People will remember him for different reasons: as a teacher, friend, scholar, Irish language enthusiast, dedication to China, mission-mindedness. But all will also recall his kindness, hospitality and humility. Yet Joe always had an ability to surprise, to show an aspect you never suspected.
Joe was born in 1940 in Belfast and got an MA in Celtic Studies at Queens University. After two years teaching he joined the Columbans. Ordained in 1969, he was sent to Rome of study philosophy.
In 1971 he was assigned to Chile where he spent four years before returning to teach in Dalgan. In 1981 he returned to Chile but when China was beginning to open to foreigners, in 1988 he requested to join Aitece as a language teacher in China. He taught in Beijing, Nanchang and Wuhan. In 2013 he became Aitece manager in Hong Kong where he remained until ill health made him return to Ireland in March this year.
He will be missed and remain an inspiration for many.
Recently we got news of the passing of Brid Ui Laoghaire in Enniscorthy on 29 April. Brid taught in SISU (Chongqing) 2010-11. She was a very popular teacher who enjoyed her time in China, especially her involvement with the students.
I remember well the trouble we had with explaining her name spelt in Irish to the authorities. They thought she might not be a native English speaker.
We have received the sad news of the unexpected death of teacher Jason Power in Beijing. Jason was on his 17th year of teaching in China. Many of our teachers would have known him from his time in Nanchang where he was a highly valued teacher who won the provincial prize on a number of occasions. In recent years he moved to Beijing to teach the students in the National Seminary.
On 20 March he was returning by subway to his apartment after meeting a friend from Ireland and got a stroke. He died shortly afterwards and was cremated in Beijing on the 24th. The Irish Ambassador was in attendance.
All who knew Jason were greatly shocked and saddened. He was a straight speaking person who spoke what he was thinking but his sincerity and kindness was soon apparent to those who met him. He was a demanding teachers but also much appreciated by his students.
We are still waiting for further news of his passing and look forward to when we will be able to send more teachers like Jason to China again.
The Lunar New Year Celebrations go on till Feb 14, which happens to be another day with Spring associations in the West and, increasingly, in the East.
A few days ago Asia also celebrated ‘Arrival of Spring’ Day. (One recent member of our house community was named ‘Li Chun’ – Arrival of Spring – since he was born on that day. Happy Birthday, Peter!)
Ahead of them in reminding us of Spring were the daffodils in our garden which bloomed at the start of the month and, even before that, the pink flower on a bush whose name I don’t know. Their early flowering once more amazed and delighted me because they need no encouragement or help from me.
It would be great to think that the rest of the garden will take care of itself in that manner but an unscheduled visit to our garden shed reminded me of the work that lies ahead to keep the place at least tidy.
Why is it OK for the daffodils and our pink bush to arrive at their own pace and be welcomed while long grass, weeds, fruit fly and other insects which do the same are not? There must be a social message here somewhere.
Early in December 2021 the official Xinhua news agency in China reported Ministry of Educationintentions on the standardisation of Chinese language learning throughout the huge country. The number of Chinese people who speak Putonghua, or Mandarin Chinese, will be increased to 85 percent of China’s population by 2025.
The Ministry of Education circular stressed the fundamental role that schools play in the teaching of the standardized Chinese language and characters.
It also called for wider access to standardized Chinese education in ethnic minority areas, and urged the protection of the spoken and written languages of ethnic minorities as well as the improvement of their quality of education.
The study of and guidance over new words and expressions, acronyms and foreign language words will be strengthened, while the use of language on new media will be standardized.
How many languages are there in China?
This is a tricky one to answer. One site I visited states: “Officially, there are 302 living languages in China. Depending on your definition of “language” and “dialect,” this number can vary somewhat. The number of speakers of many of China’s minority languages and dialects has decreased in recent years, and some of them are now considered endangered.”
Officially, there are ten different varieties of Chinese, although some sources only list eight because the last two are only spoken by less than 1% of the population. These variants are written using Chinese characters and do not have their own written form.
Another source has this to say:
“As experts warned that the majority of the 130 languages spoken in China are now on the verge of extinction, both government and social groups have begun protection efforts, Beijing News reported.
Seven languages are being used by less than 100 people, while another 15 languages have just 100 to 1,000 speakers in China, according to a survey conducted by Sun Hongkai, a language expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The survey also showed that some minority languages have become extinct, such as Manchu and Khakas, while some like Hezhen have only a few elderly speakers.
The Hezhen ethnic minority in northeast China, with a population of 5,354 according to a 2010 census, faces severe challenges in passing down their language.”
According to babble.com “In a population of roughly 1.4 billion, China has 302 individual living languages. To put that in perspective globally, an astonishing 20% of the world’s population speaks some form of a Chinese language natively.” [i.e an teanga duchas]
Language endangerment is not confined to China. We know that in Cornwall SW England the last native speaker of Cornish died many years ago (there are archival tape recordings) and a Cornish language society has been teaching the language to persons interested in the culture. Many years ago the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language estimated that there were more than 6,000 languages across the world. Another source recently put the number at more than 7,000: “According to Ethnologue… there are 7,139 spoken languages in the world today. 1,514 of those have fewer than 1,000 living speakers. A little over half of the world’s languages are estimated to have writing systems.”
Here is a list of the most spoken languages in China: [source: worldatlas.com]
Languages in China
Standard Chinese (Mandarin)
In politically sensitive areas where Han influx and settlement is obvious, speakers of local languages feel that their languages are under cultural and demographic pressure. Manchurian, Uighur and Tibetan are often mentioned.In the autonomous province of Inner Mongolia, for example, there has been considerable pressure through the educational system to get children and young people speaking and writing Putonghua. Are there echoes of the ‘tally stick procedure’ that happened in Irish primary schools during colonial times?
If you have time to spare this New Year’s Day due to restrictions on visiting and unattractive weather outside, you can do what the ancient Chinese did when facing up to a long, cold winter.
They figured that the winter cold began with the solstice (22 December) and lasted for 81 days. It can be very cold in north China so they put up a ’81 petal picture’ and coloured a petal a day till the period ended.
The petals are always plum blossoms and in Dalgan there is a painting brought from China that gives you an idea of what it looks like (see below).
If you count the petals, there may be more than 81 of them so don’t take this example too literally. However, it does give an idea of what the ‘81 petal picture’ looked like.
If they add up to 99 they could refer to the ‘99 cold elimination diagram’, another Chinese way of calculating the approach of Spring (and passing the time).
So there are two challenge: colour a petal a day or count up the number of petals to see if there are 99!
Wishing you a Great 2022 and hoping you will have something better to do in it, Hugh.
Sending new teachers to China, or even keeping teachers there, has been difficult because of Covid. The universities still want our teachers but the government is doing all it can to keep the virus out and so travel in and out is restricted. If the Olympics go off well there might be some possibility of getting teachers in for the Fall Semester 2022. But many commentators think even this is too soon.
At the moment we have 13 Aitece Teachers teaching either on line or in person. Seven are teaching face to face in China and six are teaching on line from their homes overseas.
As Christmas approaches, we send them our best wishes and encourage all those with an interest in teaching in China to keep the hope alive and watch this site! Wishing you all a Happy Christmas, wherever you are. Hugh.
Even though they say interest in Christianity has nosedived in Ireland, over 260 people between 20 and 80 received diplomas or certificate in religious studies at St Patricks University, Maynooth, last Saturday.
I attended because one of our house community was getting her Higher Diploma in Theology, she is going on to do an MA in Pastoral Theology. She is Chinese and perhaps 20% of the graduates were from outside Ireland. About 10% of those graduating were clerical students or Sisters, the rest were lay people.
As the MC remarked, the chapel in St Patricks is probably the most spectacular graduation location in Ireland. It also struck me that our Chinese graduate got her award is the very chapel where the first Columbans were ordained and from which they set out as missionaries to China a hundred years ago, in 1920!
Communist China has held seven Census exercises since the early 1950s. In mid-May this year the cn.news online website published some of the statistical findings. There are implications for the ratio of children to other age cohorts in a population of about 1.45 billion people.
The population growth rate has slowed down. The average annual growth rate in the past ten years was 0.53%, a decrease of 0.04 percentage points from the previous decade. In some provinces, the proportion of children under the age of 14 is as low as about 10%.
The journalist for cn.news remarks:
“Behind this is the decline of many young people’s willingness to marry and even have children in recent years.”
The report goes on to state that economic development and urbanisation ‘inevitably’ slow down the birth rate. It compares this with what has happened in capitalist countries of Europe, North America and other continents.
Regarding the slowdown in population growth, Ning Jizhe, director of the National Bureau of Statistics, clearly stated, “This is the objective result of the development of industrialization and urbanization to a certain stage, and it is also a problem faced by countries around the world, especially developed countries.”
In 2015, after much internal discussion away from media attention, China changed its One Child policy to a Two Child policy in urban areas. This radically altered parental attitudes, but now demographical analysts see a need to encourage fertility in marriage so that schools, technical institutes and universities are not adversely affected in the near future.
The reporter goes on: “The high cost of raising children is an important reason why families do not want to have more children. Therefore, to improve the quality of the population, the state still needs to share the family’s cost of raising children and break the barriers of the existing system. There have been many discussions about measures to encourage childcare such as extending marriage and parental leave and providing public provision for childcare.”
Many other points are made and it highlights a conundrum. A sharp decline in parental fertility and the birth rate in developed urbanised societies will have consequences for marital stability, child rearing, educational and social development.
* Garreth Byrne spent ten years working in different cities of China with Aitece. In the years 2004-5 he worked for a private TEFL company in Suzhou, a scenic canal city one hour by train west of Shanghai. He took taxis on different days to primary and secondary schools to give special oral English lessons. Here are a few photos he took of children he encountered.
The first shows a choral singing practice in a school playground. Another shows children in a class where he taught. The third shows Garreth, in winter clothing, with teenaged children in a middle school.