Shift at odds with state’s own policy . . .
Members of China’s Mongolian minority learned recently that when their children return to school next month, some classes that had been taught in their heritage language will now be taught in Mandarin Chinese. The practice is consistent with the Chinese government’s continued rollback of its own bilingual education policy, which is supposed to give minority children the option of developing competency in both their ethnic language and Mandarin. But as Human Rights Watch recently documented, authorities have been interpreting “bilingual education” in such a way that prioritizes Mandarin as a medium of instruction at the expense of minority languages, with the ultimate aim of assimilating minorities into the ethnic (Han) Chinese mainstream.
Stifling expressions of difference . . .
China’s 55 officially recognized ethnic minorities comprise only about eight per cent of the country’s population. Nevertheless, despite these small numbers, the Chinese government has become increasingly sensitive to – and more willing to stifle – any expression of ethnic, linguistic, or religious identity not sanctioned by the state. The most dramatic examples have been in Tibet and Xinjiang, where the government interprets such expressions as signs of separatism. While Mongolians are not seen as one of the most restive minority populations, the government did take the step on Sunday to shut down Bainuu, the only Mongolian-language social media app available in China, to thwart the sharing of information about the changes to language education.
Non-traditional forms of leadership . . .
Canada is no stranger to the failure of bilingual education policies, especially when it comes to Indigenous languages. According to the 2016 Census, Indigenous peoples comprise roughly five per cent of Canada’s population, and less than 16 per cent of that population is able to conduct a conversation in an Indigenous language. But the Census also points to more people – especially young people – actively learning an Indigenous language. As such, Canada’s Indigenous peoples could be a source of moral leadership on this issue, including testimonials of the irreparable damage done to communities when they are denied the ability to preserve vital aspects of their culture and heritage.
- Human Rights Watch: China’s ‘bilingual’ education policy in Tibet
- Radio Free Asia: China ‘will end’ Mongolian-language education starting this semester: Reports
- The Hill: China is replacing languages of ethnic minorities with Mandarin