Police Step Up Patrols in Northeast China As Korean Phased Out of Schools

china-yanbian2-091820.jpg A man cycles past an ethnic Korean church in China's Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in a file photo.

Authorities in northeastern China have stepped up security in areas with a significant population of ethnic Koreans as the ruling Chinese Communist Party introduces changes to the national curriculum that will phase out Korean-language teaching from the region's schools.

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

Since the start of the new semester, schools that previously offered Korean-medium teaching will start using Mandarin Chinese instead, phasing out any Korean-language teaching materials, according to media reports and a local resident who spoke to RFA.

An ethnic Korean living in the northeastern province of Jilin who asked to be identified only by a nickname, Kim, said there is now tight security on the streets of his home region.

"There are police everywhere on the streets right now," Kim, who hails from the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, told RFA on Friday. "At least four police officers are deployed at every intersection."

"On the first day of the new semester, there were a lot of police cars and armed police vehicles patrolling the area," Kim said. "The atmosphere is pretty somber, and it's been that way for a long time now."

"Personally, I think this is an attempt to prevent the sort of mass incidents we have seen in Inner Mongolia," he said.

Kim, who is now in this 30s, said he had a Korean-medium education throughout primary school.

"Basically, all the classes were taught in Korean with the exception of Mandarin Chinese classes," he said. "Even then, all of the vocabulary we learned there was explained in Korean."

"It looks as if the new teaching materials are now all the same across both Korean schools and Chinese schools," Kim said. "The Korean schools are now having to use the same teaching materials as the Chinese schools."

'Education for national unity'

South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper recently reported that Korean schools in China had started replacing Korean-language teaching materials with Chinese-language equivalents since the start of this semester.

The new emphasis on "education for national unity" had sparked concerns that the Korean language would be marginalized as a result.

"Some Korean schools are replacing Korean textbooks in other subjects with Chinese textbooks used by Han Chinese [schools]," the paper quoted an anonymous source as saying in a Sept. 14 report.

"Although there isn't the same obvious centrally led policy like they have in Inner Mongolia, they are also trying to strengthen Chinese-medium education [in ethnically Korean areas]," the source said.

The report traced the "education for national unity" policy 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."

China is home to roughly 2.3 million Koreans, according to government figures from 2009, the largest population outside of the Korean Peninsula, of whom just under two million are Chinese nationals of Korean ethnicity.

Kim said ethnic Koreans in China have until now been allowed to sit national university entrance exams in their own language, although it was unclear whether that policy will remain in the absence of Korean-medium teaching in schools.

But he said many Korean parents also preferred to send their children to Chinese-medium schools in the hope of boosting their life chances.

"More and more people are switching to Chinese-language college entrance exams in ethnic minority areas these days," Kim told RFA.

He said there is an endemic problem with corruption in some areas.

"A lot of teachers want bribes," he said. "Many Korean parents hate all of that and send their children to Chinese schools instead."

"The proportion of Koreans in Chinese schools is very high; sometimes nearly half of the people in a class are Koreans," Kim said.

Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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