Thousands of ethnic Mongolian parents and activists have signed a petition to authorities calling for an end to the withdrawal of Mongolian-medium classes in schools in China's Inner Mongolia region, RFA has learned.
The letter, which has been circulating on the WeChat social media platform since Monday, is addressed to the education bureau of the regional government, which has announced plans to stop offering some classes in the Mongolian language in Tongliao city when schools resume on Sept. 1.
Classes teaching ruling Chinese Communist Party ideology, history, and politics in Mongolian-medium schools will now be taught in Chinese.
The policy is being rolled out in Tongliao after meeting with fierce resistance from parents in the region's Ujimqin Banner in 2018.
Nomin, a U.S.-based ethnic Mongolian formerly resident in the region, said there is ample research to support the benefits of mother-tongue education, including by experts based in Beijing.
She added that the new plan had been rolled out without consultation with ethnic Mongolian families, schools, teachers, or students.
"Mongolians from all over Inner Mongolia are signing online petitions right now to oppose this [policy]," Nomin said. "As of Tuesday, there were more than 4,200 signatures."
She said parents had taken their children to the regional education bureau to complain about the policy, but were turned away by an official, who said the bureau "doesn't deal with this kind of problem."
"They went to complain at the local government, but the education bureau told them to go to the ministry of education. They were just being passed around from pillar to post," Nomin said.
The letter was signed by farmers, members of nomadic communities, parents, and professionals. Veteran Mongolian rights activist Hada said he was among them, adding that Beijing has been trying for years to dislodge Mongolian-medium education in the region's schools.
"But every time they encounter strong opposition from the vast majority of Mongolians, so they have been unsuccessful," he said.
"It is well known that they actually succeeded during the Cultural Revolution, when all classes except Mongolian were taught in Chinese," he said.
"They wanted to start with elementary education, but have been forced to give up because of fierce protests," Hada said.
The policy has seen widespread testing and assessment of teachers' skills ahead of September's start date, in a bid to assess which teachers are capable of delivering lessons in Chinese.
'A kind of cultural genocide'
Exile Mongolian activist Xi Haiming, who currently lives in Germany, said Mongolians should have the right to learn in their native language.
"The Communist Party wants to deprive us of this right, which is ... crazy and brutal," Xi said. "They want to carry out a kind of cultural genocide of Mongolians."
Repeated calls to the Tongliao municipal education bureau rang unanswered during office hours on Tuesday.
China's 5.8 million-strong ethnic Mongolian community has long complained about oppressive policies in the region, which borders the independent country of Mongolia.
Ethnic Mongolian children have previously had much more opportunity to learn their native language and its cursive, flowing script during their early schooling than in recent years.
According to research carried out by veteran ethnic Mongolian activist Hada in 2016, the regional capital Hohhot only offers 3,000 Mongolian-medium primary school places to serve an ethnic Mongolian population of some 210,000.
The number of Mongolian-medium primary school places across the whole region fell from 110,000 in the early 1980s to just 19,000 in 2009.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.