Chinese Village Struggles to Save Dying Language (NYT)

An article in today’s Times about the dying out of the Manchu language:

Ms. Meng is one of 18 residents of this isolated village in northeastern China, all over 80 years old, who, according to Chinese linguists and historians, are the last native speakers of Manchu.

Descendants of seminomadic tribesmen who conquered China in the 17th century, they are the last living link to a language that for more than two and a half centuries was the official voice of the Qing dynasty, the final imperial house to rule from Beijing and one of the richest and most powerful empires the world has known.

With the passing of these villagers, Manchu will also die, experts say. All that will be left will be millions of documents and files — about 60 tons of Manchu-language documents are in the provincial archive in Harbin alone — along with inscriptions on monuments and important buildings in China, unintelligible to all but a handful of specialists.

“I think it is inevitable,” said Zhao Jinchun, an ethnic Manchu born in Sanjiazi who taught at the village primary school for more than two decades before becoming a government official in Qiqihar, a city about 30 miles to the south. “It is just a matter of time. The Manchu language will face the same fate as some other ethnic minority languages in China and be overwhelmed by the Chinese language and culture.”

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