One-Size-Fits-All Qualification Exam for China Publishing Professionals Militates Against Ethnic Minority Talent

In China, since 2002 all technical staff employed in a publishing enterprise engaged in “editing, publication,

Ughur dictionary: Does editing these tomes require certification in Chinese?
Uyghur dictionary: Does editing these tomes require certification in Chinese fluency?

proofreading and distribution . . . must obtain a National Publication Professional Qualification Certificate” (国家出版专业职业资格).

That sounds fairly reasonable in the China context where media is tightly managed for political correctness. But the reality is that in one sector in particular — enterprises that specialize in publishing in indigenous languages other than Mandarin, or books about the culture of ethnic minorities that require specialized knowledge of those cultures — the effect has been to severely limit the talent pool.

In a June 2 article at China Ethnic News (破除人才瓶颈), Qian Lihua (钱丽华) explains:

  • The standardized qualification test — entirely in Chinese — is aimed at publication professionals nationwide and assumes a very high standard of written Chinese.
  • In 2008, it was announced that exceptions could be made for those working in languages other than Chinese. However, specific regulations and tests or assessment standards have not been forthcoming.
  • Many staff working in publishing houses are members of ethnic minorities initially educated in a non-Chinese mother tongue, regularly work in indigenous languages, and have often not had an opportunity for systematic training in Chinese.

Predictably, members of ethnic minorities who are part of the estimated 4,100-strong workforce in this sector of publishing are flunking the test in droves. Qian Lihua cites one striking statistic: Among 138 ethnic Koreans employed by three main publishers in Jilin Province, since 2002 just 5 have passed the exam and been certified.

“I will retire in a few years,” says Hu Lanying (胡兰英), director of editing at Yunnan Dehong Nationalities Publishing House (云南德宏民族出版社), in the article. “But my assistant and many young staff now on the job have still not passed the National Publication Professional Qualification exam. They will not be permitted to edit or publish books. How can you expect them to calmly get on with their work in the field of ethnic publishing? How can our publishing house continue to flourish?”

Qian Lihua calls attention to the fact that special dispensation has been given to editors in Xinjiang, where the non-Han population is estimated at around 60 percent. This is referred to as the “Xinjiang Formula” (新疆模式). They need not sit for the national exam. Instead, certification is based on a formal “assessment” (以评代考). She doesn’t explain what this entails, but one would assume it is based more on actual performance on the job, and less on written tests in Chinese.

In order to overcome the talent bottleneck threatening the very viability of publishing houses that specialize in indigenous languages and cultures, Qian Lihua argues that wider application of the flexible “Xinjiang Formula” is in order.

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