A researcher tries to preserve one of China’s dying minority languages online

In 2000, the passing of Chuonnasuan, the last full-fledged shaman of China’s northeastern Oroqen people, marked the extinction of the indigenous Oroqen religion—but at the time of his death, Chuonnasuan had not held a communal healing ritual in 48 years. Decades of “anti-superstition” policies, a hunting ban, intermarriage, and urban migration—both voluntary and forced—led to a steep decline in the cultural traditions of the former hunter-gatherer minority.

The fight is now on to save at least one other aspect of Oroqen culture: its language. Researcher Liu Jie (刘杰) estimates that over 90 percent of Oroqen under 50 cannot speak the indigenous language.

Liu is a retired civil servant and leading researcher on Oroqen culture within China. He has been developing an online learning platform for teaching and preserving the language. He spoke to TWOC about the challenges of preserving a cultural heritage that many in the community feel are of little relevance to their modern lives—and that, until recent decades, was officially discouraged by the government bodies now scrambling to preserve it.

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Digitizing the Oroqen is a story from our issue, “Down to Earth.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


Byron R. Hauck is a contributing writer at The World of Chinese.

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