Mongolian students at Brigham Young University–Hawaii made a 46-foot-long banner in September they said to save their tradition and language by supporting the protest in Inner Mongolia as the Chinese government plans to ban the language from schools.
What is the Inner Mongolian protest?
According to Reuters, the Chinese government has introduced a “policy forcing elementary and secondary schools in Inner Mongolia to adhere to a national curriculum in the Chinese language, politics and history.” Present-day Inner Mongolia became a part of the Republic of China in 1911, while Outer Mongolia is an independent country.
The South China Morning Post reported, “The reforms were announced just a few days before the start of the school term and will be compulsory across all grades in Mongolian schools by 2022.”
Reuters said China announced the policy was “to promote national unity and insisted there would still be room for Mongolian language teaching in other subjects and grades.
“However, the policy has led to school boycotts and accusations by human rights groups that Beijing is trying to destroy Mongolian culture. Four thousand to five thousand people had been put into police custody during three weeks of protests in Inner Mongolia while at least nine have lost their lives,” Reuters reported.
While Inner Mongolians are protesting actively, outer Mongolians are showing their support through peaceful protest as well. Reuters said, “About 100 peaceful protesters gathered on Sukhbaatar Square in front of Mongolia’s Government Palace and chanted ‘Let’s protect our native language.’”
Altanshagai Enkhbat, a senior from Mongolia majoring in marketing, came up with the idea to support the Inner Mongolian protest through social media content creation. Enkhbat shared when she saw how Inner Mongolians were actively protesting to save their language, she felt she had to do something besides liking and commenting on protest videos and photos.
“I really wanted to show how strongly I support the protest, so I decided to make a huge banner written in the Mongolian language saying ‘Save the Mongolian language’ and took some photos and videos of it with some Mongolian students standing next to it wearing traditional Mongolian clothes,” Enkhbat said.
Mongolian students supported Enkhbat’s idea, made a banner 30.5 feet wide and 46.8 feet long, and posted the video and photos on social media. Enkhbat said they already had received support from Mongolians around the world through their content.
Saruul Ochirbat, a sophomore from Mongolia majoring in psychology, said even though it is not directly affecting his life, it is sad the Chinese government is forcing them to change their language.
“I signed the petition asking for help from theUnited States government, and [I am] hoping the U.S. will do something to help them,” Ochirbat commented. “Many of us believe the Mongolian government has to do something, but since the Mongolian economy heavily depends on China, the Mongolian government has to take some diplomatic actions.”
Jiaqi Luo, a senior from China majoring in TESOL, said, “It is so sad that the Chinese government is forcing them to stop using their own language. … All Inner Mongolians are bilingual, but the government is putting too much pressure on them and taking away the diversity of China.
“I understand the government’s intention to unite the country, but it causes more problems than uniting. Everyone has a right to be vocal about their opinions, but I just hope it won’t reach the point of violence like the Hong Kong protests.”
Mandkhai Mendsaikhan, a sophomore from Mongolia also majoring in TESOL, said, “I believe the Mongolian government has to do something to help this protest succeed because as an individual, I cannot do much except sign the petition for the U.S. government and support through social media.”
Mendsaikhan said she plans to teach the Mongolian alphabet and language to her international friend, whose hobby is learning languages. “I think it is our opportunity to saveour tradition and language and be united as Mongolians around the world.”
Buyanbat Dagvadorj, a sophomore from Mongolia majoring in psychology, said to be successfull, Mongolians worldwide should support this protest.
Anxu Chen, a freshman from China with an undeclared major, said there are 56 ethnic groups in China and all have their own languages. “For example, my husband is Korean ethnic. In Chinese schools, besides learning Chinese, he has Korean classes,” Chen commented. “I don’t think China will only have one language because China is very big, but everyone should learn to speak Chinese.”
Edgar Pu, a recent alumnus from China, said Mandarin is not his first language, and he talks to his families and local friends in his own dialect.
“To be honest, I am not sure what is really going on in Inner Mongolia. However, if what the news reports are saying is true, I would say the Chinese government should not do that.” Pu added, “Maybe the Chinese government has a different story, but personally, I think we should know the official language and keep our own dialect as well.”
Possible outcomes of the new policy
Luo explained, “It will definitely have an impact on the linguistic environment of the Inner Mongolians. And eventually, they will forget their Mongolian language, and it will affect their culture as well.”
Dagvadorj shared, in history, China has never been so strong, but it became today’s superpower by dissolving other cultures and uniting the surrounding small tribes and countries to itself.
“Banning the Mongolian language is one of those methods they have used for thousands of years. They did that to every group who did not speak Mandarin,” Dagvadorj said. He said he believes humans are cultural and social animals, “so once you are culturally blended with a certain culture, you belong there.”
Ochirbat commented that language is not just something people use daily; it is also a large representation of culture, tradition and history. “When I came here, I was amazed at how important culture is in people’s lives. Polynesians are very few, and their culture is much newer than Mongolian. But it is much more well-known to the world, and people admire it.
“Mongolian culture is much older and is rich, but people barely know about it,” Ochirbat commented. “Since Inner Mongolia is part of China, I understand they are required to learn Mandarin. I know almost all Inner Mongolians are bilingual, but banning their first language is just so unnecessary.”
Dagvadorj commented that even though the Chinese government is requiring schools to switch languages, Inner Mongolians can still keep their language through homeschooling. “Traditionally, Mongolians are nomads and did not have a united school system, so every family homeschooled their children. That is how we kept our language for thousands of years.”(byuh)