Aug 23, 2020 Update: Bainuu, the only Mongolian-language social media application available in China, which hosted about 400,000 Southern Mongolians users, reportedly shut down by Chinese authorities.
A few years back I posted a piece entitled A Resounding “Yes” to Mother-tongue Literature — but for Whom and about What?
In this context, “mother-tongue” referred to indigenous languages other than Mandarin. This topic may be of interest to potential readers who perceive “Chinese literature” as encompassing writing in Tibetan, Uyghur, Mongolian, as well as oral literature (口述文学) for peoples who do not have a script widely used in the PRC, such as the Evenki, Zhuang and many others.
In my essay, I posed this question: Who is going to write in their native language — or read what is written for that matter — if they cannot receive a decent education in it?
Recently, news has begun to surface that the authorities in Inner Mongolia are intent on repurposing schools that formerly taught most subjects in Mongolian — with a separate Mandarin class part of the required curriculum — into the opposite, i.e., all subjects taught in Mandarin, with Mongolian taught separately and simply as a language. For details, see Authorities Cancel Mongolian-Medium Classes in Inner Mongolia’s Tongliao City.
Some parents of Mongolian heritage are not happy about this change, which “reportedly” will be fully implemented in Tongliao, Inner Mongolia, come September this year (2020). I write “reportedly” because the authorities have apparently not openly issued documents about this transition, which would allow the public to debate the pros and cons; it is simply being implemented based on oral instructions from officials.
This does not appear to be an “experiment,” either; Tongliao is a city of over 3 million, with a large Mongol population. See 关于当前内蒙古自治区蒙古语授课教育遇到困境的反映 for the details.
Interestingly, the above Weixin essay notes that there are currently two official approaches to bilingual education. Simply put, the first is to offer schooling mainly in an indigenous language, with Mandarin as a “second language,” if you will, and the other is the inverse. The essay skips over the third option, increasingly applied in Xinjiang since 2017, in which the Uyhgur language is banned from all classrooms and textbooks. In other words, Mandarin instruction. Period.
To close, a personal anecdote about fiction published in China in languages other than Mandarin: I recently took part in a videoconference with several persons, including a senior manager at Chinese Culture Translation & Studies Support Network (CCTSS) (中国文化译研网). CCTSS positions itself as “a platform of Chinese and foreign literature online translation and project promotion (working platform).”
We were discussing how to better promote the writing of China’s non-Han authors to publishers and readers overseas. I suggested that we could translate excerpts of writing by minority authors, for marketing to foreign publishers, including those originally penned in Tibetan, Mongolian, etc., and not yet available in Mandarin. The CCTSS executive politely but firmly indicated this option would not be considered.