Inner Mongolia China’s Cultural Genocide
“The right to learn and use one’s mother tongue is an inalienable right for all,” tweeted the former president of Mongolia, Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, in response to a decision by the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to terminate bilingual Mongolian education in China’s Inner Mongolia.
The Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region was created in 1947, two years before the founding of the PRC. Today, Inner Mongolia is part of the PRC and has a population of roughly 24.7 million, around 4 million of whom are ethnic Mongolians. The neighboring independent nation of Mongolia, called Outer Mongolia by the Chinese, only has a population of just over 3 million, making Inner Mongolia the largest population of Mongols in the world. Under Chinese law, the autonomous region has the right to self-governance, regarding education, culture and language. These rights have been under constant attack, however, since 1949, with over 20,000 Mongols killed and tens of thousands of others charged with “separatist activities” during China’s Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976.
On August 26, 2020, the Chinese government informed parents in Inner Mongolia that the bilingual education policy had been changed and “some” courses would no longer be taught in Mongolian. Parents complained bilingual education was being terminated. The Chinese government retorted that they were not ending bilingual education, as Mongolian would still be taught in language lessons. The definition of bilingual education, however, as opposed to foreign language education, is that subjects are taught in both languages. The new policy determined politics, history and literature would all be taught in Mandarin and that all textbooks and teaching materials had to be in Mandarin.
The crackdown on Mongolian language is moving far beyond the language of instruction in classrooms. Most international social media are blocked in China, but Mongolian netizens are reporting, through friends and family in independent Outer Mongolia, that signage displaying the Mongolian alphabet is being taken down; Mongolian books have been removed from bookstores; Mongolian groups on WeChat — China’s leading social media platform — have been deleted and Bainu, the only Mongolian language app, has been shut down. In some places, the use of Mongolian in schools has been completely banned. Schools have issued statements saying, “Students are prohibited from speaking Mongolian during any school activities.”
The new policy violates the Chinese constitution, which states, “Where most of the students come from minority nationalities shall, whenever possible, use textbooks in their own languages and use their languages as the medium of instruction.” Similar crackdowns have taken place against China’s two other large ethnic minorities, the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and the Tibetans in the Tibet Autonomous Region. According to the Chinese Educational Bureau, the bilingual programs in those regions had already undergone the same changes. In Tibet, not only has the language of instruction been switched 100 percent to Mandarin, but local Tibetan-language kindergartens and schools have been closed down, with children being forcibly sent to Mandarin boarding schools, far away from the influence of their parents and culture.
While Tibet and Xinjiang have been hotbeds of rebellion, the Communist Party has always referred to Inner Mongolians as the “model minority.”
Christopher Atwood, a professor of Mongolian language and history at the University of Pennsylvania, said Mongolians were the first ethnic minority to declare their support for the Communist Party in the 1940s. In exchange for obedience, the Mongolians were left in charge of the education of their children, but China has continuously decreased bilingual educational access. In 1990, about 60 percent of children attended bilingual education. By 2019, that number had dropped to 30 percent. The same year, Mongolian historian Lhamjab Borjigin was arrested for publishing a book documenting Communist atrocities in Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution.