Xinjiang Official Describes Plan to Expand Use of Mandarin in Minority Schools

March 4, 2008

Within the next 10 to 20 years, education in all ethnic minority schools in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) will be bilingual starting in first grade, Ma Wenhua, deputy director of the XUAR Education Department, told the South China Morning Post (SCMP), which reported the statement in a February 2 article (subscription required). He cited the lack of qualified teachers as the reason the government could not fully implement this plan sooner.

Ma said that lack of fluency in Mandarin Chinese could make it "difficult for [ethnic minority students] to continue their education," but he did not acknowledge how the XUAR government's own educational programs foster this problem by reducing opportunities for instruction in minority languages. Under Chinese law, ethnic minorities have the right to use and develop their own languages, but the XUAR government has placed increasing emphasis on Mandarin in recent years. The government promotes the use of Mandarin through bilingual programs and other measures that place primacy on using Mandarin in school rather than ethnic minority languages. This drive has spread to the pre-school level. A December 27 Xinhua article cited in the SCMP report said that the government has already decided to subsidize bilingual education in seven rural prefectures in the southern XUAR, and would implement comprehensively its bilingual pre-school program in 2006. The article added that the government will pay 1.5 yuan per day to pre-schoolers who receive bilingual education and 400 yuan per month subsidy to teachers. A leading official of the XUAR Party Committee, quoted in the article, said that supporting bilingual education in lower levels of schooling would raise the "quality" of ethnic minorities and contribute to the modernization drive.

For additional information, see the sections on Language Policy and Rights Violations in Xinjiang in the CECC 2005 Annual Report.