Chinese government advisor says more Mandarin needed to fight poverty

People walk in a pedestrian street in Beijing, on July 31, 2017.
People walk in a pedestrian street in Beijing, on July 31, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (REUTERS) - Not enough effort is being put into teaching China's ethnic minorities standardised Mandarin Chinese during Beijing's fight to eradicate poverty, a top advisor to the government said on Saturday (Aug 26).

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 centenary of the ruling Communist Party.

While regional authorities have dolled 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 peoples Mandarin are "not up to scratch" in various places, said Mr Zhu, who is 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 a mouthful of dialect to talk about their poverty alleviation plans without realising that dealing with their own deficiencies in speaking Mandarin is an urgent task," he said.

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 of the country.

But there has been resistance to the push for standardisation 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 denies that Mandarin promotion damages minority culture, arguing that learning the official language gives minorities greater opportunities for work and schooling.

Mr 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 Mandarin, but there 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 rural areas, Mr Zhu said.

"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.