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Assimilation through Ethnicity: China's Ethnic Language Policy in Yunnan and Shenyang

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The following discussion tackles the complicated relationships between Mandarin and ethnic languages in China. It first introduces Chinese perspectives on the subject and takes note of the complexity of the issue while also showing that in China no universal language policy is possible. The paper then examines a few memoirs concerning the Mandarin programs in Yunnan to suggest how the promotion of ethnic language can assist in learning Mandarin. Finally, the paper gives reports from field interviews with teachers and cadres in a Korean school in Shenyang. This last case is particularly interesting as it demonstrates that the ethnic identity strengthened by an ethnic language program sponsored by the state makes the state, together with its Mandarin system, a concomitant and no longer threatening identity for ethnic Koreans. The ethnic language policy in China after the Cultural Revolution should be considered a success, not because it reproduces this or that identity or because it consolidates often considered oppressive Chinese nationalistic identity, but because it allows the coexistence and hybridisation of local ethnic identities.


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