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China Letter-News and Human Rights

China human rights news with focus on the Uygur of Xinjiang, Tibetans and Tibet, Chinese mining workers, religion, corruption and censorship.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Uygur Language

Radio Free Asia:

"The Chinese government is planning sweeping educational changes in the northwestern region of Xinjiang which 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. "

One of the fastest ways to kill a culture is to deny it it's language. By denying a culture it's language you deny it it's history. You rob it of it's richness and stop it from handing down "oral" histories that are vitally important in keeping any culture alive and vibrant.

The Uygurs and their supporters have long argued that one tool in the Chinese government's toolbox for cultural 'genocide" is their limiting of the use of the Uygur language.

We have heard that the Chinese government has outlawed higher learning in the Uygur language, no university classes can any longer be conducted in it. We have heard that Uygur language books have been burned and been prohibited from publication.

All these things are true.

But even though I am an avid supporter of the Uygur's human rights and attempt in a small way to defend their unique and beautiful culture, I am a realist.

Language is important, of that there can be no argument, but as to whether languages of minorities, be they the Uygur in China or immigrants in Australia or the U.S, should take precedence over the state language I can not agree.

For better or for worse the reality of the situation of the Uygur is that Xinjiang is a Chinese state and despite the yearnings of many is likely to remain that way for many generations to come.

The Uygur in diaspora and no doubt at home will seize on this report as further evidence of Chinese anti-Uygur policies but we have to be fair. The report mentions only some 50 small schools of which it would appear cater for several minorities. Given their size, ethnic mix and possibly remote location it can not reasonably be expected that the government provide Uygur language only tuition.

It is to be noted that up to a certain age the Uygur are allowed to send their children to Uygur language schools where students are instructed in all their subjects in the Uygur language. These are government funded schools.

Here in Australia ethnic minorities are allowed to set up there own private schools and whilst these schools do still receive a level of funding there is a rather large private contribution required from that community.

As well, they can choose whatever language they wish for instruction however all compulsory examinations must be conducted in English and along the way they must meet certain literacy and numeracy skills, this of course means there has to be abalance. This system seems to work quite adequately and happily.

So we have two different examples of ethnic minorities maintaining their language abilities, each in their way achieving the objective.

So, despite this announcement of the future of these fifty schools, the Uygur language is catered for to what I believe is an adequate level at least as it concerns lower level schooling. As it concerns Higher education I believe that it must be conducted in the language of the state, particularly as it concerns the Uygurs for their language unfortunately has not developed a modern technical component. As well, Chinese will be the language that the higher educated Uygurs should be expected to use in their careers.

Having said that incidences as reported should be limited to unique cases and not become a rule. Any attempt by the Chinese government to water down the rights to Uygur language usage at least at the lower levels of schooling must be vigorously opposed. Censorship of Uygur language books must be lifted. Restrictions on the private practicing of religion, and other cultural elements, in the Uygur language must be allowed.