Protests have broken out across major cities in China’s northern region of Inner Mongolia over the weekend, over unannounced plans by the Chinese government to phase out Mongolian-medium teaching in the region’s schools.
Tens of thousands of ethnic Mongolian students and parents have demonstrated in Tongliao, Ordos, and the regional capital, Hohhot.
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 favour of the Chinese language, teachers in the region have told RFA in recent weeks.
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!”
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,” the New York-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC) said, posting video footage showing an ambulance leaving the school amid angry protests.
“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.
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.”
Tuyaa, a parent of a student from the XilinGol League, estimated that around 80% 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 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.
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. (Source RFA)