June 09, 2015

"There are many challenges to China’s language policy and language planning."

China Policy Institute Since 2006, China’s State Language Commission, an administrative department under the Ministry of Education, has been compiling an annual Green Paper on the so-called ‘language life’ in China. by Li Wei

'These Green Papers are published under the title Language Situation in China, and the English translation of the key parts of the reports between 2006 and 2013 are now available as Li Yuming and Li Wei eds, 2013, 2014, 2015. The reports detail many facets of the language policies and in China and have fast become an essential reference for those interested in the socio-cultural changes in Chinese society today.

'Language has been key to the unity and identity of the Chinese nation. The Chinese people hold a deep-rooted linguistic ideology that they share one unifying language that has been in existence for over 5,000 years, and that the language has specific features that are superior to other languages in the world. As a result, the state’s imposition of a national standard language, especially a standardised written script, has rarely been questioned, even though the policies regarding language and language use in China are not always clearly or coherently articulated, and there are lots of contradictory policies that affect language practices in public domains and in people’s everyday lives. For example, the predominant language policy at the national level is the promotion of Putonghua and simplified written characters. The Ministry of Education expects schools across the land to teach accordingly, and the provincial language commissions administer standard tests for individuals who wish to hold public offices.

'The Ministry of Culture, on the other hand, is actively encouraging the preservation of traditional cultural heritage including folk operas and festivals, all of which can only be done in the so-called dialects or regional varieties of Chinese rather than the national standard language. In the meantime, China recognises 56 ethnic groups amongst hundreds of different groups. Efforts have been made to promote bilingualism, in Chinese and the ethnic language, and bilingual education. But tensions exist in several key areas where there are concentrations of the so-called ethnic minority groups who feel the pressure of using Chinese in order to receive quality education and to obtain better employment. In October 2010, 19 October, staff and students from teacher training colleges and ‘ethnic’ schools in the Huangnan district of Qinghai province, where there is a large population of Tibetans, staged a public protest against the Education Reform Bill by the provincial government; this bill recommended the use of the ‘national language’, i.e. Chinese, in order to raise education standards. The bill specifically stated that by 2015, the national language (Chinese) should be the dominant language and the ethnic language (Tibetan and others) the supplementary language in schools in the Qinghai province. The protests quoted China’s laws protecting the rights of the officially recognised ethnic minority communities, including their language rights. The central government in Beijing had to send officials to visit Huangnan, and made the provincial officials apologise for the ‘error’ in formulating the Education Reform Bill. The ‘equal’ statuses of Tibetan and Chinese were subsequently reaffirmed.'

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