Rare protests have been reported from the ethnic Mongolian region in northern China over the imposition of the Mandarin in schools, which locals and rights groups say could lead to the wiping out of local language, identity, and culture.
The change in curriculum in schools in Inner Mongolia, which was enacted this week, means that three core subjects – politics, history, language, and literature – will now be taught in Mandarin, and not in Mongolian anymore.
The vast mineral-rich province shares borders with Mongolia and Russia.
Rights groups say the move to change the medium of instruction in schools in Inner Mongolia mirrors what Beijing has done in Tibet and Xinjiang where, after local languages were replaced, the focus now is to sinicise even Tibetans and Islam – assimilate, even subsume, local ethnic communities within the majority Han population.
HT has reached out to the Chinese foreign ministry for a comment on the protests.
“Almost every Mongolian in Inner Mongolia is opposed to the revised curriculum,” a 32-year-old herder from the Xilingol League area surnamed Hu told AFP news agency on Tuesday, warning that Mongolian children were losing fluency in their mother tongue.
“In a few decades, a minority language will be on the verge of extinction.”
Reports said schools were boycotted, and parents staged protests against the move.
The head of the New York-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Centre, Enghebatu Togochog, told HT that locals fear the Mongolian language will be wiped out because of this decision.
“What is happening in Southern Mongolia (Inner Mongolia) now as we speak is a region-wide civil disobedience resistance movement that is taking place against the Chinese Central government’s attempt to wipe out Mongolian language, culture and identity once and for all,” Togochog told HT over email.
Togochog spoke of “cultural genocide” being carried out in the region, home to the majority of over 5 million ethnic Mongolians.
“The new wave of cultural genocide came under the name of ‘Secondary Bilingual Education’, and the goal of this policy is to completely replace all Mongolian-medium education with Chinese one across Southern Mongolia starting September 1, this year,” Togochog said.
Christopher P Atwood, a professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania, where he teaches the history of Mongolia and the Inner Asian borderlands of China, explains the policy in the academic journal “Made in China”.
“The plan is to begin transitioning to the state-compiled textbooks for ‘language and literature’, ‘morality and law (politics)’, and ‘history’ classes. The key point is that these classes will be taught in the national common language—Mandarin Chinese. This policy will be formally implemented from the beginning of school, this 1 September, starting with ‘language and literature’ in first and seventh grade,” Atwood wrote in the journal, which is brought out by the Australian Centre on China in the World and the Australian National University.
Next year, it will be extended to morality and law and then to history in 2022.
“So, from 2022, if all goes according to plan, all students in Inner Mongolia will be taking all three of these classes solely in Chinese, on the basis of the Chinese state-compiled textbooks. Previously, in many schools in Inner Mongolia, all of these subjects were taught in Mongolian through high school,” Atwood added.
According to the AFP, the Inner Mongolia Education Bureau claimed in a Monday social media post that the number of Mongolian-language teaching hours remained unchanged.
According to Atwood, that’s not true.
“But the policy documents envision the new subjects being given greater prominence in the curriculum and taught at lower levels. At the same time, there is also a promise of no increase in school hours. Thus, the share of the class hours for the ‘local classes’ per week is being reduced in order to increase the class hours for the ‘national classes’, which cannot but reduce the hours conducted in Mongolian,” he wrote.
Mongolians also held a protest in the Mongolian capital, Ulaanbaatar, on Monday against the move to Mandarin-only lessons in the neighbouring Chinese region.