A new directive in the Inner Mongolia region is causing parents to protest. The directive will require three subjects — language and literature, politics, and history — to be taught in Mandarin. Inner Mongolia– the landlocked autonomous region within China as opposed to the country of Mongolia– has a population of over 24 million people, the majority of them Han, and has Mandarin as the official language.
The policy, announced ahead of the start of the new school year, requires schools to use new national textbooks in Chinese, replacing Mongolian-language textbooks.
In an act of protest against the announcement, schools across Inner Mongolia stood empty as parents pulled their children out of class for several days, making the language protest the largest demonstrations in Inner Mongolia in more than thirty years.
The move is similar to what has happened in other ethnic minority areas in China. In Tibet and Xinjiang, the primary language of instruction in such schools has become Mandarin, and the minority language is a language class. The new language policy “is not a special requirement only asked of ethnic Mongolians, because regions such as Tibet and Xinjiang have already undergone the same transition,” Inner Mongolia’s education bureau wrote on its website.
In Inner Mongolia, rows of schoolchildren in uniforms gathered this weekend to chant “Our mother language is Mongolian!” and “We are Mongolian until death!” according to videos uploaded to YouTube by the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center, a New York-based activist group.
“I’m worried that if children learn Mandarin from first grade, they will forget their mother tongue,” a parent told VOA news. “This has happened. The father and mother are Mongolian, the child who learned Mandarin since primary school has become Han and doesn’t know anything [in Mongolian]. He can’t read or speak Mongolian, even doesn’t know how to say eating or drinking in Mongolian.”
The protests, however, did not come without backlash from the government.
In Tongliao, a city in which protests were among the fiercest, residents told NPR that cars were banned from the roads for four days to stop parents from congregating.
According to the South China Morning Post, authorities are using a facial recognition system to identify and then arrest the protesters.
“Mongolian parents, the civil servants, party members and teachers of Mongolian descent are under tremendous pressure to send their children to school,” says Enghebatu Togochog, the director of the advocacy group Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center told NPR. “Threats of arrest, detention, imprisonment, even confiscation of property are the most common methods of intimidation being used.”