Chinese authorities shut down the only Mongolian-language social media site in China last week, according to rights groups, in an expanding bid to undermine ethnic Mongolian language and promote Chinese interests.
According to the U.S.-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center, Chinese authorities shut down Bainu, the only Mongolian language social media site in China, on Sunday, August 23. According to the rights group, the site—which translates to “how are you?” in Mongolian—hosts about 400,000 users in Inner Mongolia, an autonomous region of China.
It is unclear if Bainu’s shutdown is temporary or permanent. The website’s link still remains active but its homepage is currently inaccessible.
In recent weeks, many Mongolian speakers took to Bainu to voice displeasure over leaked plans showing that Beijing’s central government planned to phase out Mongolian-language education in the ethnic region, according to the rights group.
According to U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia, hundreds of teachers in the Inner Mongolian cities of Tongliao and Ulaanhad were called into “urgent, secret meetings” to discuss orders from the Chinese government to switch elementary and high school curriculums to Mandarin Chinese under a state-supported “bilingual education program.”
Chinese education and embassy officials did not immediately respond to VICE News for comment on the bilingual education program in Inner Mongolia.
In response to the news, users of the popular Chinese messaging site WeChat created groups to discuss the educational changes.
“[Inner Mongolia] has quickly become a police state again in the past few days as the tension rises between the government and the [ethnic] Mongolians who are about to be deprived of their last symbol of national identity—the Mongolian language,” said one WeChat user, according to Southern Mongolia Human Rights Information Center.
Mongolian is an official language spoken by ethnic Mongols across East Asia, including those who live in Inner Mongolia. But over the years, some residents have grown concerned that the language is being replaced by Mandarin Chinese in an effort by China to erase the Mongolian culture and identity.
Mandarin Chinese is one of the fastest-growing languages in the world and has helped reinforce China’s soft power across its autonomous regions. China has also promoted the study of Mandarin Chinese through its state-affiliated educational partnerships, like the international Confucius Institutes, previously referred to by U.S. officials as “a malign influence campaign” by the Chinese government.
Director of the Southern Mongolia Human Rights Information Center Enkhabtu told the U.S. government-funded Voice of America (VOA) Chinese Service on Wednesday, August 26, that Beijing had been focused on eliminating Mongolian language centers for a long time, starting with the Chinese-language school programs.
“We strongly condemn this Chinese policy of cultural genocide in Inner Mongolia,” Enkhabtu told VOA.
“This is not just a question of language,” he continued. “Mongolians have been stifled by the Chinese Communist Party for too long. Our language is all we have left. If it is eliminated, there will be basically no Mongolian identity for us.”
Enkhbatu added that many Mongolians were preparing to protest in schools.
Video circulating on Twitter on Sunday, August 30, appeared to show students in Inner Mongolia protesting against the new Mandarin Chinese language program. Several videos posted by the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center’s YouTube page showed dozens of people gathered in protest as well as elementary school textbooks written in Mandarin Chinese instead of Mongolian.
According to The Hill, China’s campaign to erode the cultural identities of its ethnic minority groups extends beyond Inner Mongolia. China’s Communist Party has been gradually replacing local dialects with Mandarin Chinese, particularly in schools across the autonomous Xinjiang region, as well as the Himalayan autonomous region of Tibet.