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

Ethnic Mongolian students and parents in northern China have staged mass school boycotts over a new curriculum that would scale back education in their mother tongue, in a rare and highly visible protest against the ruling Communist Party’s intensified push for ethnic assimilation.

Under the new policy, Mandarin Chinese will replace Mongolian as the medium of instruction for three subjects in elementary and middle schools for minority groups across the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, 집에 4.2 million ethnic Mongolians.
Authorities have defended the adoption of a national standardized curriculumwhich comes with Chinese textbooks compiled and approved by policymakers in Beijingwill improve minority studentspaths to higher education and employment.
But parents fear the move will lead to a gradual demise of the Mongolian language, spelling an end for the already waning Mongolian culture.
    To critics, the policy bears a chilling resemblance to measures rolled out in the regions of TibetXinjiang, where Mandarin has replaced ethnic minority languages as the instruction language in most schools. It also reflects a shift in the Party’s policy towards more aggressive assimilation under President Xi Jinping, as evident in the harsh crackdown on the mostly Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang.

    이번 주, as students across China returned to classrooms for the new school year, many ethnic schools in Inner Mongolia remained empty as parents refused to send their children back, according to residents and 동영상 circulating online.
    We Mongolians are all against it,” said 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 father said. As with the other Mongolian residents who spoke to CNN for this article, Angba requested to use a pseudonym over fear of repercussions from authorities for speaking to foreign media.
    Videos shared with CNN by overseas Mongolians and rights groups appear to show crowds of parents 모임 outside schools — 때때로 singing Mongolian songsunder the close watch of police officers, demanding to bring their children home. 하나의 비디오, students in blue uniforms topple metal fences blocking a school entrance and rush outside. 에 다른, 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 verify the videos.
    But the opposing voices have spread far beyond students and parents. According to residents, overseas Mongolians and rights groups, Mongolians across the region from 음악가 ...에 members of the local legislature have allegedly signed petitions calling for the regional government to rescind the policy.
    On Thursday alone, 약간 21,000 signatures were collected from residents in 10 counties, 형성 196 petitions to the regional government’s education bureau, according to an overseas Mongolian scholar who has been in close touch with local residents. In the regional capital of Hohhot, 위에 300 employees at a prominent regional television station also signed the petition, said the scholar, who has requested anonymity due to sensitivity of the issue.
    A petition signed by residents with their fingerprints in red ink stamped over signatures.

    On Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, some ethnic Han users have spoken out in sympathy of Inner Mongolia’s plight to protect its mother tongue. Some citizens in the neighboring country of Mongolia have also protested in solidarity.
    A staff member at the Inner Mongolia regional government wouldn’t comment when reached by phone by CNN on Thursday.
    readout of a regional government meeting on Tuesday said the rolling out of standardized textbooks showsthe loving care of the Party and the state towards ethnic regionsand benefitsthe promotion of ethnic unity, the development and progress of ethnic regions, and the building of a strong sense of community for the Chinese nation.
    목요일에, China’s foreign ministry dismissed reports of the protests in Inner Mongolia aspolitical 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 said.

    Model minority

    The boycotts and petitions are a rare show of open discontent among ethnic Mongolians, hailed by some as one of China’smodel minoritiesthat have been largely pacified and successfully integrated into the ethnic Han majority.
    Mongolians are one of only two ethnic minorities to have ruled imperial China. In the 13th century, the Mongol Empire arose from the unification of several nomadic tribes in the Mongolian steppes to conquer much of Eurasiaincluding China, where it was known as the Yuan Dynasty (from AD 1271 ...에 1368).
    A herdsman pastures sheep on August 8, 2006 in Xilinhot of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, 중국.

    After World War II, the Chinese Communist Party gained control of Inner Mongolia, a vast strip of grassland and desert to the southeast of the country of Mongolia, and established the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in 1947 — the first of five so-called autonomous regions in the People’s Republic of China.
    Following decades of Han migration and intermarriage into Inner Mongolia, ethnic Mongolians have since become a minority in their own land, accounting for only about one sixth of Inner Mongolia’s population of 24 백만, 에 따르면 last available census 데이터.
    하나, unlike autonomous regions such Tibet and Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia has largely avoided violent ethnic unrest in recent decades.
    Inner Mongolia is not against the Chinese governmentit is a relatively stable place,” said Tala, a 26-year-old Mongolian who grew up in the region and now lives overseas.
    But even so,” 그는 말했다. “We’ve been pushed to the brink.
    Under the surface, tensions have been running for years, especially between Han settlers and Mongolian herders, who complained their traditional grazing lands have been ruined by a coal mining boom.
    Trucks driving through a coal mine in Huolin Gol, Inner Mongolia on November 15, 2010.

    That conflict was laid bare 에 2011, when a Mongolian herder was struck and killed by a coal truck driven by Han Chinese. The herder, protesting against the coal mining activity, had tried to stop trucks from crossing into his traditional pastureland. His death triggered thousands of Mongolians to take to the streetsthe last time major protests 파산 out in the region.
    Mongolian activists also lamented the loss of their pastoral tradition. Herders were moved from their homes on the prairies into new housing complexes in towns underecological migration,” a decades-long relocation program that officials say is aimed at alleviating poverty and easing overgrazing.
    The Mongolian way of life (has already been) wiped out by so many policies,” said 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 said of the curriculum change.

    Bilingual education

    As discontent threatens to boil over, Inner Mongolian authorities have sought to reassure parents that the change will only apply to language and literature, 정치, and history over a staggered three-year period. Other subjectsas well as the number of hours for Mongolian-language lessonsremain unchanged, 에 따르면 성명서 from the education bureau of the regional government.
    “따라서, the current bilingual education system has not changed,” 성명은 말했다.
    하나, some ethnic Mongolians also fear that Mongolian will eventually be replaced by Mandarin in all subjects.
    Critics of China’s assimilation policy say Mongolians only need to look at the ethnic minority regions of Xinjiang and Tibet to get a glimpse of what the future might hold.
    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 regions have implementedbilingual educationfor years, but in practice, the system skews heavily toward Mandarin teaching, according to rights groups. Across Xinjiang, Mandarin had 지다 the instruction language in all primary and middle schools by September 2018. Tibetan is also being replaced by Mandarin as the primary 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 said at a high-level Party meeting 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.
    실제로, 하나, few Hans in ethnic minority regions know the local languages, which they are not required to learn at school, residents say.
    As in Xinjiang and Tibet, the Chinese authorities appear to be putting political imperatives ahead of educational ones,” said 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.

    수십 년간, Inner Mongolia’s model of bilingual education has allowed Mongolian to be used as the language of instruction and Mandarin taught as a subject. In ethnic minority schools, students used to receive their first Mandarin lesson in the third year of elementary school, but since at least the 1990s, it has started earlier, in the second grade.
    그리고 지금, it will be taught in the first year, in Mandarin, and with more advanced content.
    Angba, the herdsman in Xilin Gol, said by the first grade, many children haven’t even properly learned their mother tongue yet, and adding another language would be a big burden.
    In Inner Mongolia, many children only begin to properly learn the Mongolian scripta unique alphabet written vertically that ultimately derives from the Middle Eastwhen they enter elementary school.
    “지금, Chinese is already spoken everywhere in cities as well as pastoral areas,” 그는 말했다. “So I hope school can be the place where (the children) learn Mongolian properly.
    For its part, the regional government has emphasized that the new curriculum is a policy decision made by the Party’s central leadership.
    Our region is a model autonomous region, firmly implementing this policy is a major political task that we must fulfill,” 그것 said in the meeting 화요일에.
    According to the overseas Mongolian scholar, 하나, parents are not against the use of standardized national textbooksas long as they’re translated into Mongolian. 사실로, she said the curriculum previously used in Mongolian-medium schools had all been translated from Chinese textbooks used in other parts from the country.
    “그만큼 (old) education system has worked very well,” said the scholar, who grew up in Inner Mongolia and attended Mongolian-language schools in the countryside.
    The children don’t have any problem speaking MandarinThey’re already bilingual.

    Generational shift

    Some experts have 유명한 that the new education policy is part of a broader, generational shift of ethnic policy in China, which is veering from the Soviet model of ethnic autonomy to a more monocultural model.
    Under the old Soviet model adopted at the founding of Communist China and written into its constitution, ethnic minorities are meant to be granted a degree of autonomy in designated regions to run their own affairs and preserve their language and culture.
    But in practice, critics say it is the Hans who have the real say and hold key positions. And in places like Tibet and Xinjiang, ethnic language, culture and religion have come under increasing 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 under Xi, who has unleashed a heavy-handed crackdown in Xinjiang, where US officials say up to two million Uyghurs have been detained in internment camps where they are forced to denounce Islam and learn Mandarin Chinese. Uyghur activists have accused the campaign ofcultural genocide.
    그리고 지금, some ethnic Mongolians worry that Inner Mongolia will be the next in line for the so-calledsecond generation of ethnic policy.
    It’s not at all promoting ethnic harmony,” said the overseas Mongolian scholar. ‘It is creating much more trouble than promoting harmony. It’s really counter effective.
    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 saysall nationalities have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages.
    People are merely pushing the government to fulfill (its) own promise,” Togochog said. “They are not saying ‘we want to overthrow CCP ruleor ‘we want independence.They didn’t even mention human rights…(모두) they want is to save their language.
    Some food delivery workers in Inner Mongolia have stuck signs reading "save our mother tongue&인용; 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, 그녀는 덧붙였다.
    At the meeting on Tuesday, the regional government ordered officials and teachers toproactively promote the policy to students, parents and the public, and dispel their concerns and misgivings” ...에 “ensure students return to schools as normal.
    수요일에, the public security bureaus in several districts of Tongliao city in eastern Inner Mongolia released wanted lists of people accused ofpicking quarrels and provoking 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, 그만큼 명부 has so far included 129 사람들.
      But Qiqige, the mother of two in Xilinhot, has vowed to continue to protest against the policy until authorities give in.
      As long as we’re Mongolians, we’ll resist to the end,” 그녀가 말했다.

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