historic works by French master in his centenary year

5.- Artificial Intelligence as good as Mahler? Austrian orchestra performs symphony with twist

6.- Fascinating new exhibition explores enduring artistic bond between Scotland and Italy

7.- Exhibition explores the process of Japanese-style woodblock production

8.- Robert Frank, photographer of America's underbelly, dead at 94

9.- The truth behind the legend of patriot Paul Revere revealed in a new exhibition at New-York Historical Society

10.- Hitler bust found in cellar of French Senate



Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .

 



Founder:
Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez

Royalville Communications, Inc
produces:

ignaciovillarreal.org avemariasound.org juncodelavega.com facundocabral-elfinal.org
Founder's Site. The most varied versions
of this beautiful prayer.
Hommage
to a Mexican poet.
Hommage
       

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful