SOAS University of London

SOAS academic gives speech in minority language in China and helps to break world record

3 March 2016

Dr Mandy Sadan, Reader in the History of South East Asia at SOAS University of London, delivered a speech in the Jinghpo language at a community and local government conference at Mangshi in Yunnan.

Jinghpo is one of the two official languages of this part of Yunnan but there are concerns locally that it is not used by younger people. Some speak Zaiwa, the language of the main Jingpo sub-group of the province, but most young people are choosing to speak Chinese.

Dr Sadan said: "I was very nervous about making a speech in Jinghpo in front of so many people, but it was very well received. I hope it will encourage some young Jingpo people to believe that they can learn it, too.”

SOAS is a leading institution in developing knowledge and understanding of the border regions in this part of Asia, particularly of their languages and cultures. Whilst these areas can seem marginal, they are critical to the success of Myanmar's political transition and current engagement with China, as well as the geopolitics of the region as a whole.

The dance in full flow

Above: The Manau Festival

Dr Sadan began her speech by talking about the SOAS’ Centenary and our current research and teaching about this region: "I pointed out that SOAS has a strong tradition of engagement with the borderlands of this area, stretching into Burma (Myanmar) and across to north east India. In the period leading up the Second World War, we taught a number of the minority languages of this region, including Jinghpo (known as Jinghpaw or Kachin in Burma).”

By the end of her session, more than 16,000 people had logged on to the live stream of the conference. The conference, held on 20 February 2016, discussed cultural transmission among the Jingpo peoples and marked the 120th anniversary of the Jinghpo script.

In addition to the conference, Dr Sadan also helped to break a World Record at the accompanying Manau Festival. A record was set for the largest number of people, a total of 3891, to eat sticky rice wrapped in leaves together. She noted: "These events are so important in the local cultural politics of the region that there is always an attempt to break at least one record."

Sticky rice

Above: World record for eating sticky rice wrapped in leaves being set

For more information about the conference, please contact Dr Mandy Sadan. For information about the new SOAS Borderlands Research Network, which also focuses on border regions beyond Asia, please contact Dr Mandy Sadan or Professor Jonathan Goodhand.