Xiaohong had mixed feelings when she found her nine-year-old son more interested in learning English than the language of his own ethnic group, spoken only by 2980 people across China.
"I am happy that he is curious about the outside world so I bought him an English learning gadget, but I am also worried that he might one day lose his cultural identity since he can barely express himself in his own language now," said Xiaohong, 33, a lawmaker from Lhoba ethnic group.
Inhabited in the south of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, Lhoba is the smallest among China's 56 ethnic groups. In 1965, Lhoba was confirmed as a single ethnic group by the State Council and two ethnic townships in Nyingchi Prefecture were set up in 1988 for Lhoba people.
As head of Nanyi Lhoba Ethnic Township, one of the two Lhoba townships, and the only deputy to the National People's Congress (NPC) from the smallest ethnic group, Xiaohong said she would give motions during the annual session of the top legislature to save Lhoba's endangered culture, especially its language.
"There is no letter but language for Lhoba. If mouth-to-mouth communication stops, so will the language. Without taking proper measures to protect the language, the Lhoba culture will soon disappear," said Xiaohong.
She suggested to tape the language or copy those similar with the Tibetan language to keep the Lhoba language alive, otherwise, "even my son could hardly appreciate the language of his ancestor."
Xiaohong started her own work of cultural preserve by sending her son to rural relatives during summer holidays for the sake of a Lhoba- speaking environment.
"As soon as he was back to his Tibetan and Chinese speaking environment at school, he gradually forgot the language. I plan to send him back to the countryside again this summer," said Xiaohong, citing her son, a three-grader at the elementary school in Mainling County.
This is exactly the situation for young Lhoba people nowadays, Xiaohong admitted. All of the seven university graduates in Xiaohong's township with a population of 400 landed jobs outside in Nyingchi, Lhasa or inland cities, an environment far, far away from their culture.
"I feel happy for them to work in modern places, and even I myself hope my son to enter a good university and later work in big cities. But at the same time, we still need them here to pass on Lhoba tradition and make their hometown a better place," said Xiaohong.
Five years ago, when Xiaohong was first elected as NPC deputy, she suggested to improve the infrastructure construction for Lhoba people. "This May, all the road in the county will be covered with blacktop," Xiaohong smiled.
Indeed, great changes have taken place to Lhoba people, who led an uncivilized and unknown life till 1950s. Thanks to the central government's allocation of several million yuan, 80 percent of the county's 101 households moved into modern houses made of stone and wood. Eighty households installed telephones at home and young people began to use mobiles.
"The annual income per capita reached 3,129 yuan (441 U.S. dollars) last year, 341 yuan (48 U.S. dollars) higher than the average of herdsmen of the Tibet Autonomous Region," Xiao said proudly.
Xiaohong's pride in her ethnic group was also revealed in her unique ethnic dress in black and red with copper belt and typical Tibetan turquoise and silver accessory.
"It (the dress) is the national intangible cultural heritage and costs 2,000 yuan (282 U.S. dollars). I only wear it at the most important occasion such as the opening meeting of the NPC," she said.
Despite its uniqueness, the dress is not popular among Lhoba people in daily life, due to its complicated wearing procedures. This posed another question for this Lhoba representative.
"I want to find someone who can redesign it to make it more convenient to wear every day so that our ethnic dress could be passed from generation to generation," she said.
Not only for dresses, but also all the rich cultural heritage, said Xiaohong, should be passed down to the next generation to sustain Lhoba's unique culture.
"But more and more people want to leave here to explore the new world while leaving their own culture behind. I can't stop this and I don't know how," she said.
(Xinhua News Agency, March 7, 2008)