Mongolian language genocide

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During the past few weeks, we've looked at the throttling of Cantonese in Hong Kong.  Now, far to the north of the Chinese empire, the CCP is ramping up the war against Mongolian:

Inner Mongolia: China accused of 'cultural genocide' for school language shift

Debi Edward, ITV News (9/1/23)


Inner Mongolia is the latest province in China where ethnic minorities have had their language forcefully phased out from the education system.

At the school drop-off point, we visited in the capital, Hohhot, nothing appeared to have changed.

We saw children waved off by their parents, some speaking in their native Mongolian language.

But from the start of this school year children from nursery to senior school will find all lessons conducted in Chinese.

When the policy was first announced in 2020 it sparked widespread protests from Mongolian parents, thousands were arrested, and many are still under surveillance.

They were initially told that Chinese would replace Mongolian in only a few subjects, but it has replaced the local language across the entire curriculum. Only in schools which still allow Mongolian as a subject, will it be used by teachers.

It was clear when we tried to gather opinions on the issue that it is a subject the government doesn't want people to discuss. We tried to talk to several people, but local comrades had been sent to stop us….

So long as the CCP rules over the PRC, this lamentable trend (the forced death of mother tongues) would seem to be inevitable.


Selected readings

[Thanks to shaing tai]


  1. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 14, 2023 @ 8:26 am

    Perhaps some of the schools in the U.S. which jumped onto the teaching-Mandarin fad could switch over to teaching Mongolian instead?

  2. Peter B. Golden said,

    September 14, 2023 @ 8:56 am

    The situation is analogous to Uyghur in Xinjiang (previously noted in Language Log). Under Xi, the "the forced death of mother tongues would seem to be inevitable." Cultural genocide is a form of genocide.

  3. Coby said,

    September 14, 2023 @ 12:43 pm

    The elimination of local languages ("dialects") in favor of the national standard used to be considered a progressive measure (witness the French Revolution and Abbé Grégoire), and their preservation a conservative one (the Habsburg monarchy). Attitudes changed in the first half of the twentieth century when, on the one hand, Mussolini and Franco were imposing Italian and Spanish, respectively, everywhere, while the USSR ostensibly encouraged local languages, though of course with Russian more equal than the others, and more so under Stalin, whose lead Xi seems to be following.

  4. Lucas Christopoulos said,

    September 14, 2023 @ 8:23 pm

    The situation is similar for the Kurds in Turkey.

  5. Philip Anderson said,

    September 15, 2023 @ 4:18 pm

    You are right that emergent democracies not only saw education as key, but education in the national language (whereas undemocratic empires could be more multicultural – compare the Persian Empire with Athens). And even if not actively eliminating minority dialects and languages (Breton is certainly not a dialect of French), “progressives” often hoped publicly that they would die out (and many majority-culture nationalists still do).
    But I think your statement that “attitudes changed in the first half of the twentieth century” is far too early. Until the 1960s and ‘70s, assimilation of indigenous people, starting with their children, was official policy in the democratic countries of Scandinavia, North America, Australia and New Zealand, with many children put into boarding schools and forbidden to speak their own language:
    Even without such deliberate cultural genocide, many western democracies did not actively support minority languages until recently:
    The first (independent) Diwan Breton-medium school was opened in 1977, because France’s education policy excluded Breton.
    The first Welsh-medium school opened in 1938, but again it was independent; state schools had to wait until the second half of the century. Many public broadcasters, and politicians, fought against minority-language broadcasting.
    Of course the current Chinese policy of cultural genocide is a bad thing, and fits with the CCP’s centralising mentality, but that mentality is far more widespread; it’s just been easier for minorities to protest in democracies, and change things for the better.

  6. Ronan Maye said,

    September 15, 2023 @ 7:17 pm

    It's a tragedy that all that linguistic diversity is being replaced by monoculture, but since the CCP often vacillates wildly from a policy perspective, I wouldn't lose all hope because this could be reversed in the future.
    On a separate but related note, if this policy is ever reversed, I think it would be nice to also see the incorporation of topolects (方言) into school curricula to help preserve them, which Taiwan has done with Hokkien.

  7. Michael Watts said,

    September 16, 2023 @ 12:13 am

    In the United States, instruction exclusively in English replaced instruction in Spanish (officially termed "bilingual instruction", but only Spanish was involved) some decades ago.

    This is usually seen as a big win for the Spanish-speaking population, who did indeed strongly support the change.

  8. Michael Watts said,

    September 16, 2023 @ 12:16 am

    undemocratic empires could be more multicultural – compare the Persian Empire with Athens

    I thought the Persian Empire was known for its linguistic uniformity policy. All imperial business was conducted in Imperial Aramaic?

    But no one was expected to speak Imperial Aramaic, so whatever they did speak didn't matter so much.

  9. Philip Anderson said,

    September 16, 2023 @ 7:22 am

    @Michael Watts
    I think most states have a single administrative language – in Mediaeval Europe, that was often Latin (which the clergy did speak, but not as a mother tongue). But as you say, what they did speak didn’t matter to the rulers, which was my point – there was no policy or desire of eliminating the differences. The same with religious practices. Whereas the Greeks had pretty rigid divisions between Barbarians and Greeks (and between citizens and non-citizens).

  10. KIRINPUTRA said,

    September 16, 2023 @ 11:07 pm

    Not surprising, unfortunately….

    @Ronan Maye: Reports (especially, but not only, in English) of institutional "Hokkien" language preservation efforts (and effects) in Taiwan are way overblown….

  11. Wanda said,

    September 17, 2023 @ 11:50 pm

    This opinion piece in the New York Times alleges that the situation is very dire for Tibetans. It says preschool-age children are being forced to attend boarding schools where they are only allowed to speak Mandarin and are not allowed to have much contact with their parents:

  12. David Marjanović said,

    September 18, 2023 @ 11:00 am

    All imperial business was conducted in Imperial Aramaic?

    The logistics bureaucracy was in Elamite – in cuneiform on clay tablets.

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