How China's new language policy sparked rare backlash in Inner Mongolia

Mongolian citizens protest at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, against China's plan to reduce teaching in Mongolian at schools in the neighboring Chinese region of Inner Mongolia on August 31, 2020.

(CNN)Ethnic Mongolian students and parents in northern China have staged mass school boycotts over a new curriculum that would scale back education in their mother tongue, in a rare and highly visible protest against the ruling Communist Party's intensified push for ethnic assimilation.

Under the new policy, Mandarin Chinese will replace Mongolian as the medium of instruction for three subjects in elementary and middle schools for minority groups across the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, home to 4.2 million ethnic Mongolians.
Authorities have defended the adoption of a national standardized curriculum -- which comes with Chinese textbooks compiled and approved by policymakers in Beijing -- will improve minority students' paths to higher education and employment.
    But parents fear the move will lead to a gradual demise of the Mongolian language, spelling an end for the already waning Mongolian culture.
    To critics, the policy bears a chilling resemblance to measures rolled out in the regions of Tibet and Xinjiang, where Mandarin has replaced ethnic minority languages as the instruction language in most schools. It also reflects a shift in the Party's policy towards more aggressive assimilation under President Xi Jinping, as evident in the harsh crackdown on the mostly Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang.
    This week, as students across China returned to classrooms for the new school year, many ethnic schools in Inner Mongolia remained empty as parents refused to send their children back, according to residents and videos circulating online.
    "We Mongolians are all against it," said Angba, a 41-year-old herder in Xilin Gol League whose 8-year-old son has joined the boycott.
    "When the Mongolian language dies, our Mongolian ethnicity will also disappear," the father said. As with the other Mongolian residents who spoke to CNN for this article, Angba requested to use a pseudonym over fear of repercussions from authorities for speaking to foreign media.
    Videos shared with CNN by overseas Mongolians and rights groups appear to show crowds of parents gathering outside schools -- sometimes singing Mongolian songs -- under the close watch of police officers, demanding to bring their children home. In one video, students in blue uniforms topple metal fences blocking a school entrance and rush outside.