Institut du fédéralisme
Faculté de droit

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Linguistic diversity in China: how to govern a state with 250 languages?

Sino-Swiss Workshop on cultural and linguistic diversity, 27 November 2012

One of the main characteristics of the Chinese state is the cultural and linguistic diversity of its people. In an area as big as Europe with a population of 1.3 billion, more than 250 languages are spoken. How can this diversity be acknowledged in order to ensure adequate governance for everyone while protecting the rights of linguistic minorities?

A Sino-Swiss workshop held at the Institute of Federalism focused on different approaches to dealing with this challenge. A delegation from the Chinese State Ethnic Affairs Commission (SEAC) and the China Autonomy Programme  based at the University of Oslo visited the Institute on November 27 to discuss obstacles, exchange experiences and develop ideas. After an introduction to Swiss Federalism and the way in which linguistic diversity is approached in Switzerland, a member of the Minority Languages Office  explained how the Chinese state incorporates the use of minority languages within education, state administration, legislation, translation and publishing. In the afternoon session, cultural diversity and identity were examined and the participants debated various strategies for guaranteeing the protection of small linguistic communities in China and in Switzerland.