[lg policy] Language Policy and Ethnic Conflict in China

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Sat Feb 14 16:45:40 UTC 2015

 Language Policy and Ethnic Conflict in China

While China is often accused of stoking ethnic tensions by marginalizing
minority languages, the University of Iowa’s *Wenfang Tang argues that the
problem in Tibetan and Uyghur areas is not too much Mandarin education, but
too little*
This, he suggests, inflames tensions by leaving people at an economic
disadvantage which they blame on ethnic discrimination. From the University
of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute Blog:

In addition to the shortage of Mandarin speaking teachers, another reason
for minority regions’ Mandarin deficiency is the problem of bureaucratic
turf war. For example, in the Education Law, all schools are required to
use Mandarin as the language of instruction, while the Ethnic Autonomy Law
encourages the use of ethnic languages in education. […]

[…] In summary, China’s overly lenient language policy has resulted in
minority students being less likely to go to college and to find good jobs.
Their income is lower than the Han majority. Consequently, they become
angry and blame the problem as discrimination. To solve this problem,
promoting Mandarin education should be the first step. Admittedly, such a
solution will face more fury from those who are already critical of China’s
ethnic policies. Ultimately, it is a tradeoff between keeping ethnic
languagse and cultural identity and improving the economic opportunities
and conditions for minorities. [*Source

A recent article in The Economist acknowledged the language barrier issue,
but reported that *genuine discrimination is also a serious problem*

[…] Even some of the best-educated Uighur and Tibetan migrants struggle to
find work. Reza Hasmath of Oxford University found that minority candidates
in Beijing, for example, were better educated on average than their Han
counterparts, but got worse-paying jobs. A separate study found that CVs of
Uighurs and Tibetans, whose ethnicities are clearly identifiable from their
names (most Uighurs also look physically very different from Han Chinese),
generated far fewer calls for interviews.

[…] One 25-year-old university graduate from the Xinjiang Class [a
government affirmative action scheme which sends students to study outside
Xinjiang] describes her months of difficulty in getting a job in Beijing,
before landing one at a foreign-owned company. A large Chinese IT firm
rescinded a job offer without explanation on the Friday before she was to
start work. Another job interviewer then told her she should go back to
Xinjiang. [The Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology’s Timothy] Grose reports
that some Xinjiang Class members are put off jobs by being told that they
cannot be provided with halal meals. [*Source

The Ministry of Education reported last September that 30% of Chinese
cannot speak Mandarin
and only 7% can speak it “articulately and fluently.”

Columbia’s Robert Barnett discussed language policy and issues in Tibetan
in a recent interview with Matt Adler at Culturally Curious. The apparent
rise in ethnic tensions in China was the subject of a broad ChinaFile
Conversation early last year


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