President Xi Jinping’s plan to impose the political agenda of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from cradle to grave and unify the Chinese nation culturally has now reached Inner Mongolia. That means linguistic unity, according to Xi’s beliefs.
The autonomous region in China has a strong local Buddhist culture at risk of being assimilated into the Han ethnic majority in mainland China. Mongolians are witnessing the signs of forced assimilation, including the sidelining of the local language, the destruction or banning of cultural symbols, and the introduction of patriotism classes as per media reports.
Since 2020, China’s policy to forcibly impose Mandarin Chinese language education has sparked protests in Inner Mongolia including weeks of class boycotts and street protests as ethnic Mongolians denounced the process as “cultural genocide.” Associated Press reported that Mongolian parents refused to send their children to schools, forcing the education bureau to plead with parents to reconsider their decision. Authorities responded to the protests by deploying riot police and a region-wide heavy-handed crackdown.
In some cases, the government tried to use force to make students return to school, including threats and arrests, media reports said. The protests have spread to other places in Asia where Mongolians have a sizable presence. The protest demanded the reversal of China’s new education policy.
In Mongolian elementary and middle schools, students were able to receive an education in their local language until September 2020, when a new policy called for compulsory literature, history and political science courses to be taught in Chinese. This policy also called for students to begin learning Mandarin Chinese one year earlier than in their previous curriculum.
The Inner Mongolian Ministry of Education announced that some of these reforms would be tightened at the start of the school year in September 2021, with new measures including the removal of books on Mongolian history and culture from all primary and secondary education. For many Mongolians, this is the first step in the forced disappearance of their cultural identity.
Inner Mongolia, however, is not an exceptional case where Chinese authorities have been attempting to impose a controversial education policy with a cultural and political agenda. A similar education policy has been imposed in Xinjiang, home of persecuted Uighur Muslims, in Tibet and in Korean language schools in northeast China where about 2.3 million ethnic Koreans are concentrated.
At least one county in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region no longer offers Uighur language instruction to students. Tibetan parents have reportedly said that keeping their children away from their culture and language will have serious detrimental effects.
As language is considered an integral part of the identity and struggle of Tibetans against China’s repressive rule, authorities stamp out even informal language courses in monasteries and towns as “illegal associations” and abuse teachers with detention and arrest.
It is believed that China’s new education policy has roots in Xi Jinping’s speech in September 2019 where he hinted about his dreams for the unification of China. “The Chinese nation is one big family, and we will build the Chinese dream together,” Xi said.
Chinese government authorities have made the parallel between Mongolians and Uighurs before. Following the September 2020 protest movement, the Inner Mongolian Ministry of Education explained “it is the will of the country to use identical textbooks nationwide. The two autonomous regions of Tibet and Xinjiang have also used them. As a model autonomous region, our region will implement these reforms with determination”.
According to Engehebatu Togochog, President of the New York-based Southern Mongolia Human Rights Center, the Chinese government is trying to suppress any notion of autonomy and uniqueness in Inner Mongolia in order to avoid uprisings similar to those of the Tibetans and Uighurs.