How China’s new language policy sparked rare backlash in Inner Mongolia

Under the new policy, Mandarin Chinese will change Mongolian because the medium of instruction for 3 topics in elementary and center faculties for minority teams throughout the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, house to 4.2 million ethnic Mongolians.

But dad and mom worry the transfer will result in a gradual demise of the Mongolian language, spelling an finish for the already waning Mongolian tradition.

This week, as college students throughout China returned to lecture rooms for the new faculty yr, many ethnic faculties in Inner Mongolia remained empty as dad and mom refused to ship their kids again, based on residents and videos circulating on-line.

“We Mongolians are all against it,” mentioned Angba, a 41-year-old herder in Xilin Gol League whose 8-year-old son has joined the boycott.

“When the Mongolian language dies, our Mongolian ethnicity will also disappear,” the daddy mentioned. As with the opposite Mongolian residents who spoke to CNN for this text, Angba requested to make use of a pseudonym over worry of repercussions from authorities for talking to international media.

Videos shared with CNN by abroad Mongolians and rights teams seem to point out crowds of fogeys gathering exterior faculties — typically singing Mongolian songs — underneath the shut watch of law enforcement officials, demanding to convey their kids house. In one video, college students in blue uniforms topple steel fences blocking a faculty entrance and rush outside. In another, rows of schoolchildren throw their fists in the air and shout: “Let us Mongolians strive to defend our own Mongolian language!” CNN is unable to independently confirm the movies.
But the opposing voices have unfold far past college students and fogeys. According to residents, abroad Mongolians and rights teams, Mongolians throughout the area from musicians to members of the local legislature have allegedly signed petitions calling for the regional authorities to rescind the policy.

On Thursday alone, some 21,000 signatures had been collected from residents in 10 counties, forming 196 petitions to the regional authorities’s schooling bureau, based on an abroad Mongolian scholar who has been in shut contact with native residents. In the regional capital of Hohhot, over 300 staff at a outstanding regional tv station additionally signed the petition, mentioned the scholar, who has requested anonymity resulting from sensitivity of the problem.

On Weibo, China’s model of Twitter, some ethnic Han customers have spoken out in sympathy of Inner Mongolia’s plight to guard its mom tongue. Some residents in the neighboring nation of Mongolia have additionally protested in solidarity.

A workers member on the Inner Mongolia regional authorities would not remark when reached by telephone by CNN on Thursday.

A readout of a regional authorities assembly on Tuesday mentioned the rolling out of standardized textbooks reveals “the loving care of the Party and the state towards ethnic regions” and advantages “the promotion of ethnic unity, the development and progress of ethnic regions, and the building of a strong sense of community for the Chinese nation.”

On Thursday, China’s international ministry dismissed stories of the protests in Inner Mongolia as “political speculation with ulterior motives.”

“The national common spoken and written language is a symbol of national sovereignty. It is every citizen’s right and duty to learn and use the national common spoken and written language,” spokesperson Hua Chunyin mentioned.

“Model minority”

The boycotts and petitions are a rare present of open discontent amongst ethnic Mongolians, hailed by some as one among China’s “model minorities” which have been largely pacified and efficiently built-in into the ethnic Han majority.

Mongolians are one among solely two ethnic minorities to have dominated imperial China. In the 13th century, the Mongol Empire arose from the unification of a number of nomadic tribes in the Mongolian steppes to overcome a lot of Eurasia — together with China, the place it was often known as the Yuan Dynasty (from AD 1271 to 1368).

A herdsman pastures sheep on August 8, 2006 in Xilinhot of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, China.

After World War II, the Chinese Communist Party gained management of Inner Mongolia, an unlimited strip of grassland and desert to the southeast of the nation of Mongolia, and established the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in 1947 — the primary of 5 so-called autonomous areas in the People’s Republic of China.

Following many years of Han migration and intermarriage into Inner Mongolia, ethnic Mongolians have since turn into a minority in their very own land, accounting for under about one sixth of Inner Mongolia’s inhabitants of 24 million, based on the last available census information.

However, not like autonomous areas such Tibet and Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia has largely prevented violent ethnic unrest in current many years.

“Inner Mongolia is not against the Chinese government — it is a relatively stable place,” mentioned Tala, a 26-year-old Mongolian who grew up in the area and now lives abroad.

“But even so,” he mentioned. “We’ve been pushed to the brink.”

Under the floor, tensions have been working for years, particularly between Han settlers and Mongolian herders, who complained their conventional grazing lands have been ruined by a coal mining growth.

Trucks driving through a coal mine in Huolin Gol, Inner Mongolia on November 15, 2010.
That battle was laid naked in 2011, when a Mongolian herder was struck and killed by a coal truck pushed by Han Chinese. The herder, protesting in opposition to the coal mining exercise, had tried to cease vehicles from crossing into his conventional pastureland. His demise triggered hundreds of Mongolians to take to the streets — the final time main protests broke out in the area.

Mongolian activists additionally lamented the lack of their pastoral custom. Herders had been moved from their houses on the prairies into new housing complexes in cities underneath “ecological migration,” a decades-long relocation program that officers say is aimed toward assuaging poverty and easing overgrazing.

“The Mongolian way of life (has already been) wiped out by so many policies,” mentioned Enghebatu Togochog, director of the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center, a New York-based advocacy group.

“This new policy is the final blow to the Mongolian identity,” he mentioned of the curriculum change.

“Bilingual education”

As discontent threatens to boil over, Inner Mongolian authorities have sought to reassure dad and mom that the change will solely apply to language and literature, politics, and historical past over a staggered three-year interval. Other topics — in addition to the variety of hours for Mongolian-language classes — stay unchanged, based on a statement from the schooling bureau of the regional authorities.

“Therefore, the current bilingual education system has not changed,” the assertion mentioned.

However, some ethnic Mongolians additionally worry that Mongolian will finally get replaced by Mandarin in all topics.

Critics of China’s assimilation policy say Mongolians solely want to take a look at the ethnic minority areas of Xinjiang and Tibet to get a glimpse of what the longer term may maintain.

Students walk past a portrait of China's late Chairman Mao Zedong at a bilingual middle school for Uyghur and Han Chinese students in Hotan, Xinjiang in 2006.
Both areas have carried out “bilingual education” for years, however in follow, the system skews closely towards Mandarin educating, based on rights teams. Across Xinjiang, Mandarin had become the instruction language in all main and center faculties by September 2018. Tibetan can be being replaced by Mandarin as the first medium of instruction in Tibet.

“We should implement bilingual education in some ethnic areas, both requiring ethnic minorities to learn the national common language, and encouraging Hans living in these areas learn ethnic minority languages,” Xi mentioned at a high-level Party assembly on ethnic policy in 2014.

“If ethnic minorities learn the national common language well, it will be beneficial to them in employment, in accepting modern scientific and cultural knowledge and in integration into society.”

In actuality, nevertheless, few Hans in ethnic minority areas know the native languages, which they don’t seem to be required to study at college, residents say.

“As in Xinjiang and Tibet, the Chinese authorities appear to be putting political imperatives ahead of educational ones,” mentioned Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Chinese authorities should be focused on providing genuine bilingual education, not undermining it and persecuting its proponents.”

Students in traditional clothing travel on a special train to attend university entrance exam in Inner Mongolia, China in June, 2019.

For many years, Inner Mongolia’s mannequin of bilingual schooling has allowed Mongolian for use because the language of instruction and Mandarin taught as a topic. In ethnic minority faculties, college students used to obtain their first Mandarin lesson in the third yr of elementary faculty, however since at the least the 1990s, it has began earlier, in the second grade.

And now, it is going to be taught in the primary yr, in Mandarin, and with extra superior content material.

Angba, the herdsman in Xilin Gol, mentioned by the primary grade, many kids have not even correctly realized their mom tongue but, and including one other language could be a giant burden.

In Inner Mongolia, many kids solely start to correctly study the Mongolian script — a novel alphabet written vertically that finally derives from the Middle East — once they enter elementary faculty.

“Now, Chinese is already spoken everywhere in cities as well as pastoral areas,” he mentioned. “So I hope school can be the place where (the children) learn Mongolian properly.”

For its half, the regional authorities has emphasised that the new curriculum is a policy choice made by the Party’s central management.

“Our region is a model autonomous region, firmly implementing this policy is a major political task that we must fulfill,” it said in the meeting on Tuesday.

According to the abroad Mongolian scholar, nevertheless, dad and mom are usually not in opposition to using standardized nationwide textbooks — so long as they’re translated into Mongolian. In reality, she mentioned the curriculum beforehand used in Mongolian-medium faculties had all been translated from Chinese textbooks used in different elements from the nation.

“The (old) education system has worked very well,” mentioned the scholar, who grew up in Inner Mongolia and attended Mongolian-language faculties in the countryside.

“The children don’t have any problem speaking Mandarin …They’re already bilingual.”

Generational shift

Some experts have noted that the new schooling policy is a part of a broader, generational shift of ethnic policy in China, which is veering from the Soviet mannequin of ethnic autonomy to a extra monocultural mannequin.

Under the previous Soviet mannequin adopted on the founding of Communist China and written into its structure, ethnic minorities are supposed to be granted a level of autonomy in designated areas to run their very own affairs and protect their language and tradition.

But in follow, critics say it’s the Hans who’ve the true say and maintain key positions. And in locations like Tibet and Xinjiang, ethnic language, tradition and faith have come underneath growing restrictions.

Ethnic Uyghur members of the Communist Party of China carry a flag past a billboard of Chinese President Xi Jinping as they take part in an organized tour on June 30, 2017 in the old town of Kashgar, Xinjiang.

That shift has accelerated underneath Xi, who has unleashed a heavy-handed crackdown in Xinjiang, the place US officers say as much as two million Uyghurs have been detained in internment camps the place they’re pressured to denounce Islam and study Mandarin Chinese. Uyghur activists have accused the marketing campaign of “cultural genocide.”

And now, some ethnic Mongolians fear that Inner Mongolia would be the subsequent in line for the so-called “second generation of ethnic policy.”

“It’s not at all promoting ethnic harmony,” mentioned the abroad Mongolian scholar. ‘It is creating way more hassle than selling concord. It’s actually counter efficient.”

Togochog, the New York-based activist, said people in Inner Mongolia are merely defending their legal rights guaranteed in the constitution and the regional ethnic authority law. The Chinese constitution says “all nationalities have the liberty to make use of and develop their very own spoken and written languages.”

“People are merely pushing the federal government to meet (its) personal promise,” Togochog said. “They are usually not saying ‘we wish to overthrow CCP rule’ or ‘we would like independence.’ They did not even point out human rights…(all) they need is to avoid wasting their language.”

Some food delivery workers in Inner Mongolia have stuck signs reading "save our mother tongue" on their bikes.

But coercion and intimidation have already kicked in, according to residents.

Qiqige, a 38-year-old mother in Xilinhot, said some chat groups of Mongolian parents on WeChat, China’s popular messaging app, have been shut down, and authorities last month blocked Bainu, a Mongolian-language social media site.

She said police have detained some protesters, and Party members and civil servants have been told to send their children back to school or risk losing their jobs. Some parents have already bowed to pressure, she added.

At the meeting on Tuesday, the regional government ordered officials and teachers to “proactively promote the policy to college students, dad and mom and the general public, and dispel their considerations and misgivings” to “guarantee college students return to varsities as regular.”

On Wednesday, the public security bureaus in several districts of Tongliao city in eastern Inner Mongolia released wanted lists of people accused of “selecting quarrels and frightening troubles” — a charge routinely used by the Chinese government to suppress dissent, with individual photographs showing them in crowds or gatherings. Some photos appear to show parents outside schools, and some wanted lists specifically mentioned that the incidents happened outside schools. In Horqin district, the list has so far included 129 people.

But Qiqige, the mother of two in Xilinhot, has vowed to continue to protest against the policy until authorities give in.

“As lengthy as we’re Mongolians, we’ll resist to the tip,” she mentioned.

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