Inner Mongolia: China accused of 'cultural genocide' for school language shift

Children just starting their first year at some schools in Inner Mongolia won't get to experience education in their mother tongue, as Debi Edward reports

Inner Mongolia is the latest province in China where ethnic minorities have had their language forcefully phased out from the education system.

At the school drop-off point, we visited in the capital, Hohhot, nothing appeared to have changed.

We saw children waved off by their parents, some speaking in their native Mongolian language.

But from the start of this school year children from nursery to senior school will find all lessons conducted in Chinese.

When the policy was first announced in 2020 it sparked widespread protests from Mongolian parents, thousands were arrested, and many are still under surveillance.

They were initially told that Chinese would replace Mongolian in only a few subjects, but it has replaced the local language across the entire curriculum. Only in schools which still allow Mongolian as a subject, will it be used by teachers.

It was clear when we tried to gather opinions on the issue that it is a subject the government doesn't want people to discuss. We tried to talk to several people, but local comrades had been sent to stop us.

People were discouraged from speaking to ITV News when approached Credit: ITV News

There were five or six cars following us from the train station when we arrived from Beijing, and there was a group of at least ten men and women monitoring us on the ground and intervening when we tried to interview someone.

They would even physically move the person away, telling them not to speak to us.

On the streets in Hohhot signs still carry Mongolian, but Chinese is the dominant script. The government is using language to assimilate ethnic minorities and ensure they adopt what it has described as a common national identity.

It is a policy which goes against China's own constitution and United Nations (UN) conventions on the protection of a population's native tongue.

Rights groups say the aim is to eliminate all ethnic cultures and the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Centre has accused the Chinese Communist Party of cultural genocide. They say the Chinese government is seeking to eliminate not only ethnic language but traditions, culture, and identity.

Chinese State media portrays a country that embraces its diversity, with images of Uyghurs in Xinjiang dancing in their traditional costumes.

But when Chinese President Xi Jinping made a rare visit to the region this week, he told officials to promote a standard Chinese language and increase efforts to manage Islam and illegal religious activities.

The Chinese Communist Party considers any competing ideology or identities as a threat. It has looked around the world and concluded that civil unrest and colour revolutions in other countries have been rooted in ethnic tensions.

It is the Party's pursuit of complete authority and social stability which is driving this agenda of language assimilation.

We asked the provincial and national education departments for a comment on our report, but they didn't respond.

Children just starting their first year at school in Inner Mongolia this week will not get to experience an education in their mother tongue.

And the Chinese government hopes the next generation won't have any knowledge of Mongolian at all.

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