So Hasutai, who in the Manchu tradition goes by the one name, has come to this remote corner of China on a quest. His goal is to connect with members of the Xibe tribe — a reclusive group who speak a forgotten dialect similar to his people’s. Along with a band of like-minded young people in half a dozen Chinese cities, Hasutai has started schools, Web sites, written textbooks and recorded the few remaining Manchu speakers for posterity. “At some point you realize that the first language you’re speaking isn’t your mother tongue,” says Hasutai. “You feel like an orphan. You want to find your mother.”
Hasutai is at the vanguard of an explosion of ethnic awareness and pride across China. The nation’s 1.3 billion people are overwhelmingly Han Chinese, but roughly 9% of the population are ethnic minorities: Manchus and Mongolians, Uighurs and Tibetans as well as dozens of others. Although their numbers are small, minorities live on nearly half of China’s territory, including most of its borderlands. Over the past two years they have been at the center of bloody riots that claimed hundreds of lives.
As China’s Communist Party marks its 60th year this week with a series of festivities to symbolize national unity, Chinese society is struggling to overcome growing ethnic rifts.