Call for more use of Mandarin to eradicate poverty

BEIJING • Not enough effort is being put into teaching China's ethnic minorities standardised Mandarin in Beijing's fight to eradicate poverty, a top adviser to the government said yesterday.

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 the regional authorities have doled out supportive policies, funds and programmes in China's poorest regions, they are failing to teach ethnicities enough Mandarin, Mr Zhu Weiqun said in an article in the state-backed Global Times newspaper.

Efforts to teach minority people Mandarin are "not up to scratch", said Mr Zhu, head of the minorities and religions committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body. "I regularly come across low-level cadres who, with great effort, use dialect to talk about their poverty alleviation plans without realising that dealing with their own deficiencies in speaking Mandarin is an urgent task."

China promotes the use of standardised Mandarin, 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. But there has been resistance in regions such as Tibet and Xinjiang, where Tibetans and Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking mostly-Muslim minority, often consider language integral to their cultural identity.

Beijing argues that learning the official language gives minorities greater opportunities. Mr Zhu said over 70 per cent of the Chinese population speak Mandarin, 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 Mandarin in some areas. "Using standardised Mandarin to alleviate poverty, using poverty alleviation to promote standardised Mandarin, does not only have an economic importance, but also has a deep political importance," he said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 27, 2017, with the headline 'Call for more use of Mandarin to eradicate poverty'. Print Edition | Subscribe