Saturday, 6 March, 2021

Burmese Language Education Policy and Language Education in China-Myanmar Cross-border


Jiang Yan and Ren Liang

China and Myanmar are both multi-ethnic and multilingual countries. Under the background of building a community with a shared future between China and its neighboring countries, we need to constantly strengthen cooperation and exchanges. There are some similarities in the formulation of language policies and language planning between the two countries that deserve attention and discussion.

The languages in Myanmar mainly belong to the Tibetan-Burmese language branch, the Zhuang-Dong language branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family and the Mon-Khmer language branch of the South Asian language family. In addition to Burmese being with characters, there are also Shan language, Meng language, Kachin language and other languages that are with characters in Myanmar. Due to the complexity of ethnic relations and the diversity of ethnic languages, language problems have become the main source of growing problems in the process of nation-building in Myanmar. Language education policies in different periods can reflect national problems in different periods in Myanmar.

The history of Myanmar’s language education policy can be divided into three main periods. The first period is the embryonic period of Myanmar’s language education policy. The earliest characters of various ethnic groups in Myanmar are the Meng characters, then Shan characters, and then Burmese characters. And ancient Burmese characters are mainly used to record Buddhist sutras and the achievements of emperors. The second period is the basic legislative period of Burmese language education policy. This period experienced three stages: the English-only education policy in the British colonial period, the Burmese-English bilingual education policy in the parliamentary period and the Burmese education policy in the socialist period. The third period is the pluralistic period of language education policy in Myanmar. The military government still uses Burmese as the official language, while allowing local and foreign minority groups to freely promote the teaching of minority languages, and English has been redefined as the main language of teaching in middle schools and universities. However, the attitude towards Chinese language education is not clear, which makes Chinese language education in an awkward situation and restricts the spread and exchange of Chinese languages to a certain extent.

From the evolution of language education policy, we can see that the Burmese government has actively adjusted its language policy and language planning according to the needs of its own national development and the background of international political and economic development. However, the formulation of Myanmar’s language policy is still faced with the challenge of the contradiction between the domestic ethnic minorities and the main ethnic group, the Burmese. The ethnic contradiction causes the contradiction between the Burmese language and the minority languages, and the minority language teaching cannot meet the needs of the ethnic minorities, which aggravates the ethnic contradiction. The vicious circle of ethnic and linguistic contradictions in Myanmar has seriously restricted the country’s political, economic and cultural development.

Different from that of Myanmar, the China-Myanmar cross-border ethnic groups in China live together over vast areas while others live in individual concentrated communities in small areas, being in harmony and inclusiveness, but we still need to pay attention to the needs of different ethnic groups to learn and develop their own traditional languages and cultures. Myanmar’s language education policy brings important enlightenment to the cross-border ethnic language education between China and Myanmar: the pattern of “pluralistic integration” should be the long-term direction of cross-border ethnic language education between China and Myanmar.

The thought of “pluralistic integration” originates from the theory of “the pattern of pluralistic integration of the Chinese nation” put forward by Fei Xiaotong. This thought is also closely related to the ancient Chinese Confucian thoughts of “Great Harmony” and “Harmony”, as well as the western thoughts of “spiritual community” and “practical community”. The diversity and the integration of Chinese languages and cultures are finally unified in the sense of community among the Chinese people.

In view of the influence of Myanmar’s language education policy, China’s language education in China-Myanmar cross-border ethnic should adopt a two-pronged approach and actively practice the idea of “pluralistic integration”. Firstly, correctly handle the relationship between the national common language and the minority language. On the one hand, we should continue to strengthen the promotion and popularization of the national common language and promote in-depth communication among all ethnic groups; on the other hand, we should pay attention to protecting the reasonable needs of ethnic minorities to learn their own language and defend the position of schools in language education. We should implement bilingual education with minority languages and Chinese Mandarin according to different stages and modes, and adhere to the teaching goal of “Mastery of minority language and Chinese” in areas where conditions permit. The second is to actively do a good job in the international promotion of Chinese and foreign language learning. On the one hand, we should strengthen educational cooperation between cross-border ethnic groups between China and Myanmar, further promote Chinese teaching in Myanmar, and at the same time expand the enrollment scale of Burmese students coming to China; on the other hand, we should persist in training Chinese talents who are proficient in Burmese language and culture, give full play to their positive role in bilateral economic, social, cultural and ecological interaction.

Through the enlightenment of Myanmar’s language education policy, it is hoped that the cross-border ethnic groups on the China-Myanmar border can form a pluralistic pattern of the national common language, minority language and foreign language education, and jointly serve the construction of a community with a shared future for mankind.


(Jiang Yan, lecturer of Yunnan University of Finance and Economics; Ren Liang, teacher of Yunnan University of Finance and Economics)

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