An anti-terrorism unit has been set up opposite the entrance to the Mongolian secondary school in Horqin. A dark car, flanked by police cars. Nobody needs to get anything into their heads here, seems to be the most important message.
At the beginning of this month, the school was the scene of a rare clash between Mongolian minorities and the Chinese authorities. As in many other parts of Inner Mongolia, an autonomous province on paper in northern China, parents revolted here as well. They wanted to take their children out of school following the announcement that the role of the Mongolian language would be phased out from this school year and would make way for Mandarin.
Pupils broke through a police barricade, then stayed away for days:
I was there when it happened, says a Mongol pupil from behind the fence, in an otherwise quiet schoolyard. He doesnt want to give his name. I didnt participate, I stayed inside the classroom. Why? I dont agree with them. This really wont wipe out our language and culture.
Freedom is written in big white characters on big red propaganda boards on the fences next to the school, in Chinese and Mongolian. One of the twelve socialist core values propagated by the communist party. The question is how free there is to talk today in this part of the Tongliaoprefecture, one and a half times bigger in size than the Netherlands.
Chinas assertiveness seems to be gaining momentum. Correspondent Sjoerd den Daas explains this in this video:
In the days following the protest, the local authorities published a list of parents protesting on the social media platform WeChat. Tips leading to their arrest can count on a reward of 1 000 renminbi, some EUR 125.
An unknown number of parents were threatened with repercussions, including job losses. Dozens of others have been arrested. This seems to be the biggest resistance broken. A large proportion of my classmates have returned, is the only thing the pupil in the schoolyard wants to say about it.
Residents are keeping themselves out on the plains. They just started again on 1 September, says the Mongolian owner of a restaurant next to the school, full of conviction. She says she has heard nothing of protests. The epidemic is probably responsible for the fact that things have calmed down a bit
That seems unlikely. Corona largely ignored Inner Mongolia. From the beginning of the epidemic, the province recorded only 77 cases of corona, one person died. Tongliao, to which Horqin belongs, has a population of around 3 million. According to the authorities, only seven of them tested positive for Covid-19.
In recent decades, the government has encouraged Han Chinese to settle in the region. Something that the Mongolian community already rebelled against in the early 1980s, afraid of losing its own culture. However, unlike in Tibet and Xinjiang, the education system was largely left untouched. In recent years, a growing group of Mongolian parents have already opted for Chinese education, for example to increase job opportunities outside Inner Mongolia, especially in urban areas. On the grass plains this is a different story.
In an article in the Inner Mongolian Daily, the authorities stated that there are still many young and middle-aged shepherds who do not master the basic principles of Chinese. An obstacle for individuals to get out of poverty and a limiting factor in the unity and harmony within the region A spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs previously referred to the protests as hyped by foreign media.
Mongols disagree. On the contrary, the Mandarin of Mongolian students has improved a lot, says Zhaolig, who has just passed his final exams at a Mongolian secondary school. So there is no need at all to change the curriculum. It remains unacceptable, and will be to the detriment of the Mongolian language, he says firmly about the reforms implemented in Mongolian language education, which were not announced in advance.
Yet many Mongolians seem to be bowing to pressure from the authorities. Most parents do not think they can change the policy after all, says Zhaolig via a secure messaging app. I dont have anything to say about it, says a father at an abandoned schoolyard during a visit to Agula, a shepherds village in Tongliao. The sensitivity of the case is demonstrated by the fact that the authorities then detained us for two hours. There is no official reason, but the epidemic has been mentioned.
In Horqin, the Han Chinese seem to have finished the civil disobedience of the Mongolian community. One simply has to follow what the government says, says 17-year-old student Zhang Qi. It is certainly important to preserve the culture of minorities, but they must not become too radical. The most important language is and remains Chinese