Once the tongue of China's Qing Dynasty imperial family, the Manchu language is now on the verge of extinction due to a lack of speakers, linguists warned.
"China has 10.68 million Manchu people, but fewer than 100 who know the language, while the number who have mastered the language is no more than ten," said Cao Meng, director of the Northern Chinese Ethnic Minority Culture Research Center, citing a report by the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences.
"The situation has worsened in recent years. Conservation is in urgent need of public attention," Cao said.
The Manchu language was standardized as the national language by the Manchu, China's third most populous ethnic group, which founded the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and ruled the country for over 260 years.
But the language began to lose speakers even during the dynasty. At the end of the 19th century, during the reign of the Guangxu Emperor, standard Chinese had replaced Manchu as the language used by the ethnic group.
The Manchu language holds the key to understanding the ethnic group's unique culture and religion, said Mao Gongning, head of the China Ethnic Minority Policy Research Association.
The Qing Dynasty left behind about 3 million Manchu-language books, documents and genealogies. Many of these historical documents are still waiting to be decoded, according to Mao.
"If preservation work can not be promoted, the documents will eventually become sealed books to us with the loss of Manchu speakers," Cao said.