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UPDATED: 09:13, July 26, 2004
Esperanto speakers gathering in Beijing
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The curtain rose Sunday on another gala for Esperanto speakers around the world.The 89th Universal Esperanto Congress opened Sunday in Beijing.

This is the second time China has hosted the largest and most important Esperanto gathering, with more than 2,000 participants from 52 countries and regions.

Esperanto was invented by Polish L L Zamenhof in 1887. It is an artificial language based on European roots. It was originally intended as a main mode of communication for people around the world.

Although Esperanto has not spread as far as many avid followers once hoped, it has seen steadfast support.

In China, the number of Esperanto followers is growing. Half of the people at the conference are Chinese, a significant increase from the last Universal Esperanto congress held in Beijing in 1986, when only about 300 people, or 8 per cent of the participants were from China.

Wu Bangguo, chairman of Chinese National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee acted as the special patron of this year's congress.

Xu Jialu, vice-chairman of the NPC Standing Committee addressed the meeting, saying that Esperanto brings people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds together and allows them to communicate freely.

"I believe that the prospect for Esperanto is enormous," said Professor Humphrey Tonkin of University of Hartford of United States. He is the vice-president of the Universal Esperanto Association, the most authoritative organization for Esperanto.

He said Esperanto is not intended to push other languages out. Instead, it is an ideal alternative to English, which is now the language most widely used in international communications.

"We would like to see linguistic diversity as well as linguistic equality. We can't have one without the other," he said.

He said that as a language, Esperanto has been remarkably successful in the past century as it works well in all situations, although there are not enough Esperanto speakers in the world.

He said the 71st Universal Esperanto Congress, also hosted by Beijing in 1986, was a great success and his association is glad to repeat that experience.

"Esperanto allows communication on an equal footing between people, with neither having the usual cultural advantages given to native speakers," said Yu Tao, secretary-general of the All-China Esperanto League, which was founded in 1951.

Yu was elected on Saturday as a member of the seven-person Board of the Universal Esperanto Association, Esperanto's core leadership group.

He is the first ever Chinese to hold the spot.

The week-long gala, with the theme of "language equality in international relations," will include activities like seminars, exhibitions and tours, to promote the development of Esperanto and to cultivate potential speakers.

The congress is not only a linguistic event, it also a platform to display the modern image of China to the rest of the world so that the friends to the conference can learn more about China and the ancient capital Beijing.

In addition to China, countries that sent most delegates to the conference include Japan, France and Germany.

Statistics show that there are about 10 million Esperanto speakers in more than 100 countries in the world.

China has about 10,000 active Esperanto speakers, among some 400,000 people who have attended Esperanto courses in various forms.

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