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Ethnic Mongolians in China protest assimilating minorities language by Beijing in schools

Angry crowds of students and parents gathering outside schools started to protest in the north part of China have started protesting over changes to school curriculums that remove the Mongolian language from core modules.

Specifically, the new guidelines in the Chinese-administered Inner Mongolia region will require to teach core subjects in Mandarin rather than Mongolian, following the example of similar initiatives in Tibet and Xinjiang aimed at assimilating local minorities. Therefore, elementary and secondary school subjects including history, politics and language will be taught in Mandarin only from September 1.

Mongolians protest at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Image credit AFP/The Straits Times

Tensions flared up in the vast region bordering Mongolia and Russia after the policy was announced last Wednesday by Inner Mongolia's education office. Mass demonstrations, with hundreds of parents and students facing police, erupted across the region, according to video clips provided by residents, while thousands of students boycotted the classrooms.

Enghebatu Togochog, director of the non-governmental organization Southern Mongolian Human Rights Organization, based in New York, called the protests a "resistance movement of civil disobedience" that has spread throughout Inner Mongolia, home to over four million Mongols. which make up 16 percent of the population. "Parents refuse to send their children to schools that use Chinese as their only language of instruction," he said. According to "Rthk", the office of the Education of Inner Mongolia in a post yesterday, said that the number of hours taught in the Mongolian language remained unchanged.

The sign of rebelliousness Beijing did not like consequently led to the imposition from the Chinese government of some curfews, according to an advocacy group, initially put in place starting on Monday in Lubei town, in the region’s east.

Under China’s President Xi Jinping The standardisation of national education is a key policy drive, largely focussing on promoting loyalty to China and the Communist Party (CCP).

In a Q&A posted online, Inner Mongolian regional education authorities defended the changes, saying they “reflect the will of the Party and nation ... and the inherent excellence of Chinese culture and advances to human civilisation”.

Mongolians protest at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, against China's plan to introduce Mandarin-only classes at schools in the neighboring Chinese province of Inner Mongolia. Image credit Byambasuren Byamba-ochir/AFP/LICAS.NEWS

Also, videos of the protests appeared on Chinese social media site Weibo on Monday, but have since been removed by the government straight after.

Traffic authorities in Fengzhen, a city southeast of regional capital Hohhot, released a notice on Monday that said they developed a plan for “emergencies involving ethnic languages” to “maintain the city’s political and social stability.”

Local civil unrest is unusual in China, where the internet is tightly controlled, and police crackdown on gatherings quickly.

The changes have sparked protest in the independent nation of Mongolia, which shares a border with Chinese-administered Inner Mongolia.

“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,” tweeted former Mongolian president Tsakhia Elbegdorj on Tuesday.

In Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, a small number of people gathered at the Chinese embassy on Monday to protest for the changes.

“Most of us have lost the ability to speak proper Mongolian, but Inner Mongolians have kept that tradition intact. I am here to show solidarity with my southern brethren,” philosophy teacher Tseren Tuvshinjargal told Reuters.

The programme to replace ethnic languages in core courses has been deployed in Xinjiang and Tibet beginning in 2017, areas known for unrest between authorities and ethnic minorities.

“Mastering the national spoken and written language is the responsibility and obligation of every Chinese citizen. It is a concrete manifestation of love for the party and country,” said state media outlet Inner Mongolia Daily on Tuesday.


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