Shi Junguang has no teaching diploma, but the former rice farmer got a language-teaching job with a verbal reference from his grandmother about his command of Manchu - once used in imperial documents but now on the verge of extinction.
Fewer than 100 people can speak fluent Manchu in a population of more than 10 million ethnic Manchu living mostly in northeastern China. Manchu is the country's third-largest ethnic group, after Han and Zhuang minority.
The Manchu founded the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) that ruled China for more than 260 years, but the language was in decline in the 1700s and even the imperial court had lost its fluency by the 19th century. It was China's last dynasty and witnessed China's decline from prosperity.
The Manchu dynasty was known for introducing half-shaved heads and pigtails for men. The fitting high-collared cheongsam, with a side slit, for women is also Manchu in origin.
Shi, who is 35, teaches at the Sanjiazi Manchu School in the northeast province of Heilongjiang where most Manchus live.
Shi's grandmother, 86-year-old Meng Shujing, is one of very few people who can chat fluently in Manchu. She and another 15 old people in the village of Sanjiazi are regarded as "living fossils" of their mother tongue and are paid 200 yuan (US$30) a month by the county to pass on their language. More than 70 percent of the villagers are ethnic Manchu.
Shi, who learned Manchu from his grandmother, was hired in 2006 as a part-time teacher when the village school was set up, with an investment of 2 million yuan. It was the first village school in China teaching Manchu. He became a full-time teacher in 2010 after further language training at Heilongjiang University in the provincial capital Harbin.
Shi now earns more than 1,000 yuan a month and spends his free time managing his family farm.
She and another Manchu teacher have compiled a set of textbooks for five primary grades. First and second graders learn spoken Manchu; from the third grade pupils also learn to read the vertical script. Manchu traditions are explained and displayed in an exhibition room at the school
Remote Sanjiazi village is more than four hours' drive from Harbin; it lies in the middle of a vast paddy field and is encircled by a river. There's one road out of town and there was no modern transport until 20 years ago. In the old days people had to get up before dawn, walk for an hour and a half to the railway station and then take a train to the county seat.
Because of its isolation, Sanjiazi is the only village in China where Manchu language is spoken and its traditions observed, says Dong Xuefeng, an official with Youyi Township, which administers the village.
Liaoning Province was the cradle of Manchu culture, but there is no other village there like Sanjiazi where Manchu is still spoken, says Guan Jialu, an expert in Manchu studies at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences.
Prospects for preserving the Manchu tongue are not bright.
Even in Sanjiazi, only a few people can speak, read and write the language, and no more than 20 people across China have a good command of it, says Guan who himself is Manchu. "Manchu is on the verge of demise," Guan says.
Shi's grandmother Meng Shujing says she only uses Manchu with her elderly friends but says they have to add Mandarin Chinese expressions for new words.
Many historical documents in Manchu have not been translated because of a lack of language experts, though the records are valuable in understanding the history of the Qing Dynasty, Guan says.
The documents in the Heilongjiang provincial archive alone can fill six vans but no one can translate them, according to Wu Xuying, director of the ethnic and religious affairs bureau of Fuyu County.