Chinese authorities in the northern region of Inner Mongolia are winding up native-language tuition in and around Tongliao city, beginning in September, RFA has learned.
Officials from the Tongliao municipal education bureau recently began giving verbal notification to schools in their jurisdiction that Mongolian-medium education will end with the start of the new academic year.
Teachers at a Mongolian-medium high school in the city had been warned of the move by education bureau officials during a recent inspection, an ethnic Mongolian high-school teacher wrote in a social media post.
From September, classes in math, physics, chemistry, and political and physical education will be taught instead in Mandarin Chinese, the post said.
Ethnic Mongolian rights activist Xinna, who was herself once a teacher in the region's capital, Hohhot, said she had also heard from residents of the region about the changes.
"In Tongliao, the local education bureau is requiring all subjects other than the Mongolian language to be taught in Chinese," Xinna said.
"I am hearing that they will also be sending officials to supervise its enforcement," she said. "The Inner Mongolian authorities are forcing Chinese-medium education on schools that previously offered a Mongolian-medium education."
She said mother-tongue education in the region is now in a state of crisis.
"In spite of [online censorship], I am still hearing opposition [to this plan] from many Mongolians," Xinna said.
An ethnic Mongolian resident of Tongliao told RFA that similar policies are also being implemented at the university level.
"The leadership program at Tongliao Nationalities University will start teaching their history and politics classes in Chinese, starting with the new semester," the resident said.
"The next step will be the teaching chemistry, physics, medicine, and other natural sciences in Chinese," he said.
A teacher at the Tongliao No. 1 High School said the move is part of an overall plan to abolish mother-tongue education for China's ethnic Mongolian population.
China's 5.8 million-strong ethnic Mongolian community have 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, the regional capital Hohhot only offers 3,000 Mongolian-medium primary school places to serve an ethnic Mongolian population of some 210,000, the New York-based Southern Mongolia Human Rights and Information Center (SMHRIC) said in a 2016 report.
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, it said.
Similar plans by education authorities in Ujimqin Banner were shelved following a protest by parents in 2018.
"The mother tongue is a crucial part of the culture of a nation," Xinna said. "Once the language is lost, the culture will soon follow."
"Mongolians originally chose to stick with the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party in large part because it claimed to respect Mongolian Culture," she said.
She cited a working plan issued by the Inner Mongolia regional government for 2020, which called for the "vigorous promotion" of Mandarin Chinese, to achieve 80 percent fluency and literacy in the region.
Strategy of assimilation
Exile ethnic Mongolian rights activist Xi Haiming, who lives in Germany, also said the move is part of a long-running strategy aimed at assimilating ethnic minority groups into mainstream Communist Party ideology and a state-approved version of Han Chinese culture.
"Why are they implementing this in Tongliao first? Well, they originally wanted to do it in Shilingol Banner but it didn't meet with everyone's approval," Xi said.
"Tongliao is a place with the largest ethnic Mongolian population; nearly one million people," he said. "This is a blatant form of ethnic assimilation."
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.