What you need to know
Beijing appears to be accelerating education programs designed to dilute the ethno-linguistic bond that gives Uighurs and Tibetans their distinct identity.
Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region authorities will dispatch a total of 2,939 Uighur-speaking Chinese teachers to schools across inland China as part of a two-year “aid program” designed to provide “anti-separatism” education and promote unity among students in the primarily Muslim territory.
Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Xinjiang Party Chief Zhang Chunxian (張春賢) told a send-off meeting on Monday that teachers should encourage students to “promote unity” and fight “separatism” and religious extremism.
Beijing often blames opposition to China’s occupation of Xinjiang and repressive measures against its people to “religious extremism.” It regards the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a loosely defined group that advocates for Uighurs’ rights and greater autonomy for its people, as a terrorist organization. It has had some success over the years in convincing other countries to place it on their list of “proscribed terrorist organizations.” The U.K. was the latest Western government to do so.
The wave of teacher assignments represents a major escalation of the program, which began in 2000. Over the past decade, a total of 2,700 Uighur-speaking teachers — about 200 less than in the current round — were dispatched to high schools across inland China. As many as 234,000 students from Xinjiang have attended those schools in inland China so far.
Besides being “cured” of any “separatist” sentiment they may have, the students from Xinjiang will receive guidance on how to adapt to their new lives in their new homes and given the information they need to get “a better understanding of the central government’s support of Xinjiang,” the state-run Global Times reports.
Whether this program will ensure long-term Uighur-language education to the students from Xinjiang or will instead serve as a conveyor belt to take Xinjiang’s youth outside the territory in order to Sinicize them, remains to be seen. It is very likely that those who remain outside Xinjiang to pursue a higher education or find employment will have to do so in the Chinese language rather than Uighur, which could then serve as a means to dilute their identity and important linguistic link with Xinjiang.
A recent education program in Tibet, another restive region under Chinese occupation, gives some legitimacy to fears that bilingual education programs for ethnic minorities may simply be cover for the imposition of the Chinese language. According to the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), in recent years the Chinese government implemented education programs in Tibet whose objective is “to replace Tibetan with Chinese as the main medium of instruction in Tibetan schools across Tibet.”
In June, the Global Times reported that the central government intends to dispatch as many as 30,000 teachers from inland China to work in Tibet and Xinjiang by 2020. According to TCHRD, the policy will take more than 90 percent of local science teachers’ jobs.
The “expansion in the exchange of educational resources between Han and minority ethnic areas will allow students to receive a more balanced education,” the report said.
Xinjiang also initiated bilingual training programs for local teachers and is trying to attract teachers from other parts of China.
While there is no doubt that improving education in remote parts of China will increase opportunities for young people there to get a better higher education and careers in China proper, the programs also appear to have been designed, as we just saw, to break the bond between young students and their home regions — Xinjiang and Tibet. The introduction of bilingual education in those territories could also be a Trojan Horse by starting off young minds on a Chinese-language education early on. Hundreds of thousands will be exposed to a “Han” education at home (and that education will undoubtedly include more than mathematics and literature, but also politically “acceptable” beliefs), while hundreds of thousands more will do so once they are sent to schools in inland China. It’s a two-way street that will no doubt have a major impact over the next decade.
How all of this could not dilute and ultimately break the cultural-linguistic-religious bond that ensures cohesion and the distinctiveness of those societies!
First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: Edward White