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Under the new policy, Mandarin Chinese will replace Mongolian as the medium of instruction for three subjects in elementary and middle schools for minority groups across the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, home to 4.2 million ethnic Mongolians.

But parents fear the move will lead to a gradual demise of the Mongolian language, spelling an end for the already waning Mongolian culture.

This week, as students across China returned to classrooms for the new school year, many ethnic schools in Inner Mongolia remained empty as parents refused to send their children back, according to residents and videos circulating online.

“We Mongolians are all against it,” said Angba, a 41-year-old herder in Xilin Gol League whose 8-year-old son has joined the boycott.

“When the Mongolian language dies, our Mongolian ethnicity will also disappear,” the father said. As with the other Mongolian residents who spoke to CNN for this article, Angba requested to use a pseudonym over fear of repercussions from authorities for speaking to foreign media.

Videos shared with CNN by overseas Mongolians and rights groups appear to show crowds of parents gathering outside schools — sometimes singing Mongolian songs — under the close watch of police officers, demanding to bring their children home. In one video, students in blue uniforms topple metal fences blocking a school entrance and rush outside. In another, rows of schoolchildren throw their fists in the air and shout: “Let us Mongolians strive to defend our own Mongolian language!” CNN is unable to independently verify the videos.
But the opposing voices have spread far beyond students and parents. According to residents, overseas Mongolians and rights groups, Mongolians across the region from musicians to members of the local legislature have allegedly signed petitions calling for the regional government to rescind the policy.

On Thursday alone, some 21,000 signatures were collected from residents in 10 counties, forming 196 petitions to the regional government’s education bureau, according to an overseas Mongolian scholar who has been in close touch with local residents. In the regional capital of Hohhot, over 300 employees at a prominent regional television station also signed the petition, said the scholar, who has requested anonymity due to sensitivity of the issue.

On Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, some ethnic Han users have spoken out in sympathy of Inner Mongolia’s plight to protect its mother tongue. Some citizens in the neighboring country of Mongolia have also protested in solidarity.

A staff member at the Inner Mongolia regional government wouldn’t comment when reached by phone by CNN on Thursday.

A readout of a regional government meeting on Tuesday said the rolling out of standardized textbooks shows “the loving care of the Party and the state towards ethnic regions” and benefits “the promotion of ethnic unity, the development and progress of ethnic regions, and the building of a strong sense of community for the Chinese nation.”

On Thursday, China’s foreign ministry dismissed reports of the protests in Inner Mongolia as “political speculation with ulterior motives.”

“The national common spoken and written language is a symbol of national sovereignty. It is every citizen’s right and duty to learn and use the national common spoken and written language,” spokesperson Hua Chunyin said.

“Model minority”

The boycotts and petitions are a rare show of open discontent among ethnic Mongolians, hailed by some as one of China’s “model minorities” that have been largely pacified and successfully integrated into the ethnic Han majority.

Mongolians are one of only two ethnic minorities to have ruled imperial China. In the 13th century, the Mongol Empire arose from the unification of several nomadic tribes in the Mongolian steppes to conquer much of Eurasia — including China, where it was known as the Yuan Dynasty (from AD 1271 to 1368).

A herdsman pastures sheep on August 8, 2006 in Xilinhot of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, China.

After World War II, the Chinese Communist Party gained control of Inner Mongolia, a vast strip of grassland and desert to the southeast of the country of Mongolia, and established the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in 1947 — the first of five so-called autonomous regions in the People’s Republic of China.

Following decades of Han migration and intermarriage into Inner Mongolia, ethnic Mongolians have since become a minority in their own land, accounting for only about one sixth of Inner Mongolia’s population of 24 million, according to the last available census data.

However, unlike autonomous regions such Tibet and Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia has largely avoided violent ethnic unrest in recent decades.

“Inner Mongolia is not against the Chinese government — it is a relatively stable place,” said Tala, a 26-year-old Mongolian who grew up in the region and now lives overseas.

“But even so,” he said. “We’ve been pushed to the brink.”

Under the surface, tensions have been running for years, especially between Han settlers and Mongolian herders, who complained their traditional grazing lands have been ruined by a coal mining boom.

Trucks driving through a coal mine in Huolin Gol, Inner Mongolia on November 15, 2010.
That conflict was laid bare in 2011, when a Mongolian herder was struck and killed by a coal truck driven by Han Chinese. The herder, protesting against the coal mining activity, had tried to stop trucks from crossing into his traditional pastureland. His death triggered thousands of Mongolians to take to the streets — the last time major protests broke out in the region.

Mongolian activists also lamented the loss of their pastoral tradition. Herders were moved from their homes on the prairies into new housing complexes in towns under “ecological migration,” a decades-long relocation program that officials say is aimed at alleviating poverty and easing overgrazing.

“The Mongolian way of life (has already been) wiped out by so many policies,” said Enghebatu Togochog, director of the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center, a New York-based advocacy group.

“This new policy is the final blow to the Mongolian identity,” he said of the curriculum change.

“Bilingual education”

As discontent threatens to boil over, Inner Mongolian authorities have sought to reassure parents that the change will only apply to language and literature, politics, and history over a staggered three-year period. Other subjects — as well as the number of hours for Mongolian-language lessons — remain unchanged, according to a statement from the education bureau of the regional government.

“Therefore, the current bilingual education system has not changed,” the statement said.

However, some ethnic Mongolians also fear that Mongolian will eventually be replaced by Mandarin in all subjects.

Critics of China’s assimilation policy say Mongolians only need to look at the ethnic minority regions of Xinjiang and Tibet to get a glimpse of what the future might hold.

Students walk past a portrait of China's late Chairman Mao Zedong at a bilingual middle school for Uyghur and Han Chinese students in Hotan, Xinjiang in 2006.
Both regions have implemented “bilingual education” for years, but in practice, the system skews heavily toward Mandarin teaching, according to rights groups. Across Xinjiang, Mandarin had become the instruction language in all primary and middle schools by September 2018. Tibetan is also being replaced by Mandarin as the primary medium of instruction in Tibet.

“We should implement bilingual education in some ethnic areas, both requiring ethnic minorities to learn the national common language, and encouraging Hans living in these areas learn ethnic minority languages,” Xi said at a high-level Party meeting on ethnic policy in 2014.

“If ethnic minorities learn the national common language well, it will be beneficial to them in employment, in accepting modern scientific and cultural knowledge and in integration into society.”

In reality, however, few Hans in ethnic minority regions know the local languages, which they are not required to learn at school, residents say.

“As in Xinjiang and Tibet, the Chinese authorities appear to be putting political imperatives ahead of educational ones,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Chinese authorities should be focused on providing genuine bilingual education, not undermining it and persecuting its proponents.”

Students in traditional clothing travel on a special train to attend university entrance exam in Inner Mongolia, China in June, 2019.

For decades, Inner Mongolia’s model of bilingual education has allowed Mongolian to be used as the language of instruction and Mandarin taught as a subject. In ethnic minority schools, students used to receive their first Mandarin lesson in the third year of elementary school, but since at least the 1990s, it has started earlier, in the second grade.

And now, it will be taught in the first year, in Mandarin, and with more advanced content.

Angba, the herdsman in Xilin Gol, said by the first grade, many children haven’t even properly learned their mother tongue yet, and adding another language would be a big burden.

In Inner Mongolia, many children only begin to properly learn the Mongolian script — a unique alphabet written vertically that ultimately derives from the Middle East — when they enter elementary school.

“Now, Chinese is already spoken everywhere in cities as well as pastoral areas,” he said. “So I hope school can be the place where (the children) learn Mongolian properly.”

For its part, the regional government has emphasized that the new curriculum is a policy decision made by the Party’s central leadership.

“Our region is a model autonomous region, firmly implementing this policy is a major political task that we must fulfill,” it said in the meeting on Tuesday.

According to the overseas Mongolian scholar, however, parents are not against the use of standardized national textbooks — as long as they’re translated into Mongolian. In fact, she said the curriculum previously used in Mongolian-medium schools had all been translated from Chinese textbooks used in other parts from the country.

“The (old) education system has worked very well,” said the scholar, who grew up in Inner Mongolia and attended Mongolian-language schools in the countryside.

“The children don’t have any problem speaking Mandarin …They’re already bilingual.”

Generational shift

Some experts have noted that the new education policy is part of a broader, generational shift of ethnic policy in China, which is veering from the Soviet model of ethnic autonomy to a more monocultural model.

Under the old Soviet model adopted at the founding of Communist China and written into its constitution, ethnic minorities are meant to be granted a degree of autonomy in designated regions to run their own affairs and preserve their language and culture.

But in practice, critics say it is the Hans who have the real say and hold key positions. And in places like Tibet and Xinjiang, ethnic language, culture and religion have come under increasing restrictions.

Ethnic Uyghur members of the Communist Party of China carry a flag past a billboard of Chinese President Xi Jinping as they take part in an organized tour on June 30, 2017 in the old town of Kashgar, Xinjiang.

That shift has accelerated under Xi, who has unleashed a heavy-handed crackdown in Xinjiang, where US officials say up to two million Uyghurs have been detained in internment camps where they are forced to denounce Islam and learn Mandarin Chinese. Uyghur activists have accused the campaign of “cultural genocide.”

And now, some ethnic Mongolians worry that Inner Mongolia will be the next in line for the so-called “second generation of ethnic policy.”

“It’s not at all promoting ethnic harmony,” said the overseas Mongolian scholar. ‘It is creating much more trouble than promoting harmony. It’s really counter effective.”

Togochog, the New York-based activist, said people in Inner Mongolia are merely defending their legal rights guaranteed in the constitution and the regional ethnic authority law. The Chinese constitution says “all nationalities have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages.”

“People are merely pushing the government to fulfill (its) own promise,” Togochog said. “They are not saying ‘we want to overthrow CCP rule’ or ‘we want independence.’ They didn’t even mention human rights…(all) they want is to save their language.”

Some food delivery workers in Inner Mongolia have stuck signs reading "save our mother tongue" on their bikes.

But coercion and intimidation have already kicked in, according to residents.

Qiqige, a 38-year-old mother in Xilinhot, said some chat groups of Mongolian parents on WeChat, China’s popular messaging app, have been shut down, and authorities last month blocked Bainu, a Mongolian-language social media site.

She said police have detained some protesters, and Party members and civil servants have been told to send their children back to school or risk losing their jobs. Some parents have already bowed to pressure, she added.

At the meeting on Tuesday, the regional government ordered officials and teachers to “proactively promote the policy to students, parents and the public, and dispel their concerns and misgivings” to “ensure students return to schools as normal.”

On Wednesday, the public security bureaus in several districts of Tongliao city in eastern Inner Mongolia released wanted lists of people accused of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” — a charge routinely used by the Chinese government to suppress dissent, with individual photographs showing them in crowds or gatherings. Some photos appear to show parents outside schools, and some wanted lists specifically mentioned that the incidents happened outside schools. In Horqin district, the list has so far included 129 people.

But Qiqige, the mother of two in Xilinhot, has vowed to continue to protest against the policy until authorities give in.

“As long as we’re Mongolians, we’ll resist to the end,” she said.



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Murkowski to back Barrett for Supreme Court, despite opposing GOP process

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Sen. Lisa Murkowski will vote to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, despite her opposition to moving forward in an election year.

The Alaska Republican said Saturday she will split her votes on Barrett. She will vote against a procedural hurdle on Sunday to advance her nomination over a filibuster, due to her longstanding objection to confirming a justice so close to the Nov. 3 presidential election.

But based on the merits of Barrett’s credentials for the job, she’s a ‘yes.’

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Tension Has Escalated Between Tory MPs And Marcus Rashford Ahead Of A Vote On Free School Meals

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Tories must face up to their “conscience” today on a vote on extending free school meals over the holidays, Labour has claimed, as footballer and anti-poverty campaigner Marcus Rashford ramped up the pressure on politicians to back it.

The challenge from shadow children’s minister Tulip Siddiq came after another difficult morning for the government as Manchester United star Rashford said he was “paying close attention” to the vote and then got into a Twitter spat with Tory MP Steve Baker over who has the power to introduce the free meals.

Moments later Tory backbencher Anne Marie Morris, MP for Newton Abbot in Devon, broke ranks to say she would be supporting Labour’s motion on extending the free school meals until next Easter. Education select committee chair Conservavtive Robert Halfon has urged the government to work with Rashford.

When asked at Prime Minister’s Questions to back the proposal by Labour, Boris Johnson said the government wanted to use the benefits system to support children in the hoildays.

“I want to make sure we continue to support families thoughout the crisis so they have the cash available to feed their kids as they need to do,” he said. 

Earlier this week government minister Nadhim Zahawi has said that struggling families can claim Universal Credit and that many parents do not like being labelled as being on ‘free school meals’ instead preferring to pay a modest sum of money to a holiday club to provide food.

Siddiq told PoliticsHome: “A lot of the Tories, Don Valley, Bishop Aukland and places like that they’re all a little bit worried. It’s the kind of thing that can be used against them in their patches.

“Even if they don’t walk through the lobbies with us tonight that they put a lot of pressure on the prime minister. And that’s how it happened last time.

“I know it’s not easy to break the whip but some votes are a matter of conscience and this is one of them.

“We’re going to be facing the toughest winter of a generation, there’s coronavirus, the end of the furlough scheme – children are in for a tough ride. Why can’t we just do one last thing for parents so they don’t have to worry?”

She said some Tories she had spoken to directly in Parliament on Tuesday were sympathetic to the issue but they did not want to break the whip.

The vouchers were introduced for the poorest families in August after significant pressure from Rashford. The England striker said today that the situation for children is now worse than in the summer.

The vote at 7pm is on a Labour motion calling on the government to continue directly funding free school meals over the holidays until Easter 2021. They say it would prevent a million children going hungry.

Rashford tweeted that he was paying close attention to the Commons today and to those who are willing to “turn a blind eye” to the needs of our most vulnerable children.

He wrote: “2.2M of them who currently qualify for Free School Meals. 42% newly registered. Not to mention the 1.5M children who currently don’t qualify.”

He then got into an disagreement with MP Steve Baker who said Rashford was the one with all the power to make the change on free school meals because he has more Twitter followers that he does, despite Baker being a politician for the ruling Conservative party.

Baker said instead Universal Credit could be boosted to try and help families..

Morris, who was elected in 2010 said that she would vote against her own party tonight because of the economic fall out for people in her constituency.

She tweeted: “The ongoing pandemic has had a heavy impact on many across Teignbridge, bringing with it significant economic difficulties for many. This is why I am supporting the motion calling for the continuation of direct funding for FSM over school holidays until Easter 2021.

“This time-limited measure is a perfectly sensible response as we deal with the economic consequences of Covid-19. Longer-term I believe it is right that those eligible should be supported through the Holidays & Activities Food Programme and the Universal Credit system.”

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Trump comment on ‘blowing up’ Nile Dam angers Ethiopia

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image copyrightReuters

image captionThe dam will be the biggest hydro-electric project in Africa

Ethiopia’s prime minister has said his country “will not cave in to aggressions of any kind” after President Donald Trump suggested Egypt could destroy a controversial Nile dam.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is at the centre of a long-running dispute involving Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan.

Mr Trump said Egypt would not be able to live with the dam and might “blow up” the construction.

Ethiopia sees the US as siding with Egypt in the dispute.

The US announced in September that it would cut some aid to Ethiopia after it began filling the reservoir behind the dam in July.

Why is the dam disputed?

Egypt relies for the bulk of its water needs on the Nile and is concerned supplies could be cut off and its economy undermined as Ethiopia takes control of the flow of Africa’s longest river.

Once complete, the $4bn (£3bn) structure on the Blue Nile in western Ethiopia will be Africa’s largest hydro-electric project.

The speed with which Ethiopia fills up the dam will govern how severely Egypt is affected – the slower the better as far as Cairo is concerned. That process is expected to take several years.

  • Who owns the River Nile – and why it matters

  • Egypt fumes as Ethiopia celebrates over Nile dam
  • How the Nile’s mega dam will be filled

Sudan, further upstream than Egypt, is also concerned about water shortages.

Ethiopia, which announced the start of construction in 2011, says it needs the dam for its economic development.

Negotiations between the three countries were being chaired by the US, but are now overseen by the African Union.

What did the Ethiopian PM say?

PM Abiy Ahmed did not address Mr Trump’s remarks directly, but there appears to be little doubt what prompted his robust comments.

Ethiopians would finish the dam, he vowed.

“Ethiopia will not cave in to aggression of any kind,” he said. “Ethiopians have never kneeled to obey their enemies, but to respect their friends. We won’t do it today and in the future.”

Threats of any kind over the issue were “misguided, unproductive and clear violations of international law”.

image copyrightReuters
image captionSudan is worried too – the Blue and White Niles meet in Khartoum

Why did Trump get involved?

The president was on the phone to Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu in front of reporters at the White House on Friday.

The occasion was Israel and Sudan’s decision to agree diplomatic relations in a move choreographed by the US.

The subject of the dam came up and Mr Trump and Mr Hamdok expressed hopes for a peaceful resolution to the dispute.

But Mr Trump also said “it’s a very dangerous situation because Egypt is not going to be able to live that way”.

He continued: “And I said it and I say it loud and clear – they’ll blow up that dam. And they have to do something.”

image copyrightReuters
image captionThe dam came up in a phone call with Sudan’s prime minister

What is the state of the negotiations?

Mr Abiy maintains that the negotiations have made more progress since the African Union began mediation.

But there are fears that Ethiopia’s decision to start filling the reservoir could overshadow hopes of resolving key areas, such what happens during a drought and how to resolve future disputes.

Related Topics

  • Nile

  • Sudan
  • Donald Trump
  • Egypt
  • Ethiopia

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