Emily Fing / NPR
Early this month, parents and students across the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia returned to school campuses, not to attend classes, but instead to protest.
they Collected By hundreds outside dozens of schools in rare acts of civil disobedience, in protest against a new policy that sharply reduces Mongolian language teaching hours. For days, schools across Inner Mongolia remained empty as parents pulled their children out of class, the largest demonstrations in Inner Mongolia in more than three decades.
The campaign came just as quickly.
In Tongliao, a city of 3 million where protests were among the fiercest, residents told NPR that cars were banned from roads for four days to prevent parents from gathering. The municipal notices NPR has seen require parents to sign official statements promising to send their children to school or face punishment. Security officials in Inner Mongolia He issued arrest warrants for hundreds of parents Who attended the protests – with cups footage taken from surveillance cameras.
The City of Xilinhot said Wednesday that parents who have sent their children to school will have preferential access to government aid programs, according to a municipality notice seen by NPR. Those who have not expelled their children will be subject to checks on their herds of livestock, which many Mongolians still depend on for additional income.
“Mongolian parents, civil servants, party members and teachers of Mongolian origin are under tremendous pressure to send their children to school,” says Ingibatu Tujuchog, Director of the Advocacy Group. Human Rights Information Center in Southern Mongolia. “Threatening to arrest, detain, imprison and even confiscate property are the most common methods of intimidation.”
The Policies That ethnic Mongolians are protesting orders that previously allowed schools to teach nearly all subjects in Mongolian now by teaching two required classes – politics and history – in Mandarin Chinese and starting literature lessons in Chinese one year before school school books Teaching materials for these classes should now also be in Mandarin Chinese – the national language of China – as authorities say books in Chinese are of higher quality than Mongolian books.
For China’s 6 million Mongolians, this policy appears to be a betrayal.
“One of the very strong feelings in Inner Mongolia on the part of the Mongols is how much they have given up,” explains Christopher Atwood, professor of Mongolian language and history at the University of Pennsylvania.
The Mongolians were the first ethnic group to declare their support for the ruling Chinese Communist Party in the 1940s. In doing so, they lost their chance of political independence but were granted a certain amount of cultural independence.
Over the past seven decades, Mongolian Mongolians in China have been allowed to go to school and take university lessons in the Mongolian language – which has nothing to do with Mandarin Chinese – officially offered in six provinces and regions.
Education in the Mongolian language was already diminishing in scope before the new policy. In recent years, more and more parents have voluntarily chosen to send their children to Mandarin Chinese schools only, which provides better economic results.
Now China is heading towards what it calls “Second Generation” Ethnic Politics – An approach that emerged in the past decade calling for China’s ethnic minorities to become more “Chinese” by reducing or eliminating their limited cultural independence.
In the past decade, similar policy changes have been targeted for the first time Tibet– and teaching the Uyghur language, which led to a significant decrease in the numbers of language teachers and the resources available to students in those languages. New Language Policy “is not a special requirement only asked of ethnic Mongolians, because regions like Tibet and Xinjiang have already gone through the same transition”, Inner Mongolia Education Office He wrote on his website.
But experts say stricter regulation of ethnic Mongolians is particularly counterproductive
“A lot of the Mongols were already studying Chinese,” says Maurice Rossabi, an academic who studies Central Asian history at Columbia University and Queens College.
He explains that the Mongolians represent an assimilation success story from Beijing’s eyes, with high intermarriage rates with the Han, the majority ethnic group in China, and high levels of fluency in Mandarin Chinese. “There was a kind of peace that prevailed for 25 years,” says El-Rousabi. “It seems very strange that the government creates conditions that would provoke opposition.”
Empty classrooms at the start of the school year
Dissent spread in September. Ethnic Mongolian TV anchors Language advocates Posting videos Encourage parents to withdraw their students. On September 1, the first day of autumn in Inner Mongolia, many schools remained empty as parents kept their children at home.
Within days, the police state mobilized in China to contain the demonstrations.
In Bairin Right Banner, an area next to Chifeng City in Inner Mongolia, and Sonid Right Banner, to the west, authorities He said Elementary and middle school students who do not return to class this week will be expelled. At Kangmian Banner, parents were asked to sign a statement pledging to return their children to school or face punishment, according to a notice seen by NPR.
Two parents in Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia, told NPR that they had received constant calls from teachers and the principal pressuring them to bring their children back to school.
Waves of Mongolian civil servants have left their posts instead of implementing policy. In Wadan town, two communist party officials in the village were dismissed for “making a negative influence in the village” and “not following orders,” according to a notice published by the local government and seen by NPR.
Four Communist Party members and a Mongolian language teacher were fired from the party and fired from their jobs this week at the Bairin Right Banner for failing to implement the new policy.
As a result, many parents are starting to send their children back to school.
In mid-September, about a dozen parents queued outside Shiboto Middle School in Tongliao to pick up their children. A parent calmly explained why his daughter was finally sent to school this week only: “If you don’t return your child, the government is threatening to fire those with government jobs or cut off social benefits.” He requested that his identity not be revealed due to the threat of punishment.
Intimidation extends to journalists. A black car without NPR license plates followed in Tongliao. Shortly after speaking to parents outside Shebotu Middle School, a group of 12 plainclothes and uniformed police officers, some of whom claimed to be parents, prevented NPR from interviewing more people in the city.
Amy Cheng contributed research from Beijing.