Not merely for show, but respect

Updated: 2013-03-15 07:16

By Cui Jia (China Daily)

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Not merely for show, but respect

Zhang Chunxian, Party chief of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, showed off his Uygur language skills during the delegation's group discussion session that opened to media on March 7, although he admitted that he only knows one sentence, which is "Happy Corban Festival".

The Corban Festival is an important Muslim festival, which falls on Dec 10, according to the Islamic calendar. More than 61 percent of Xinjiang's population is from ethnic groups, such as Uygur, Kazak and Tajik, and many are Muslims.

Later, I replayed the voice file of Zhang speaking Uygur to a friend of mine who is from the Uygur ethnic group and asked her if she could understand what Zhang said.

"It was nearly perfect," she said with a surprise. But she added the Party chief needs to improve his fluency.

I believe officials in ethnic areas like Xinjiang should be encouraged to learn local languages. It will help them communicate better with the locals, especially for those who work at the grassroots level. What's more important, it shows respect.

At the moment, many government bodies in Xinjiang have organized officials at different levels to learn the Uygur language and even require officials to sit exams.

As far as I know, the standards of such classes vary: Some teach officials one useful expression in Uygur every day during work, while some require officials to take part in three months or even six months of intensive evening classes after work.

Growing up in Qianshan village of Yiwu county, Hami prefecture, 45-year-old Jing Yubin's childhood friends were all children of local herdsmen from the Kazak ethnic group. As a result, he is fluent in Kazak and Uygur.

Jing now works for the county government helping residents find job opportunities. "People always love to come to me whenever they have problems. They trust me more because I can communicate with them in their mother tongue."

As a reporter, I was based at China Daily's Xinjiang bureau in 2010. One thing I still regret is that I didn't take the opportunity to learn Uygur. My language skills could only help me order lamb kebabs and I always felt a bit frustrated when I had to interview villagers through translators.

I will definitely enroll in a Uygur class if I am ever assigned there again. But for now, I've learned how to say "Happy Corban Festival" from the Party chief.

Contact the writer at cuijia@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 03/15/2013 page8)

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