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Protests break out in Inner Mongolia after China replaces ethnic Mongolian language with Mandarin in the academic curriculum

Unlike the Tibetans and Uighurs, the Mongolians have refused to become the 'model minority'. This is despite the fact that they are more integrated with the majority Han Chinese population than the Tibetans and Uighurs.

China has been relentless in his pursuit of removing its ethnic minorities. Amidst the brutal attempts of ‘mainstreaming’ Uighur Muslims in the country, the Communist-ruled country is now trying to strip the ethnic Mongolese minority of their language and culture in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

The change in Chinese policy

In August this year, the Chinese government announced an overhaul in its academic curriculum in the ‘autonomous’ region of Inner Mongolia. The region, annexed by China after the Second World War, is home to 4.2 million ethnic Mongolians. Under the new rules, classes in Mongolian in the region will be stopped and subjects such as literature, politics, and history will be taught in Mandarin. Similar programs for cultural destruction (or cultural assimilation as the Communist Party of China calls it) are underway in Tibet and Xinjiang, home to Uighur ethnic minority.

Authorities have defended the move by suggesting that it would help Mongols in higher education and seeking employment. Chinese 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.”

However, international policymakers have rubbished this claim and said that it is a part of the ‘aggressive assimilation’ plan adopted by Chinese Premier Xi Jinping ever since he came to power. Xi said in 2014, “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.”

Map of Inner Mongolia

The fight for ethnic language

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This decision was not well-received by the people living in Inner Mongolia. The people of Inner Mongolia have been successful in ‘preserving their traditional Mongolian alphabet’, unlike independent Mongolia. The latter, under the influence of Russia, uses the Cyrillic script. The Mongols in Inner Mongolia fear the same with the new Chinese policy.

The authoritarian Communist party was taken aback when parents launched widespread strikes along with 3,00,000 students. As such, when the school opened in this month, only 40 Mongolian students registered for the term while only 10 students showed up on Day 1. Parents of Mongolian children had earlier announced that they would keep their wards home instead of accepting the new language of instruction.

Former Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj tweeted, “We need to voice our support for Mongolians striving to preserve their mother tongue and scripture in China. The right to learn and use one’s mother tongue is an inalienable right for all. Upholding this right is a way for China to be a respectable and responsible power.”

Tweet my former Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj

A banner read, “Mongolia’s language is part of what makes a person Mongolian and if a person loses their language they lose their national identity.” In one video, the citizens of Southern Mongolia yelled, “My Mongolia! Forever my Mongolia” as a mark of protest against the imposition of Mandarin.

In another video, young students were heard saying, “Our mother language is Mongolian! Until death We are Mongolian.”

Food delivery workers too joined in the fight for preserving their mother tongue. Many carried banners on their bikes that read, “save our mother tongue.”

Mongolian biker protests against the imposition of Mandarin (Image Courtesy: CNN)

Speaking to Quartz, an ethnic Mongol said, “We have been the weakest and oppressed in our own homeland. Imagine you are not allowed to learn, sign public documents in your own language, let alone promote it.”

Overseas Mongolians, human rights groups and locals have signed petitions demanding a repeal of the new policy. Reportedly, 20,000 signatures were collected from people in 10 counties, and a total of 196 petitions were handed over to the Education Bureau of the regional government. At the same time, around 300 employees of the State-run Mongolian TV and radio stations have threatened to quit if protesting parents are penalised for refusing to send children to schools.

Chinese regime tries to curb student protests

Averse to popular protests, the Chinese regime has decided to curb the protests with an iron hand. Armed military vehicles and tanks have been deployed in the Chinese autonomous region to disrupt the coordinated protests. Sharing a video from August 31, YouTuber Jennifer Zeng wrote, “On Aug. 31, military armored vehicles appeared on the streets of Inner Mongolia, amidst strong protests from Mongolian students and parents against the CCP’s policy to cancel Mongolian language instruction.”

Meanwhile, the police have detained protestors and directed public servants to send their children to school or lose their jobs.

The Communist government has also published a list of ‘ring leaders’ and is offering incentives to facilitate their arrest. Several arrest warrants have also been issued. One such list in Horqin district has included 129 dissenters. The Chinese government had also shut down a Mongolian social media platform named Bainu to prevent Mongolian protestors from communicating and organising demonstrations.

Tensions between Han Chinese and Mongols

However, unlike the Tibetans and Uighurs, the Mongolians have refused to become the ‘model minority’. This is despite the fact that they are more integrated with the majority Han Chinese population than the Tibetans and Uighurs. Reportedly, intermarriage is common and the majority of Mongolian parents send their children to ‘Chinese-language schools’ in the hopes of better economic opportunities.

However, tensions had been brewing between the two ethnic groups ever since 2011 when a Mongolian herder was killed by a Han Chinese truck driver. Due to trucks crossing’ over their pastureland, the Mongolians had protested about the loss of their ‘pastoral tradition’. Director of Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center, Enghebatu Togochog, stated, “The Mongolian way of life (has already been) wiped out by so many policies. This new policy is the final blow to the Mongolian identity”

The motives behind the language imposition

The Chinese regime has left no stone unturned in seizing the rights of ethnic minorities and eroding their culture, in a bid to promote ‘ethnic assimilation‘ and ‘national homogenisation’. Reportedly, the State has encouraged the settlement of the majority Han Chinese man in Inner Mongolia and pay a ‘generous bonus’ on marrying Mongolian women. In what is commonly referred to as ‘cultural genocide’, China is making a new move in the pursuit of its nefarious plan through the imposition of Mandarin.

Mandarin has been gradually thrust upon the ethnic population since the 1990s. Earlier, in ethnic Mongol schools, Mandarin was taught in the third year but then it was shifted to the second. And now China plans to shove the language down the children’s throat in the first year with ‘advanced content’ when they barely learn to read and write their own mother tongue. However, unabated in their sinister motives, the regional government has instructed teachers to promote the government policy ‘proactively’ and ensure that the students return to school.




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Staff reporter at OpIndia

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