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

How China's new policy sparked rare backlash in Inner Mongolia
Mongolian citizens protest at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ulaanbaatar. Source: Getty Images
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Daily US Times: In a rare and highly visible protest against the ruling Communist Party’s intensified push for ethnic assimilation, ethnic students and parents of Mongolia in northern China have staged mass school boycotts over a new curriculum that would scale back education in their mother tongue.

Under the new policy, Mandarin Chinese will replace Mongolian as the medium of instruction for three subjects in middle and elementary schools for minority groups across the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, which is home to 4.2 million ethnic Mongolians.

Authorities have defended the adoption of a national standardized curriculum which comes with Chinese textbooks approved by policymakers in Beijing. Authorities defended that the standardized curriculum will improve minority students’ paths to higher education and employment. But parents fear the decision will lead to a gradual demise of the Mongolian language, spelling an end for the already waning Mongolian culture.

Source: CNN

Critics say the policy bears a chilling resemblance to measures rolled out in the regions of Xinjiang and Tibet, 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.

As students across China returned to classrooms this week 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 videos circulating online.
Angba, a 41-year-old herder in Xilin Gol League whose 8-year-old son has joined the boycott, said: “We Mongolians are all against it.”

A petition signed by residents with their fingerprints in red ink stamped over signatures.

The father said: “When the Mongolian language dies, our Mongolian ethnicity will also disappear.” Angba, other Mongolian residents who spoke for this article, requested to use a pseudonym over fear of repercussions from authorities for speaking to foreign media.

Videos shared with CNN by rights groups and overseas Mongolians appear to show crowds of parents gathering outside schools — sometimes singing Mongolian songs — under the close watch of police officers, demanding to bring their children home.

Students in blue uniforms topple metal fences blocking a school entrance and rush outside in one video, while in another, rows of schoolchildren throw their fists in the air and shout: “Let us Mongolians strive to defend our own Mongolian language!”The videos are not independently verified.

But the opposing voices have spread far beyond parents and students.

According to rights groups, residents and overseas Mongolians and Mongolians across the region from musicians to members of the local legislature have allegedly signed petitions calling for the regional government to rescind the policy.

According to an overseas Mongolian scholar who has been in close touch with local residents, some 21,000 signatures were collected from residents in 10 counties on Thursday alone, forming 196 petitions to the regional government’s education bureau.

The scholar said, in the regional capital of Hohhot, over 300 employees at a prominent regional television station also signed the petition. The scholar has requested anonymity due to sensitivity of the issue.

On Weibo, popular Chinese social media platform which is also 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 statement of a regional government meeting on Tuesday said the rolling out of standardized textbooks shows “the loving care of the Party and the state towards ethnic regions” and benefits “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.”

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

China’s foreign ministry on Thursday dismissed reports of the protests in Inner Mongolia as “political speculation with ulterior motives.”

Spokesperson Hua Chunyin said: “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.”

The petitions and boycotts are a rare show of open discontent among ethnic Mongolians, hailed by some as one of China’s “model minorities” that have been largely pacified and successfully integrated into the ethnic Han majority.

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