Where is Lolo?

As soon as my kids got out of school for the Spring Festival (mid-February), I stuffed them in the car and headed up to Harbin to see the Ice Festival. We passed a village on Route 202 called 拉林 (lālín), and it crossed my mind that with a little phonetic change, maybe it used to be Lolo, the village mentioned in the opening sentence of The Book of the Nisan Shaman.  On the way back I stopped there to get some snacks and found that it was a Manchu village and there was Manchu writing on signs everywhere.

Shoe KingDo they accept letters addressed in Manchu?Birthday cakes, tofu, and hot food

Magnificent RestaurantThey're everywhere!Cixi's reincarnation will give you a lap dance!

But if you look closely at the Manchu on the pictures, some of it is very hard to read, and some of it seems to make no sense at all.  I’ll leave the error-analysis as an exercise for the reader, but suffice it to say that it varies quite a lot in quality; some words are clear and sensible, and some look like someone was just trying to imitate the way Manchu looks in general, without quite knowing what they are doing, like westerners often do with Chinese.

When I was in the little shop buying tasty sausages and local beer, a man came in and started asking me questions (—this is quite normal; since I’m not of Asian extraction, curious villagers often muster their courage and warmly ask me all sorts of questions, ranging from my nationality to my opinions about international politics).  I told him why I stopped here, and he offered to show me around.

I asked him if anyone could read the Manchu words on the signs.

Me: 满族字儿…在牌子上…你说谁也不认识嘛? (The Manchu letters…on the signs…you say that nobody can read them?)

I phrased it that way because I had asked him previously, but that time I hadn’t had my recorder on.

Him: 当地谁也不认识。 (As far as the locals go, nobody can read them.)

Me: 那,写的是干哈的?(Then, why did they write them there?)

Him: 糊弄人儿的。反正要求,政府要求你满族这牌匾得带满文呢!(To trick people.  Anyway, it’s a requirement; the government requires that if you are Manchu, you have to put Manchu script on your signs.)

Me: 啊,是政府要求。 (Oh, it’s a government requirement.)

Him: 啊,是政府要求。 (Yeah, it’s a government requirement.)

Me: 啊,这儿也,这儿还有呢。 (Ah, here, here are some more.)

Him: 啊,都有呢。这个中的标准就不知道了。 (Yeah, they all have them.  Nobody knows what’s correct.)


9 thoughts on “Where is Lolo?”

  1. Classic. As a side note, readers outside China might wonder how the government would know anyone is Manchu in the first place. I mean: how does the local official know to require “Manchu” people to write “their” script when everyone speaks Mandarin and no one knows a lick of Manchu? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think Manchu is one of the official ethnic designations that, for better or for worse, is imprinted on one’s state documents, making the “write Manchu script if you’re Manchu” regulation a very easy one to enforce.

  2. Sounds like tourism fodder to me, considering they’re not learning the language that they’re required to print.

    There’s a bit of Uyghur smatter going on as well, though not so much out west where it’s still spoken.

  3. @Syz: One must put one’s ethnicity on one’s ID card.

    @Kellen: I don’t think many tourists would stop in 拉林; there’s not much there to see, although a huge temple complex is being built just outside of the town which might draw some.

  4. Similar ridiculousness apparently goes on in Xinjiang, where some supposedly Uighur signs are just “Gibberish”:


    Re: the ID card issue, I have read that the official number of Manchu people has bobbed up and down with politics. In the 1950s through the early 1980s, one did one’s best not to get that designation on one’s ID card, because Manchu blood meant that you were related to the former ruling class. But as when the practice of assigning guilt based on one’s family class background (出身论) slacked off in the early 1980s, the number of proclaimed Manchus apparently increased dramatically, and continues to rise now.

    The reasons, I would assume: various benefits that accrue to being a recognized minority, including exemption from the one-child policy and bonus points for getting into a good university.

  5. Although increasing after the 1980s as Bruce mentioned, haven’t most Manchus been thoroughly integrated and largely inter-married with Han people so that they are all but gone (in the purest sense of being a Manchu)? Seems like the requirement is being done largely for historical reasons.

  6. 1) Lalin vs. Lolo
    I haven’t found any evidence showing that Lalin is associated with Lolo village in Nisan Shaman. The township of Lalin got its name from nearby Lalin River. Historically, the river has been called 涞流水、来流水 and 剌林河, none of which phonetically resembles Lolo.

    It is said though, that the name comes from Manchu. If this assertion is true, there are two possible explanations. First, the Manchu name is spelled as “lalin”, which could be the noun form of “lali”, meaning brisk and neat.
    The other possibility is that the name comes from the word “larin”. According to “满汉大辞典”and “新满汉大辞典”, larin means蹇, referring to an inferior horse or a donkey.

    As I said before, numerous clues in the Legend of Nisan Shaman indicate that the locale of story is somewhere in central China, instead of Manchuria.

    2) Government forced use of Manchu
    It is unarguable that Manchus are gone, along with their language. The modern Manchus are a people artificially designated by the government.
    It is still very much possible to revitalize the Manchu language. However, Manchus missed a good opportunity to reclaim their mother tongue in the 1980’s, when the Chinese government was more supportive, and people less fixated on making money. The social and economic costs of revitalizing the Manchu language were much lower back then than they are now.
    The defeat of democratic movement in China and the fall of communist powers in east European and former Soviet Union countries in 1989 altered the course in which things evolved in China. Since then the Chinese government has become increasingly concerned about “stability”, with the belief that stability must stem from a homogeneous society, ideologically and ethnically. While historic Manchu figures have been used widely used to propagate “motherland unity” in popular TV dramas, no real official efforts have been made to revitalize of the Manchu language. I don’t think the incumbent ethnocentric Chinese government has the courage to support or even tolerate the resurrection of a dying language which will bring alive the completely extinct ethnicity of Manchus. Under such circumstances, it very unlikely to see any government regulations, policies or programs genuinely aimed to promote the Manchu language.

  7. @Manjuniyalma:

    I also haven’t found any evidence showing that Lalin is connected with Lolo except for the fact that the syllables in their names both start with L.

    As I said before, numerous clues in the Legend of Nisan Shaman indicate that the locale of story is somewhere in central China, instead of Manchuria.

    However you didn’t say what clues. I am very curious about your ideas on this.

    1. That’s very interesting. Looking at the other pictures, it seems that it is just a coincidental architectural design; it’s on the karaoke place too. However, your eyes are pretty amazing to notice something like that.

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