China's few Manchu speakers struggle to save language





SANJIAZI, China -- Seated cross-legged in her farmhouse on the kang, a brick sleeping platform warmed by a fire below, Meng Shujing lifted her chin and sang a lullaby in Manchu, softly but clearly...

Meng is one of 18 residents of this isolated village in northeastern China, all older than 80, who, according to Chinese linguists and historians, are the last native speakers of Manchu.

Descendants of seminomadic tribesmen who conquered China in the 17th century, they are the last living link to a language that for more than two and a half centuries was the official voice of the Qing Dynasty, the final imperial house to rule from Beijing and one of the richest and most powerful empires the world has known.

With the passing of these villagers, Manchu will also die, experts say. All that will be left will be millions of documents and files in Chinese and foreign archives, along with inscriptions on monuments and important buildings in China, unintelligible to all but a handful of specialists.

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