Ethnic Mongolians held protests in northern China this week condemning the country’s new policy to gradually replace their native language with Mandarin in several school subjects.
The latest policy from Beijing will affect politics, history, and language and literature subjects taught in schools throughout China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region, the BBC reported.
Many of the ethnic Mongol minority fears the transition from the Mongolian language to Mandarin, China’s official language, will destroy their cultural identity and force them to assimilate into the majority Han Chinese culture.
In protest of the move, parents threatened to keep their children home from school while crowds demonstrated outside schools in the region, according to national reports.
Temtsiltu Shobtsood, chairman of an exile group called the Inner Mongolian People’s Party, said the policy was a form of “cultural genocide.”
“The whole world is talking about human rights, but we are not visible enough,” Shobtsood said.
China has said the requirement of Mandarin was to ensure a high standard of textbooks and curriculum and to pursue a common identity through shared language, the Guardian reported.
However, Enghebatu Togochog, director of the U.S.-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center, told the outlet that the people of Inner Mongolia view their language as one of the last remaining pieces of their culture that have been targeted for decades.
“In the past 70 years Mongolian people have gone through a lot, including genocide, political oppression, economic exploitation, cultural assimilation, and environmental destruction,” he said. “So after 70 years of China’s heavy-handed policy, the Mongolian language is the last remaining symbol of Mongolia.”