Esperanto (and China)

Xenon Zi-Neng Yuan wenhuadageming at
Tue Aug 12 23:21:55 MDT 2003

At 04:03 PM 8/8/2003 -0400, Raymond Chase wrote:
>Esperanto in pre-Republican China had been
>adopted by leading anarchist revolutionaries.  In the 1930s, Mao while in
>Yennan made the statement, "If Esperanto is a tool for proletarian
>internationalism, it shall and must be learned."  After 1949 translations of
>Chinese Communist political documents into Esperanto were regularly
>published as was a glossy illustrated monthly Esperanto magazine (El Popola
>Chinio).  Mao's Little Red Book was widely distributed in Esperanto.  The
>Vietnamese also published political books in Esperanto during the Vietnam
>War period.

sorry i didn't see this post until recently.  i'm interested in the topic
of language reform, although not too familiar with the details of
esperanto's history.  but the mentioning of china here definitely piqued my

i know that several early chinese scholars and revolutionaries around and
prior to the may fourth period were disparagingly considering adopting
esperanto (or another european language) wholesale as the national language
of china, but this should be seen in the context of most chinese documents
being written in the classical style (guwen) at the time.  classical
chinese, although using chinese characters, is really a different language,
much like the difference between latin and the modern languages of
europe.  there was however a movement known as the "baihua" movement, which
pushed for the use of the contemporary written vernacular based on
beijing-area/northern "mandarin".  for numerous social, historical and
material reasons, this is the trend that won out.

cde. chase mentions mao, but one should keep in mind that mao and others
made several statements about language reform in the yenan period,
including advocating the eventual complete latinization of
chinese.  however upon consolidation of state power post-1949, in the
implementation of national education policies - which inevitably includes
language reform - they ran into numerous obstacles even with trying to
adopt a national "putonghua" standard, let alone trying to reform the
chinese writing system itself (or even loftier, to move entirely to
romanized pinyin).  so i think that although party members and
intellectuals may have continued the esperanto effort as a potential "tool
for proletarian internationalism", the experience of even trying to adopt
standards for people's native languages proved daunting enough.  and i
believe this shows, as tom o'lincoln explained in his earlier post to this
thread, how the actually existing conditions of the masses are more likely
to determine how language policy develops.

(henry, i'm just forwarding this message to you as a request for additional
recommended sources on language reform in china, if you know of
them.  unfortunately my primary reference on this topic at this moment is
john defrancis' _the chinese language: fact and fantasy_, which is somewhat
dated and limited in many ways.  english sources are preferred (for
practical purposes, i'm not fully literate in chinese yet), although there
are friends and family that would be interested in chinese source materials.)


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