Officials should learn minority languages, says China's government

An ethnic Miao minority child wearing traditional costume carries a plate of rice during lunchtime at the village of Basha in Congjiang county, Guizhou province on Nov 27, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
An ethnic Miao minority child wearing traditional costume carries a plate of rice during lunchtime at the village of Basha in Congjiang county, Guizhou province on Nov 27, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (Reuters) - Officials from China's majority Han population who work in ethnic minority regions need to make an effort to become conversant in their languages, the government said on Monday, calling for better understanding of minority cultures.

China has more than 50 minority groups, many of whom have their own distinct cultures, ranging from groups with large populations like the Tibetans and Mongols to tiny minorities with threatened languages, including the shamanistic Evenki.

While Mandarin is the country's official tongue, minority languages are taught at school and in some cases widely used, but few Han officials make the effort to learn them or understand much about the local culture.

A cabinet policy document issued via the official Xinhua news agency says that while more minority officials needed to be trained to speak good Mandarin and write Chinese, Han officials also need to fit in. "Han cadres working in minority areas ought to study and grasp the language and script of minorities," the document says.

A core of Han officials should be trained to work long-term in minority areas, and people with a deep understanding of such regions need to be nurtured, it adds.

Hu Chunhua, Communist Party boss of the southern province of Guangdong and tipped as a future president, is one of the few senior Han officials believed to speak a minority language, Tibetan in his case, having previously worked in Tibet for many years.

Language politics have long been tricky in China, especially in minority areas.

The pushing of bilingual education in Tibetan regions has set off protests in recent years, though many parents also want their children to learn Mandarin to improve their job prospects.

Tibet, and Xinjiang in the far west, have also seen violent unrest against Chinese rule, with hundreds dying in the last two years or so in Xinjiang.

Rights groups blame Beijing's strict controls on religion, language and culture for stoking the unrest, a charge China strongly denies.