Chinese authorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang have banned the use of Mongolian as a medium of instruction in the last high school to offer it, prompting an outcry among the country’s ethnic Mongolian community, RFA has learned.
Ethnic Mongolian pupils at the Bayingolin No. 3 High School in Xinjiang’s Bayingolin (Bayinguoleng, in Chinese; Bayangol, in Mongolian) Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture will now be required to use Mandarin Chinese in all classes and assignments, under a Sept. 1 directive issued by Xinjiang’s regional education department.
“All classes offered in elementary and high schools must use Mandarin and written Chinese as the language of instruction,” the document orders. “They must also offer ethnic languages as a separate class.”
Ethnic Mongolians, who number some 43,000 in Bayingolin, took to social media to decry the downgrading of their language from medium of instruction to elective course, the New York-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC) said in a statement on its website.
“The ‘ethnic language’ mentioned in the document is offered as a single, separate, and elective course just like a foreign language,” the group cited a Mongolian resident as saying. “It is no longer the language of instruction for any other courses.”
An ethnic Mongolian resident of the area said the community was stunned by the move.
“The wider Mongolian community is in a huge state of shock over the ending of Mongolian as a language of instruction at schools in the Bayangolin Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture,” he said.
“People are very concerned about Mongolian-language education in Xinjiang and also the continuation of Mongolian culture there,” the resident said.
A nationwide policy
An official who answered the phone at the Bayingolin Bureau of Education confirmed the move, saying it is part of a nationwide policy to use only Mandarin as the language of instruction in China’s schools.
Asked if there are plans to end all teaching in ethnic minority languages, or to ban the use of non-Chinese languages altogether in schools, the official declined to comment, however.
“I’m not too sure about that, and I can’t really comment, but we will be using the national language [Mandarin] in education,” he said.
The No. 3 High School was the last in the region to provide Mongolian-medium instruction, a Han Chinese teacher in the region told RFA on Friday.
“It used to be called the Bayingolin Mongolian High School, before they changed it,” the teacher said. “But it’s not as if everything is being killed off with a single blow and you can’t use ethnic minority languages any more. That wouldn’t be appropriate.”
But ethnic Mongolian dissident Hada said the move is part of a concerted effort by the ruling Chinese Communist Party to wipe out Mongolian in Chinese schools.
“They have banned the use of Mongolian script and language across the board,” Hada told RFA. “This has caused huge anger among Mongolians around the world, not just in [Chinese-ruled] Inner Mongolia.”
“I strongly condemn the authorities, and call on them to take immediate measures to restore all of their constitutional rights to [Mongolians],” he said.
Culture under attack
Germany-based ethnic Mongolian rights activist Xi Haiming said the Chinese government is trying to eradicate Mongolian culture within its borders.
“Mongolians overseas are definitely not going to sit by and watch this happen,” Xi said. “The Chinese government should immediately halt this barbaric policy, and restore Mongolian-medium instruction in schools.”
Parents said via social media that they would petition the government to change the decision, appealing to regional officials to rethink the move, SMHRIC said, citing social media posts.
It said many quoted 19th century French novelist Alphonse Daudet, who wrote in reference to the banning of French during the Prussian occupation of France: “When a people are enslaved, as long as they hold fast to their language it is as if they have the keys to their prison.”
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.