Mar 16, 2004

East Turkestan: China imposes Chinese language on Uyghur schools

The Chinese government is planning to force ethnic minority schools to merge with Chinese schools, imposing Chinese as the language of instruction on Uyghur and other minority schoolchildren

The Chinese government is planning sweeping educational changes in the northwestern region of Xinjiang that will force around 50 ethnic minority schools to merge with Chinese schools, imposing Chinese as the language of instruction on Uyghur and other minority schoolchildren, RFA's Uyghur service reports.

According to the official Xinjiang Daily newspaper, 50 ethnic minority schools located in counties and rural towns where ethnic minorities are dominant, but poor, will be merged with ethnic Chinese schools over the next five years.

"The Chinese Communist Party and regional government have decided that ethnic minority schools must be merged with ethnic Chinese schools and ethnic minority students must be mixed with ethnic Chinese students. Teaching should be conducted in Chinese language as much as possible," the paper said.

"Some small towns and counties, where conditions are ripe, must start teaching Chinese to first-grade ethnic minority students in primary school," it said, adding that schools in Xinjiang currently employed Uyghur, Chinese, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Mongol, Xibe, and Russian, and that this led to inefficiencies in the education system.

A Uyghur teacher contacted by RFA said that ethnic minority teachers in her area were being forced to learn Chinese for use in schools. "The government is demanding that teachers know the Chinese language and start teaching in Chinese language this May," she said by telephone. "So, all teachers are now learning Chinese."

When asked about the mergers, she said she had not yet heard of them. "We have no idea about that plan, since it is not openly implemented yet. But, we may find it very difficult if it happens."

"Personally, I think I will be forced to learn the Chinese language, as will other teachers. Because word is spreading that if you don't learn Chinese, you can't keep your job. We are feeling the heat," she said.

According to the Xinjiang Daily, the mergers are part of a drive to streamline and modernize education in the region, and will include opportunities for Uyghurs and other minorities to learn English. The regional government had already applied for U.S.$710,000 in central government funding to carry out the changes, the paper said.

But Uyghurs in exile overseas said the plans showed an intensification of Beijing's cultural imperialism in Xinjiang. "This is not a random phenomenon," U.S.-based scholar Shohret told RFA in an interview. "It is a well-planned and systematic direct attack on Uyghur culture... Their purpose is to eradicate Uyghur culture, and close the cultural differences between the Uyghur nation and the Chinese nation," he said.

Shohret said the move contravened U.N. human rights covenants which stipulate protection for ethnic diversity and minority cultures. "This kind of negative and detrimental policy not only harms the Uyghur people, it will harm the Chinese people as well. Indeed, it is ultimately detrimental to the international community," he said.

Uyghurs constitute a distinct, Turkic-speaking, Muslim minority in northwestern China and Central Asia. They have twice declared a short-lived East Turkestan Republic in Xinjiang in the 1930s and the late 1940s, but have remained under Beijing's control since 1949.

According to a Chinese Government white paper, in 1998 Xinjiang comprised 8 million Uyghurs, 2.5 million other ethnic minorities, and 6.4 million Han Chinese-up from 300,000 Han in 1949. Most Uyghurs are poor farmers, and at least 25 percent are illiterate.

Source: Radio Free Asia