Children at a kindergarten in Liaocheng, Shandong Province form the Esperanto flag with bottle tops in 2017 to commemorate Esperanto Day, which falls on July 26. [China News Serve]
Esperanto is an orphan language. It does not have a single country or region that it calls home but it aims to unite mankind. It may sound unfamiliar to most people but Chen Ji finds it a way to make friends from different backgrounds and use it as a platform to spread the culture of China.
Chen's love for the language has grown during her 21-years working in a magazine called El Popola Cinio, which means China Report. It is the first printed Esperanto magazine published in China. Chen is the director of El Popola Cinio and heads a staff of about 10 people.
|Chen Ji shares her story with the Esperanto at China Foreign Languages Publishing Administration in Beijing on December 14, 2018. [China Report]|
"Many people believe Esperanto has niche appeal, but to me it is a kind of language that comes with warmth", the 47-year old said.
She explained that Esperanto is a platform for people from different backgrounds to communicate, and the communication has gone beyond just learning a language to making real friends. The language has 28 letters and is based on the Latin script.
Esperanto means "one who hopes". It was invented by Polish-Jewish ophthalmologist Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof in 1887, who hoped to foster universal peace by creating a neutral language.
According to Zamenhof, he created the language to reduce the "time and labor we spend in learning foreign tongues" and to foster harmony between people from different countries.
"Were there but an international language, all translations would be made into it alone... and all nations would be united in a common brotherhood."
Esperanto has spread to 157 countries and regions. More than 10 million people have mastered and used the language.
The language was introduced to China at the beginning of the 20th century, and once enjoyed support from cultural professionals like Chinese educator Cai Yuanpei and Chinese writers like Lu Xun and Ba Jin.
It was once taught in universities and was made an option for foreign language examinations.
China even held two World Esperanto Congresses, in 1986 and 2004. Back in the 1980s, Esperanto was a popular foreign language because of its simplicity compared to English. The Beijing Association for Esperanto estimated it had over 300,000 Chinese speakers back then.
However, the 130-year old language is today used by just a handful of people in China.
Esperanto is an auxiliary language that does not intend to replace other languages, Chen explains, adding that it does not belong to any country and offers an easy and equal option for communication without imposing any cultural requirement.
"We just want to make others know more about it and cultivate a sense of language equality", she said.
Some argue that Esperanto does not have cultural roots and is doomed to failure. Chen disagrees with such views, saying the language has its own dynamic.
For individuals, Chen said, "we speak Esperanto to deepen communication and connection with like-minded people."
"We hope to use this language to communicate, but we also hope that through this language, the language and culture of all ethnic groups can flourish."
After she graduated from China Women's University in 1998, Chen was offered employment by El Popola Cinio and studied Esperanto for two years before working as an editor there.
El Popola Cinio was founded in 1950, and is affiliated to the China International Publishing Group. It is one of the three outlets in China that publish in the language, beside the website China.org.cn and China Radio International.
Esperanto readers regard it as an important source of information about China. Some loyal readers have even donated their property to the magazine to support it.
One donor, from Belgium, sold his property and donated about $500,000 to the magazine, according to Chen.
"It is a magazine with high quality content, which focuses on China's social culture and reflects modern life," Chen said.
At the end of 2000, the magazine stopped publishing its printed edition and opened a website. Chen's team still run a public account on Wechat, as well as Twitter and Facebook accounts.
At the beginning, when they opened their Facebook account, Chen said they received a comment from a reader, who posted a photo showing all the printed magazines collected from 1951 to 2000.
"I was deeply touched. Esperanto created closeness between us and our readers, and I think that makes it different from other languages."
Apart from running website and new media platforms, Chen and her team also publish Chinese literature every year in Esperanto like Fortress Besieged and The Yellow Storm.
Through turning the online magazine to a news website covering major political news in China, Chen and her team has been trying to fit Esperanto to the internet, which is a natural meeting point for geographically dispersed Esperanto speakers.
"The way we promote China should be creative as media forms change with new technology, and it is also a way for the innovation of Esperanto," Chen said.
Esperanto shares a common goal of building a community with a shared future for mankind, pursuing peace, equality and harmonious coexistence, she added.
(Source: China Daily)
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