Long Qingli's grandfather could not write as he had no idea about how a language could be written on paper. But for Qingli, it is different.
Long Qingli is a female farmer from a poverty-hit household in Xinlong Township, Wuxuan County of south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Together with her 18 million ethnic fellows, Long is from the Zhuang ethnic minority, mostly living in mountainous areas of Guangxi.
The largest ethnic group in China, Zhuang, which was originated from a number of ancient tribal societies, did not have its own written language until the 1950s.
Long Qingli learned reading and writing in Zhuang language in the 1980s. The characters are not used by the majority of Chinese, as it is a special sort of writing system designated for the Zhuang. Created with the assistance of the Chinese government, written Zhuang language look like Roman letters.
"This man-made ethnic characters are still being widely used, and we Zhuang people regard it as our own language," said Huang Haikun, head of Guangxi Regional Committee for Work of Minority Languages.
He said governments at various levels have spent great amount of money in spreading the use of Zhuang ethnic language since the 1950s.
Zhuang Language Scheme (draft), worked out by experts including those of Zhuang ethnic background, was approved by the State Council in 1957, and the revised Zhuang Language Scheme passed in 1982 made the language much easier to learn for common people.
Up to now, large number of books in Zhuang ethnic language, as well as documents containing government policies and laws in Zhuang language have been edited, translated and published.
Walking along the streets of Nanning, capital of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, it is not hard for visitors to find advertisements and billboards carrying Zhuang words.
Yang Ming, a journalist working at the local radio station, said that Zhuang language is indispensable part of her programs. "People like to listen to it, and we received a lot of letters every month," she said.
Officials take advantage of this man-made ethnic language to spread the Party's lines, instead of Putonghua, or standard Chinese, because they think a lot of local people can better understand what the government is doing in their own language.
The important speech delivered on July 1 in 2001 by General Secretary Jiang Zemin on the Party construction was quickly translated into and released in languages of different ethnic groups, including Zhuang language.
And it has not only benefited the ruling Party, but also enriched the ethnic culture.
"Zhuang language is still alive and will never disappear as it was ignored in old days," said Zhuang musician Ma Yongquan, "I can record folk songs by using our own language so that many precious folk cultural legacies of Zhuang ethnic group can be well preserved."
And writers write novels in Zhuang language attracting a growing number of readers. Some films shot in Zhuang language have become prize winners.
In the past two decades, 700,000 illiterate young people of Zhuang ethnic background were able to read and write after short-term training courses in Zhuang language.
Zhuang language and Mandarin bilingual teaching methods have been introduced in most of the primary and middle schools in Guangxi, according to Zheng Zuoguang, an education official of the region.
More than 4,170 Zhuang language specialists have been trained by colleges of higher learning based in Guangxi and Beijing. To further spread the use of Zhuang language, Guangxi has been cooperating with a US-based organization in compiling a Zhuang language-Chinese-English dictionary and organizing manpower to develop a Zhuang language database in addition to having revised a score of other glossaries on use of Zhuang language.
Wide use of Zhuang language in the past more than four decades has also helped promote social and economic progress in areas inhabited by people of Zhuang ethnic group.
More and more rural people of Zhuang ethnic group learned new techniques for farming from magazines, TV and radio programs in Zhuang language or from short-term training courses designed to teach both Zhuang language and practical skills for planting and breeding, and many of them have lifted themselves out of poverty.
Long Qingli has built a pond to cultivate fish, planted fruit trees along the pond, with ducks on the pond and reared chickens in the trees. Long earned a net income of 8,000 yuan (about 964 U.S. dollars) last year, and her family has walked out of poverty ever since.
(Xinhua News Agency February 28, 2002)