Students in Inner Mongolia protest Chinese language policy – The Diplomat
Ethnic Mongolians, including students and parents, in China’s Inner Mongolia region are showing their anger in rare public protests against a new bilingual education policy they say endangers the Mongolian language.
A high school student in the town of Hulunbuir said students rushed out of their school on Tuesday and destroyed a fence before paramilitary police arrived and tried to send them back to class.
“We senior students were talking and we thought we had to do something,” said the student, Narsu, who like most Mongolians has only one name. “While it doesn’t affect us directly now, it will have a huge impact on us going forward.”
The policy, announced Monday before the start of the new school year, requires schools to use new national textbooks in Chinese, replacing Mongolian-language textbooks. Protesters say they were aware of demonstrations and class outings in Hohhot, the provincial capital, as well as the cities of Chifeng and the prefecture of Tongliao and Xilin Gol.
Nuomin, the mother of a kindergarten student in Hulunbuir, said she saw police in places she wouldn’t normally go and a metal barrier outside a school. She has kept her child at home since Monday.
“A lot of us parents will continue to keep our kids at home until they bring Mongolian back to those classes,” she said.
In 2017, the ruling Communist Party set up a committee to revise school textbooks for the whole country. Revised manuals have been released in recent years.
The new policy for Inner Mongolia, a northern province that borders the country of Mongolia, affects schools where Mongolian is the primary language of instruction.
Literature classes for elementary and middle school students in Mongolian-language schools will switch to a national textbook and be taught in Mandarin Chinese.
Next year, the Politics and Morals course will also switch to Mandarin, as will the History courses from 2022. The remaining courses, such as Mathematics, will not change their language of instruction.
Students will also begin learning Mandarin in first grade. Previously, they started in the second year.
This decision follows similar ones in other ethnic regions. In Tibet and Xinjiang, the main language of instruction in these schools has become Mandarin, and the minority language is a language class. Academics study China’s policies in Xinjiang and the resulting consequences tensions to have highlighted changes in language policies as significant early shifts pointing to a shift in the dynamic between the region and Beijing.
In one explanation of the new policyChristopher Atwood, a professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania, noted that “Uyghur and Tibetan language education in Xinjiang and Tibet had already been largely eliminated, and the Mongolian and Korean were the only minority languages”. continue to be used as a medium of instruction in China, at least in theory.
As Atwood notes, the Mongols in China have sometimes been seen as something of a “model minority”, due to the absence of “massive and highly visible examples of inter-ethnic conflict” and the “strongly secular” nature of the country. Mongolian identity (as opposed to the emphasis on Islam for Uyghurs in Xinjiang and Buddhism for Tibetans). Education, rather than religious practice, is seen as the crucial vehicle for perpetuating Mongolian identity in China: “Public schools teaching Mongolian thus acquired for the Mongols something like the importance that Buddhist monasteries have for Tibetans and Islamic festivals and shrines for Uyghurs”. Atwood writes. The new policy is perceived as a threat to this education, and therefore to the very existence of Mongolian cultural identity.
The Inner Mongolia Education Bureau did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.
China changed education according to a new model of assimilation to the Han majority culture that leaves behind Soviet-inspired policies of promoting education in the minority language.
President Xi Jinping said that if people don’t speak the same language, it’s hard to communicate and understand each other.
“Ethnic minority schools, if they study well the language of communication in the country, it will be of great advantage to them in employment, in learning modern scientific and cultural knowledge and will allow them to integrate into society,” he told a central conference. Ethnic Work Conference in 2014. His words were quoted in the most recent policy document.
But for ethnic Mongolians, the new directive raises fears that they will lose their native language.
Gegentuul Baioud, a linguistics scholar who was educated at a bilingual school in Inner Mongolia, abstract the potential impact of the new policy:
The Mongolian language is already fragile and has entered the early stages of endangerment. In today’s Inner Mongolia, less than 40% of Mongolian parents choose Mongolian bilingual schools for their children; the others enroll their children in ordinary Chinese schools. Under such circumstances, this reform pushes the already emaciated Mongolian language and culture towards the abyss of extinction within China’s borders.
She added that the policy’s “secret implementation” had also sparked opposition, with documents containing the changes released just a week before the start of the school year.
In the city of Tongliao, parents decided to bring their children home from boarding school on Monday. Many parents only found out about the policy after dropping their children off at school, said Tongliao resident Nure Zhang.
But authorities at a primary school, backed by police, refused to let the parents take their children back, according to Zhang, who attended the protest.
There were multiple clashes as parents and others rushed the police, trying to enter the school, Zhang said. “They used a human wall to block us. We kept singing and shouting slogans,” he said. Police used pepper spray twice on protesters, he added.
At 9 p.m., the school principal and local officials said parents could take their children home.
Now, Mongolian language schools are quiet in Tongliao. Local Communist Party leaders visited each family to try to get the students to return, Zhang said.
Authorities banned a popular Mongolian-language social media platform called Bainu.
Zhang, also a relative, said he already feels strongly influenced by Han people, who make up 79% of Inner Mongolia’s 25 million people, according to the latest census data from 2015. Ethnic Mongolians make up 17%.
“Now the Chinese class is a literature class, Chinese is the main language, and Mongolian has become an additional language,” he said. “If this continues for 10 years, 20 years later our language will slowly be forgotten.”
By Huizhong Wu for The Associated Press in Taipei, Taiwan with additional reporting from The Diplomat.