Poverty in China

Chinese government urged to teach minorities standardised form of language to help fight poverty

A former senior government adviser says language teaching is a vital tool in the drive to improve living standards

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 August, 2017, 5:45pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 September, 2017, 2:48pm

Not enough effort is being put into teaching China’s ethnic minorities Putonghua during Beijing’s fight to eradicate poverty, a top adviser to the government said on Saturday.

Chinese president Xi Jinping has declared war on poverty, and instructed local governments to eliminate impoverishment to create a “moderately well-off society” by the beginning of 2021, in time for the centenary of the ruling Communist Party.

While regional authorities have introduced out supportive policies, funds and programmes in China’s poorest regions, they are failing to teach ethnic minority groups enough Putonghua, Zhu Weiqun, said in an article in the state-backed Global Times newspaper.

Efforts to teach minority peoples Putonghua are “not up to scratch” in various places, said Zhu, who is head of the minorities and religions committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body.

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“I regularly come across low level cadres who with great effort use a mouthful of dialect to talk about their poverty alleviation plans without realising that dealing with their own deficiencies in speaking Mandarin [as Putonghua is also known] is an urgent task,” he said.

China promotes the use of standardised Putonghua, based on the dialect of Beijing, and encourages ethnic minorities to learn the official language in a bid to improve unity in multi-ethnic areas of the country.

But there has been resistance to the push for standardisation in regions such as Tibet and Xinjiang, where Tibetans and Uygurs, a Turkic-speaking mostly Muslim minority, often consider language integral to their cultural identity.

Beijing denies that Putonghua promotion damages minority culture, arguing that learning the official language gives minorities greater opportunities for work and schooling.

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Zhu said in the article that communication issues with workers from Xinjiang could cause a “vicious cycle” when companies group the workers together hindering their ability to work with others.

Over 70 per cent of the population speaks Putonghua, but levels of fluency in west China are 20 per cent lower than in the east, with only 40 per cent of people able to speak the official language in some rural areas, Zhu said.

He added that using a standardised form of the language to alleviate poverty, and using poverty alleviation to promote the language “does not only have an economic importance, but also has a deep political importance”.