China Imposes Mandarin-Language Teaching on Kindergartens in Ethnic Minority, Rural Areas

The ministry of education also announces a nationwide drive to train more teachers of Mandarin for deployment in schools.
China Imposes Mandarin-Language Teaching on Kindergartens in Ethnic Minority, Rural Areas Mongolian people hold placards during a protest near the Chinese embassy in Seoul, South Korea, against China's language policies, Sept. 24, 2020.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has announced it will extend compulsory Mandarin teaching to preschoolers across the country, ousting minority languages like Mongolian, Tibetan, and Uyghur -- as well as regional Chinese languages like Sichuanese or Cantonese -- as the medium of instruction for children of all ages across the country.

"In order to ... implement general secretary Xi Jinping’s instructions on nationwide Mandarin-medium education ("start them when they're babies"), we will further promote the use of Mandarin across the country," an Aug. 2 directive from the ministry of education said.

"We will focus on strengthening Mandarin language learning among preschoolers, during the critical period for language acquisition," the directive, published on an official government website, said.

Starting from the fall semester of 2021, kindergartens in ethnic minority and rural areas that aren't already using Mandarin for childcare activities must begin to do so, the directive said.

It said the government was launching a nationwide "batch training" scheme for kindergarten teachers to ensure a sufficient supply of qualified staff to meet the new demand.

The move was aimed at "enabling pre-school children in ethnic minority and rural areas and rural areas to gradually acquire the ability to communicate at a basic level in Mandarin, and to lay the foundations for the compulsory education phase," the directive said.

To help kindergartens implement the directive, teachers from other parts of China will be "paired" with teachers, and kindergartens with kindergartens, in ethnic minority and rural areas, the directive said.

These mentors should "guide grassroots teachers to change their ideas about education, and to follow the rules of language learning for preschool children," the directive said.

Kindergartens in the target areas should "organize a variety of activities to get children to hear more Mandarin, speak more Mandarin, as well as wanting and daring to speak, and to give them the opportunity to speak Mandarin," it said.

Class boycotts, protests

Plans to end the use of the Mongolian language in schools in China's northern region of Inner Mongolia sparked weeks of class boycotts, street protests, and a region-wide crackdown by riot squads and state security police in the fall of 2020, in a process described by ethnic Mongolians as "cultural genocide."

The government has also introduced similar changes to the national curriculum that will phase out Korean-language teaching from schools in northeast China, which is home to a population of roughly 2.3 million Koreans, the largest population outside of the Korean Peninsula, of whom just under two million are Chinese nationals of Korean ethnicity.

In the northwestern region of Xinjiang, at least one county in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) no longer offers Uyghur language instruction to students, officials told RFA in January 2021, despite being home to a mostly Uyghur population.

In June 2021, authorities in Sichuan province closed down private Tibetan schools offering classes taught in the Tibetan language, forcing students to go instead to government-run schools where they will be taught in Chinese, sources in the region told RFA.

The move is being pushed in the name of promoting uniformity in the use of textbooks and instructional materials, the sources say.

Parents of the affected children and other local Tibetans told RFA that keeping young Tibetans away from their culture and language would have severe negative consequences for the future, the source said.

Language rights have become a particular focus for Tibetan efforts to assert national identity in recent years, with informally organized language courses in the monasteries and towns typically deemed “illegal associations” and teachers subject to detention and arrest, sources say.

The "education for national unity" policy has been traced back to a September 2019 speech by ruling Chinese Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping, who told a conference on national unity: "The Chinese nation is one big family, and we will build the Chinese dream together."

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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