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People's Daily Online>>China Society

Much ado about Manchu

(Shanghai Daily)

08:50, November 15, 2011

Shi Junguang, a Manchu himself, teaches part-time at the Sanjiazi Manchu School in the northeast province of Heilongjiang.

Shi Junguang has no teaching diploma, but the former rice farmer got a language-teaching job with a verbal reference from his grandmother about his command of Manchu - once used in imperial documents but now on the verge of extinction.

Fewer than 100 people can speak fluent Manchu in a population of more than 10 million ethnic Manchu living mostly in northeastern China. Manchu is the country's third-largest ethnic group, after Han and Zhuang minority.

The Manchu founded the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) that ruled China for more than 260 years, but the language was in decline in the 1700s and even the imperial court had lost its fluency by the 19th century. It was China's last dynasty and witnessed China's decline from prosperity.

The Manchu dynasty was known for introducing half-shaved heads and pigtails for men. The fitting high-collared cheongsam, with a side slit, for women is also Manchu in origin.

Shi, who is 35, teaches at the Sanjiazi Manchu School in the northeast province of Heilongjiang where most Manchus live.

Shi's grandmother, 86-year-old Meng Shujing, is one of very few people who can chat fluently in Manchu. She and another 15 old people in the village of Sanjiazi are regarded as "living fossils" of their mother tongue and are paid 200 yuan (US$30) a month by the county to pass on their language. More than 70 percent of the villagers are ethnic Manchu.

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