The right of ethnic minorities to use their own languages is guaranteed by an international covenant. China’s education policy, which pushes ethnic assimilation by overly prioritizing national unity, cannot be tolerated.
In the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in northern China, the number of Mongolian classes has been reduced and education in Mandarin Chinese has been strengthened. In elementary and junior high schools for ethnic Mongolians, the national language textbooks have been changed to Mandarin versions, and the moral education and history textbooks are also said to be gradually being replaced.
Ethnic Mongolians make up about 20% of the population in the autonomous region. It is only natural for residents in the region to protest, boycotting classes and demonstrating in the streets, saying it is a “crisis for ethnic culture.”
In response, the police have been detaining a number of parents and guardians of those involved in the protests. The police are said to have posted the mug shots of the protesters on the internet, asking them to turn themselves in or seeking information be provided on them.
The situation is apparently the same in the autonomous regions of both Xinjiang Uygur and Tibet, where authorities, fearing separatist and independence movements by ethnic minorities, are stepping up controls and education in Mandarin Chinese.
In China, Han Chinese account for 90% of the total population. There are 55 ethnic minority groups. The Chinese government insists that standard language education will help minorities obtain jobs and acquire knowledge as well as help society harmonize, but such claims apparently are not convincing when coercive measures are implemented by ignoring the wishes of others.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stipulates that members of ethnic minorities “shall not be denied the right” to the culture, religion and language of their ethnic group. The Chinese Constitution also says, “All nationalities have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages and to preserve their own folkways and customs.”
Nevertheless, the administration of President Xi Jinping is pushing ahead with the spread of education in Mandarin Chinese because it apparently aims at raising awareness of “Zhonghua minzu,” or the Chinese nation, and further strengthen the Chinese Communist Party’s one-party rule.
From September in Hong Kong for the new school semester, matters that are detrimental to the Chinese Communist Party such as the separation of powers, which is fundamental to democracy, and the military crackdown on the democracy movement at Tiananmen Square in Beijing have been deleted in required high school textbooks.
It is an attempt to deny Hong Kong’s history and culture, where freedom and democracy have taken root under the concept of “one country, two systems,” and to unilaterally instill the values of the Chinese Communist Party. The intention is clearly to eliminate the environment in which young people are inclined to engage in anti-government activities.
To what extent does the Xi regime realize that its heavy-handed approach is in fact leading to an escalation of protests and instability in the situation? It must listen to the criticism it is receiving at home and abroad.
It is important for Japan, in cooperation with countries that share the value of respect for human rights, to continue to convey its concerns to China.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 28, 2020