Tens of thousands of ethnic Mongolian students and parents are demonstrating in northern China over unannounced plans by the Chinese government to phase out Mongolian-medium teaching in the region’s schools.
Protests have broken out across major cities in China’s northern region of Inner Mongolia over the weekend, including Tongliao, Ordos, and the regional capital, Hohhot, while one student jumped to his death, RFA has learned.
Local residents said one high-school student had died after jumping from the roof of the Sheebert Mongolian High School in Horchin Left Banner, a county-level administrative division.
“On the evening of Aug. 30, a Mongolian student … reportedly jumped from the building to his death,” SMHRIC said, posting video footage showing an ambulance leaving the school amid angry protests.
An ethnic Mongolian resident confirmed the report.
“A school in Tongliao locked down its campus, shutting the students inside,” the resident said. “The parents went to get the students, and then the armed police came.”
“A student on the fourth floor jumped off … because his mother was detained outside the school,” the resident said.
A directive from the Inner Mongolia education department recently ordered an end to Mongolian-language classes for first-year primary students and an end to Mongolian-medium teaching and materials in favor of the Chinese language, teachers in the region have told RFA in recent weeks.
Police cordons broken
Students across the region forced their way through police cordons around schools that had been designed to hold them in, to join their parents who were protesting outside, several video clips showed.
At the gate of one school, kneeling students in school uniforms shouted: “Our language is Mongolian, and our homeland is Mongolia forever! Our mother tongue is Mongolian, and we will die for our mother tongue!”
Meanwhile, local authorities dispatched riot police to a high school in Zaruud Banner, a county-like division, after the authorities tried to lock down the campus amid widespread protests over an end to Mongolian-medium education.
Hundreds of ethnic Mongolian parents gathered in front of the Gahait Mongolian School demanding the authorities release their children after it became clear that the authorities were ending Mongolian-medium teaching in schools across the region without making the policy public ahead of the start of the new semester.
“SWAT teams and hundreds of riot police poured to the scene, preventing the parents from accessing the school dormitories,” the New York-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC) reported.
“Following hours of standoff, parents finally broke through the police barricade and proceeded to pick up their children,” it said.
Parents beaten by police
Meanwhile, in Horchin Left Rear Banner and Huree Banner, police beat and detained several protesting parents amid protests outside schools there, SMHRIC said, adding that hundreds of Mongolian activists have either been detained or placed under residential surveillance, a form of house arrest.
Authorities also began a region-wide censorship campaign, shutting down Mongolian WeChat groups and removing Mongolian-language books from the shelves of retail outlets.
“The crackdown is very serious,” ethnic Mongolian herder Bukhbataar from Urad Middle Banner told RFA on Saturday. “More than 70 groups had been closed [by this evening].”
“In some places, the local police have been beating people up, beating up ethnic Mongolians, for protesting in the streets,” he said. “This is oppression of ethnic minorities.”
Khubis, an ethnic Mongolian from China now living in Japan, said students at schools in Hohhot had boycotted class.
Classrooms were empty at the Inner Mongolia Normal University in Hohhot, while only around 50 out of 2,000 students had turned up to attend a primary school in the city.
“There should be more than 2,000 students in Xin’an Road Primary School in Hohhot, but today, only around 50 showed up for school,” Khubis said.
Bater, a herder from Ganqika township in Horqin Left Rear Banner, said more than 3,000 students from three local primary schools had also boycotted class.
“In Ganqika, there are three Mongolian schools with a total of 3,000 students,” Bater said. “Most of the parents have already taken them home.”
Tuyaa, a parent of a student from the Xilin Gol League, estimated that around 80 percent of the region’s 23 million ethnic Mongolians were taking part in civil disobedience and protests linked to the new language policy.
“We are not sending our kids to school now,” she said. “Mongolian across the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region are rebelling.”
Many who call for rebellion are being detained.
According to SMHRIC, police have detained Ulaantuyaa, a teacher from Zaruud Banner, and Nasanbayar, who rallied local people publicly to protest the new language policy, while herder activists Bao Guniang and Yanjindulam have been ordered to remain in their homes.
Nonetheless, protests continued throughout the weekend after the authorities brought forward the starting date of the new semester without publicly announcing details of the new language policy.
Hundreds of students in school uniform gathered in front of the Tongliao Mongolian Middle School, one of the largest Mongolian schools in Southern Mongolia, chanting in tears, “Our mother tongue is Mongolian. Until death, we are Mongolian!” SMHRIC reported.
Government workers, police refuse orders
Government officials, education bureau workers, and even some police of Mongolian ethnicity are refusing to execute orders, SMHRIC said.
It said almost half of the Bairin Right Banner police force are ethnic Mongolians who are refusing to arrest protesters or take part in any official propaganda activities.
“Artists, bands, and sport clubs across Southern Mongolia are sending out joint statements to protest the new language policy that was set to take effect Sept. 1, 2020,” the group said.
“Colorful signatures with red finger prints and their names and pictures have gone viral via social media,” it said.
Traditional Mongolian-language storytellers have begun using their art form to call on all ethnic Mongolians to oppose the new policy, and to save the Mongolian language.
“For tens of thousands of years, our mother tongue has been Mongolian,” sang one in a video posted to YouTube. “How can we accept Chinese as our mother tongue?”
Protests also erupted at Chinese embassies and consulates in the United States, Europe, and Japan, while citizens of the independent country of Mongolia said they were planning a protest in front of the Chinese embassy in their capital, Ulaanbaatar.
Many see the new language policy as the next step in a policy of “cultural genocide” by Beijing.
The protests come amid a region-wide boycott of schools, with empty classrooms pictured across the region, SMHRIC said, citing photos and videos it received from participants.
“Ignoring the school authorities’ pressure and threat to terminate employment, all Mongolian teachers in Ereen-hot City in Shiliin-gol League have gone on strike,” it said, adding that there are signs of a region-wide move to homeschooling by ethnic Mongolian families.
Some retired teachers and even college students are volunteering to teach all subjects in Mongolian, while others are calling for simultaneous protests across major cities in the region, SMHRIC said.
It said ethnic Mongolian lawyers and legal professionals are providing guidance to people looking to defend their rights, and are mulling potential lawsuits against the government over the changes, which they say are in breach of ethnic Mongolians’ constitutional and legal rights under national minorities legislation.
One parent said in a video clip posted by SMHRIC: “This might be my last live broadcast. They said they will arrest me in a month. I told them they are very welcome to do so.”
“No matter what, what I say will still be the same: I categorically reject so-called ‘bilingual education.’ I urge all Mongolian parents not to send their children to school on September 1.”
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.