‘I Felt So Humiliated’

A minority woman in China describes discrimination while using the Mongolian language for official matters.
2012-12-07
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An excerpt from Gowaa's letter.
Photo courtesy of SMHRIC

The following is an open letter circulated on the Internet by a young ethnic Mongolian woman named Gowaa, which addresses her personal experience in fighting for the right to use Mongolian language for official government documents in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Mongolian is recognized as an official language according to China's "Regional National Autonomy Law."

A Letter to My Brother (1)

Dear Brother,

How are you?

Since you left, it has been snowing and the temperature has dropped abnormally, making me put on my thick winter coat. The place where you are must be colder than here. Make sure you take good care of yourself and don’t catch a cold.

Today, as you suggested, I went to the Bureau of Inner Mongolia Daily and obtained the newspaper that published my declaration of a lost tax certificate. Your friend was very kind and treated me as his own sister, giving me two copies of the newspaper. I happily put the newspaper into my pocket and went to the Tax Bureau. Upon entering, an unkind elderly lady as cold as ice asked me in standard Mandarin, “What business are you coming for?”

“How are you? I lost my company tax certificate, and would like to apply for a replacement,” I answered in Chinese with a heavy Mongolian accent.

“Did you publish the lost certificate declaration? Did you pay the fine? Give me all the proof!” She extended her hand stiffly toward me, urging me to submit all the documents immediately. I put the newspaper into her hand. She snatched it quickly, held it high, and started talking to her coworkers.

“My goodness! Look at this! She published it in a Mongolian newspaper!” Her bursting laughter surprised me. People in the hall all turned their eyes toward me. While I was completely puzzled and not sure what to do, she returned my newspaper and told me to go to the other window, where her coworkers were laughing along with her at the Mongolian newspaper.

I went to that window as directed. One of her coworkers looked at my newspaper and yelled, “This is not acceptable. It must be a Chinese newspaper! This is common sense! Don’t you understand?”

Completely forgetting your advice of being calm in any situation in order not to make things worse, I fought back: “What is this 'common sense'? Isn’t the only requirement that it has to be a municipal or higher level of newspaper? This is the Inner Mongolia Daily, and this is the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region! Why is it unacceptable?”

This stirred them up. “A Mongolian newspaper is unacceptable! Absolutely unacceptable!” They fired up their objections from all directions toward me. I came out of the office because I knew I couldn’t convince them; they would reject anything I said.

My dear brother, I cried. I felt like they were still laughing at me. But I collected myself shortly after the incident, confidently walked back to their office, and told them, “Can you do me a favor? Please show me an official document stating that a declaration published in a Mongolian newspaper is unacceptable. It would be even better if you can print it out for me.

“We don’t have such a document,” one of them answered.

I didn’t give up. “So, whatever you say is the law?”

“No, I didn’t mean that. What I am saying is that a Mongolian newspaper is unacceptable. It must be a Chinese newspaper,” he said.

Giving up this time, I walked out of the office and telephoned your friend in the Bureau of Inner Mongolia Daily. He was even more outraged by this than I was, and promised to speak with the Tax Bureau over the phone. After about ten minutes, he called me back and said, “My sister, we are living on our own land. We should not be afraid of them. I spoke to them very strictly. You should be able to complete the paperwork tomorrow. I will escalate this to a higher level. Things can’t be like this forever.”

I decided to return the next day.

I thought about many things today. Until now, I hadn’t had this kind of personal experience since you have done everything for me in the past. I felt helpless today, and could not do anything about this but wipe away my tears. I was not aware that we Mongolians are today subjected to humiliation on our own land. Their ugly faces and humiliating laughter still haunt my mind.

Brother, I miss you so much. I wrote this letter to you today because I felt so humiliated and discriminated against. I know you are very busy with your studies, so I will post this letter on my blog to share with others as well.

Wish you the best!

Your sister

November 12, 2012


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A Letter to My Brother (2)

Dear Brother,

How are you doing today?

To save your money I kept our earlier phone conversation brief. In this letter, I would like to tell you in detail what happened to me today.

This afternoon, I went to the Tax Bureau again. Another lady with even colder attitude asked me in standard Mandarin, "What is your business here?"

"How are you?” I said. “I lost my company tax certificate, and would like to apply for replacement." I spoke in Chinese with an apparent Mongolian accent.

"Are you the one who published the lost certificate declaration in a Mongolian newspaper and came here yesterday?" she asked. As I remember, she was not among those who were laughing at me yesterday, but she was able to identify me clearly. I guess yesterday's incident was heard by many of them.

"Yes, I am," I replied with confidence.

"Little Li, the one is here," she said to one of her coworkers, directing me to go to Window 4.

Another elderly woman who I did not recognize from yesterday spoke to me with a surprisingly kind attitude. While I started filling out the necessary paperwork I noticed that the "enemy" who gave me a hard time yesterday was also there, laughing and chatting as if nothing had ever happened. Everything went smoothly. I completed the paperwork in half an hour including copying some papers.

I was able to get all the necessary documents, and walked out happily. On my way home, I telephoned your friend in the Bureau of Inner Mongolia Daily and informed him of the triumphant return. He simply said, "This is how it should be!"

Ok, let me stop here and save your precious time.

Wish you the best,

Your sister

November 13, 2012

Translation by Southern Mongolia Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC).