Esperanto in China faces uncertain future

By Daniel Boltinsky
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, July 26, 2016
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Esperanto was once a popular foreign language in China, but now few people are still learning and using it, with some of them worrying the community will disappear in the future.

Esperantists from around the world are currently meeting in Nitra, Slovakia for the annual World Esperanto Congress, the main event on Esperantists' calendars.

The language was created by Ludwig Zamenhof, a Polish ophthalmologist. On July 26, 1887, he published Dr. Esperanto's International Language, a guide to his created language, and hoped to bring the world closer to eternal peace by bridging the communication gap between people.

In China, Esperanto was once taught in universities and was made an option on the foreign language examinations. Some of China's most beloved writers and intellectuals were early supporters of the language, most notably Lu Xun, who died in 1936.

China even held two World Esperanto Congresses, first in 1986 and the second in 2004. Back in the 1980s, Esperanto was a popular foreign language because of its simplicity compared to English. The Beijing Association for Esperanto (BAE) estimated 300,000 to 400,000 Chinese speakers back then. It is still a foreign language exam option in Sichuan, as reported by Beijing Today.

Chen Ji is the director of the El Popola Cinio and heads a staff of about 10 people. El Popola Cinio is China's first Esperanto magazine and one of the three outlets in China that publish in the language, beside the website and China Radio International.

She said the number of Esperanto speakers has declined since the 1970s and 1980s when China's reforms led to a surge of interest of foreign languages.

However, she does not believe this means a decrease in Esperanto's popularity. She says China's Esperanto community has bolstered itself in other ways, such as its presence at the Congress.

"El Popola Cinio and the Chinese Esperanto Association send many Esperantists to the Congress every year, and they get involved in the discussions through Esperanto in many aspects, Chinese society for example, China's economy, and lighter topics too. They also organize activities about China during the event," Ji said.

But not everyone is optimistic about the future. Hiroyuki Usui, an editor at El Popola Cinio, is from Japan and began learning the language when he was 13. He first came to China in 1984 and attended the 1986 Congress.

"The idea was that our society and humankind would progress and also our language must progress; that idea is what made Esperanto popular before. Now we don't have so much of a belief this will happen, so Esperantists --- all of us now for that matter --- cannot provide another perspective," Hiroyuki said.

"Still I am working for Esperanto. I started learning when I was thirteen, my identity cannot be separated from Esperanto. If I leave Esperanto, maybe there's nothing there --- about me. I at least hope this community of Esperanto speakers will not disappear," he added.

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