The pain of pronouncing Mandarin "guóqí" ("national flag") for a Mongolian child

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Unimunkh Uriankhai


Look ‼️ How Chinese teacher is torturing our Mongolian kids in Bayangol Mongolian autonomous state in Xinjiang. China bans the Mongolian language in Xinjiang from 2017.

The teacher is visibly frustrated trying to make a Mongolian child pronounce a Chinese expression and make him recognize Chinese nationalistic emblems. Southern Mongolia is under Chinese occupation just like Tibet and Uyghur.

Here's what the child is being told to say:

guóqí 国旗 (national flag)

guóhuī 国徽 ("national emblem")

What's the problem?  Bad teaching skills?

The poor tyke is trying so hard.


Selected readings


  1. Victor Mair said,

    October 21, 2020 @ 10:07 am

    From Marcel Erdal:

    This is an Uyghur, not a Mongolian child: The teacher says Bolmaydu, which means 'That isn't it' in Uyghur. The child also looks Uyghur and not Mongolian.

  2. other one spoon said,

    October 21, 2020 @ 10:32 am

    "There are four lights!"

  3. Victor Mair said,

    October 21, 2020 @ 12:41 pm

    From Peter Golden:

    The poor child is suffering.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    October 22, 2020 @ 5:59 am

    From Marcel Erdal:

    I have now learned from a Han source that this film appeared 3 years ago on social media with reference to the Uyghurs. It is now being reused for the Mongols (admittedly no less deserving of Western support, although not even being Muslims).

  5. Alexander Vovin said,

    October 22, 2020 @ 7:31 am

    I would not exclude the possibility that the boy does it on purpose (good for him!). The whole scene reminds me of the Ancient Greek lesson in Fellini's Amarcord

  6. Victor Mair said,

    October 22, 2020 @ 6:48 pm

    From an anonymous colleague:

    My reaction to the video of the child being forced to pronounce „guoqi” and “guohui” is not suitable for discussion on the public forum. But this scene is very typical for the increasing tendencies of Sinicization (Zhongguohua) of religion, culture and language of minorities in China during the past years which I experiences myself, no matter whether Mongolians, Uighurs, Tibetans or others. It has been called “bilingual education” in the state’s official documents: the children in the elementary schools above all have to learn to speak and write Chinese and internalize Han-Chinese values – deliberately letting them forget their own language and writing, own history and literature. Accordingly, the teachers belonging to the minority themselves are obliged to use Chinese (Putonghua) in the class although all the pupils are from the same minority. Last year I experienced myself with the Tibetans in NW Yunnan how they gradually forget the Tibetan script and how they have to use Chinese characters to transcribe their own language! Formerly such a policy was called “Da-Hanzhuyi” (Han-Chauvinism). It seem that the cultural characteristics and identity of China’s minorities are more and more reduced to touristic folklore and museum artifacts.

  7. anonymouse said,

    October 23, 2020 @ 12:05 pm

    That child is trying so hard, and he is far more obedient and patient than my own (admittedly spoiled) 4 year old. It's so clear that this task is outside his zone of proximal development. He doesn't even know what parts of the language are important to attend to. When the teacher raises her voice out of frustration, he raises his voice too, not out of frustration, but seemingly to match what he thinks the teacher is saying. Of course that just seems to make her more mad. It's also interesting that when she says a single syllable, he can repeat it pretty well- children have good ears- but when he tries to put the sounds together to make a word, it falls apart. So again there's a disconnect between "mimicking this particular sound" and "what is this word" possibly because in the latter case, he's associating words with his own language.

    If she really wanted to teach the boy Mandarin, she'd need to start several steps back with basic phonemes, and be *a lot* more patient. (Side note: how can she be "visibly" frustrated when we don't even see her?) But as others have mentioned, I don't think the point is to teach the kid Mandarin. The point is to make him feel inferior for not being born able to speak Mandarin and make him ashamed of his own mother tongue.

  8. Philip Taylor said,

    October 23, 2020 @ 1:19 pm

    "The point is to make him feel inferior for not being born able to speak Mandarin and make him ashamed of his own mother tongue" — who's point ? The teacher's ? I would respectfully suggest not. It may well be the point of the superior powers who insist on lessons such as this, but I have considerable doubts that "mak[ing] him feel inferior" or "mak[ing] him ashamed" are the teacher's primary aims. She has a job to do — to teach the child to say (and understand) guóqí 国旗 — and while she may not be the best 2nd-language teacher in the world, I very much doubt if she is the worst (or the worst-motivated).

  9. Bathrobe said,

    October 23, 2020 @ 7:51 pm

    The whole point is that instead of teaching children useful words like "Mummy", "Daddy", "dog", "cat", "breakfast", "to play", "school", etc., the State is forcing them to learn ridiculous words like "national flag" and "national emblem", which are pure political indoctrination. The heavy-handed, formalistic requirement that children should be browbeaten into loyalty to the emblems of the State through meaningless exercises like this is a good indication of the nature of the Chinese State and the abysmal level of the bureaucrats who are charged with implementing the policy.

    "Dogmatists" is a better term than "educators" for the people who adopt and implement these policies. It serves them right that the result is a completely mangling of their precious 国旗 and 国徽. It is even more delicious that the way their ridiculous policy is being implemented can now be seen around the world.

    A typical example of this kind of bureaucrat is Ge Weiwei (葛维威), the deputy head of the minorities education section of the Ministry of Education, who toured Inner Mongolia in June informing local governments that the new language policies MUST be implemented. His background is here: 葛维威. Han Chinese, born in 1963 in Jilin (located in what was formerly Manchuria), joined the party in 1986. Graduated from Northeast Normal University (located in Changchun, Jilin province) with a major in library studies. This man has been in charge of areas like 'vocational education' and 'adult education', including a position as "Deputy Party Secretary of the Tibetan Vocational and Technical Training College".

  10. Bathrobe said,

    October 23, 2020 @ 8:00 pm

    There is a photo of Ge Weiwei at that link. I put it up because it helps put a face to the kind of people who are implementing these atrocious policies. The man is a party hack with a mediocre background doing the bidding of the leadership. What could you expect of people like this?

  11. Joshua K. said,

    October 23, 2020 @ 8:43 pm

    I'm sorry to have to post a dissenting view on this, but this post seems like a prime example of linguification. The child is allegedly in "pain" and "suffering" because he has to say the Mandarin words for "national flag" and "national emblem" in reference to the Chinese government, which is discriminating against people of his ethnicity and native language (although it's not even clear whether that would be Mongolian or Uyghur). And, to be clear, I know that the Chinese government is treating the Uyghurs terribly, and wouldn't be surprised to find them treating the Mongols poorly too.

    But as for me, not speaking any of the languages involved here, it's hard for me to ascertain that the problem is with the meaning the boy is supposed to say, rather than the phonemes. How do we know this boy doesn't also have trouble pronouncing the Mandarin words for "Mummy", "Daddy", "dog", "cat", "breakfast", "to play", or "school", too, given that it's not his native language? Or for that matter, that he doesn't have difficulty pronouncing words in general, as many young children do? If someone had asked me, when I was 5 years old, to say "national anthem," I would definitely have pronounced it "national anfem," and that would be speaking in my native language and with no animus toward the U.S. government.

  12. Bathrobe said,

    October 25, 2020 @ 3:55 am

    Then why is the Chinese government insisting on teaching children words like "national anthem"? I thought the whole point was to integrate them into Chinese society so that they had the same opportunities as Han Chinese children — at least that's what the government propaganda says. Surely a better way would be to engage children at their own level, not indoctrinate them politically. I didn't say the child was "suffering"; that's what other people are saying. But I do think that the approach to teaching children to be "Chinese" is arrogant and unenlightened.

  13. Joshua K. said,

    October 26, 2020 @ 1:41 pm

    @Bathrobe: Sorry, I was responding to the general idea of the entire thread and did not intend to attribute to you the comments of other users.

    But does the Chinese educational system also teach young Han Chinese, Mandarin-speaking children to recognize the national flag and national emblem and call them guóqí and guóhuī? I would be surprised if they didn't. Don't they politically indoctrinate all children, regardless of ethnicity or native language?

  14. Bathrobe said,

    October 26, 2020 @ 6:40 pm

    I'm sure the Chinese educational system does. But there is one way of teaching children whose native language is Chinese (although I'm glossing over dialects or "topolects" here, which is a major point). There is another of teaching children whose native language is not Chinese, i.e., children who are expected to become bilingual.

    We've all seen this approach in the West, where colonialists and missionaries simply plunked non-English speaking children down in classrooms and taught them the language, culture, and assumptions of the superior culture.

    Inner Mongolia had a system where Mongolian-speaking children became literate in Mongolian in the first 2-3 years, and then became literate in Chinese after that. The Chinese government has decided that they want no more of that nonsense. On key subjects related to history and culture (the Party-approved version) they will be taught in Chinese, whether they want to or not. It's worse in Xinjiang because they've banned local languages from the schools altogether.

    This video is just a brief glimpse of what this approach means. "Torture" it might not be. Insensitive and arrogant it is, just as Western colonialism was all too often insensitive and arrogant. That is why I was so scathing about the cultureless people who are implementing these policies.

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