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China Moves to Ban Use of Uyghur Language in Schools

Hotan, Xinjiang, China
China Moves to Ban Use of Uyghur Language in Schools
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Officials in northwest China’s Xinjiang region have moved to ban the use of the Uyghur language at all education levels, Radio Free Asia reports.

The new ban marks one of China’s strongest measures aimed at assimilating ethnic Uyghurs, RFA says.

Uyghurs are a mostly Muslim ethnic group in China and Central Asia. Most live in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of western China.

Rights groups have said China represses Uyghur culture and religion.

The Education Department in Xinjiang’s Hotan area issued a directive in June banning the use of Uyghur at schools in favor of Mandarin Chinese. The directive said schools must “insist on fully popularizing the national common language and writing system according to law.”

Beginning this fall semester, Mandarin Chinese will be fully used in preschools, elementary schools and middle schools, the directive says. It also instructs schools to “prohibit the use of Uyghur language, writing, signs and pictures in the educational system and on campuses.”

Any school or person that fails to enforce the new policy will be “severely punished,” the directive says.

‘Encouraging’ Mandarin

Four officials confirmed the directive to RFA. They spoke on the condition of anonymity. They said their local governments were preparing to put the directive in place ahead of the fall semester.

A Chinese education official in Hotan said the directive was issued on June 28. All area education offices received it two days later.

A Uyghur official from another Hotan office said, “all teaching will be conducted in the Chinese, not Uyghur language, in the upcoming semester.”

“Even the Uyghur textbooks will be replaced with Chinese textbooks from inland China. All teachers and students are required to speak the Chinese language only in the school and education system,” he added.

A different Chinese official from Hotan told RFA that the directive is meant to “encourage” the learning of the national language.

He said, "Education authorities decided to ban the use of the Uyghur language in order to create a favorable environment for minorities to study the national language."

Illegal policy?

For many years [since 2005], China has had a “bilingual” education system in Xinjiang’s schools. Uyghur students can choose to learn among other Uyghur students. Those students receive literature instruction in the Uyghur language. All other subjects are taught in Mandarin Chinese.

The new directive would end the Uyghur-language instruction, however.

Observers say the bilingual education system violate China’s constitution and ethnic autonomy laws, RFA reports.

China’s constitution says “the people of all nationalities have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages.”

And China’s Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law on Language says that schools in ethnic areas “use textbooks in their own languages and use these languages as the media of instruction.”

Ilshat Hassan is president of the Uyghur American Association in Washington, D.C. He told RFA that China is trying to ignore its own laws by calling the new directive a part of a bilingual education.

He said, “In fact, by enforcing this new policy at the preschool level, the Chinese government intends to kill the Uyghur language at the cradle."

He added that “the international community must not allow China to destroy our beautiful language and culture, which has thrived for several millennia.”

This story was originally reported by Radio Free Asia and adapted for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.


Words in This Story

region - n. a part of a country, of the world, etc., that is different or separate from other parts in some way

assimilate - v. to cause (a person or group) to become part of a different society, country, etc.

repress - v. to not allow yourself to do or express (something)

prohibit - v. ​ to order (someone) not to use or do something — + from

campus - n.​ the area and buildings around a university, college, school, etc.​

anonymity - n.​ the quality or state of being unknown to most people​

semester - n.​ one of two usually 18-week periods that make up an academic year at a school or college​

bilingual - adj. using or expressed in two languages

autonomy - n.​ the power or right of a country, group, etc., to govern itself

cradle - n.​ the place where something begins​

thrive - v. ​ to grow or develop successfully

millennia - n. plural form of millennium -- a period equal to 1000 years

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