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Young people are leaping the language barrier

By Cao Yin | China Daily | Updated: 2017-06-02 07:21

As a political reporter based in Beijing, most of the stories I've written about the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in the past have been about law or politics, or the fight against terrorism.

Yet after spending time recently in Aksu, a city in the region's south, my only thoughts have been of its beautiful scenery, delicious food and rich culture.

In particular, I was struck during my visit by the younger generation, who are acting as a bridge between Xinjiang and the rest of China.

Dilhumar Imir, 23, is an administrative affairs officer with a court in Awati county. She returned home to the region after getting a degree in Chinese literature from the South-Central University for Nationalities in Wuhan, Hubei province.

Her language skills meant she was able to act as my translator during interviews with Aksu locals unable to speak Mandarin.

"I have many good friends who are Han or from other ethnic groups," she told me. "Studying in Wuhan made me realize that language is very important to understanding other people and their stories.

"Of course, learning Mandarin doesn't mean we stop speaking Uygur. It's just to help us improve communication - and find more fantastic things in the world."

Imir said returning home after graduation was a no-brainer. "Not only is my family here, but also I feel my hometown needs me."

Aksu has many traditional art forms and Uygur musicians, "but it's been hard to get their stories across because of the language barrier", she said, which is why she often volunteers if someone from outside Xinjiang needs an interpreter.

Getting a good education is also vital, she added, "as it changed my life and taught me to know the importance of knowledge".

Qu Mingcai, the principal of No 66 Middle School in Urumqi, the regional capital, said education is the most effective way to alleviate poverty and broaden the horizons of younger generations.

"We hope more Uygur children from lower-income families can be educated, or at least given the chance to study," he said.

His middle school was established by the Xinjiang government in 2004 mainly for students from southwestern Xinjiang, such as Kashgar and Turpan.

Tajinsa Abuduany, 14, is one of the 3,373 students enrolled there. Before she arrived in Urumqi, she could not speak a word of Mandarin, but she was able to chat with me for half an hour.

"I wanted to learn because I want to make friends and talk with other Mandarin speakers," she said. "The teachers here who are ethnic Han but can speak Uygur have encouraged me a lot."

She is also learning English, as she dreams of one day becoming a doctor.

Chinese often say that knowledge can change someone's destiny, and the first step I believe is to provide educational opportunities for young people, as No 66 Middle School is doing.

Abuduany has the potential to be another Imir one day - and maybe more.

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