[lg policy] China’s Effort to Silence the Sound of Uyghur

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Fri May 17 11:54:43 EDT 2019

China’s Effort to Silence the Sound of Uyghur

A key part of China’s campaign against Uyghur identity is a crackdown on
the Uyghur language.
By Rustem Shir
May 16, 2019

Abduweli Ayup
Xinjiang (also known as East Turkestan) in August 2015 to escape
persecution from the Chinese Communist Party. His official crime was
“abusing public money” in the operation of schools, but this fraudulent
charge concealed his true affront to the Chinese government – resistance to
the state plan to advance Mandarin language assimilation

In 2011, Mr. Ayup founded a school in the southwestern city of Kashgar that
used Uyghur, Mandarin, and English to implement a culturally relevant
education. He and his associates were aware that, by offering instruction
in Uyghur, they were at odds with the Chinese government’s objective to
marginalize minority languages. They also knew that by affirming the status
of Uyghur as valid for academic purposes, they were challenging the
government’s language ideology, which depicts the Uyghur language as
 and unpatriotic

Scholars recognize that mother tongue-based multilingual education
a positive impact on students’ cognitive and sociocultural development. For
the ethnic minorities of Xinjiang, it also had popular appeal. At the
request of Uyghur, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Mongol community members, Mr. Ayup
was planning to open additional schools that provided minority language
instruction in the regional capital of Urumqi.
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However, Mr. Ayup’s popularity aroused the Chinese government’s fear of ethnic
He and his associates were interrogated on several occasions and arrested
in August 2013. While incarcerated, Mr. Ayup was sexually assaulted by
police officers
suffered psychological and physical abuse from inmates. He was released in
November 2014, but Chinese security personnel continued to torment him with
arbitrary beatings and confinement. Unable to endure this treatment, Mr.
Ayup escaped to Turkey. His family followed, and they lived in Ankara as
stateless refugees for nearly four years, before relocating to France in
April 2019.

In the Chinese Communist Party’s drive to erase markers of Uyghur identity,
the Uyghur language is a target because it is a Turkic language with many
words of Arabic origin, and loanwords from Persian, and written in an
Arabic-based script. These aspects of the Uyghur language serve to connect
Uyghurs with Turkic and Islamic communities. The CCP seeks to sever these
affinities and is using Mandarin language assimilation as a tool to
reorient Uyghur identity.

This motive serves as the foundation of the Chinese government’s
decades-long strategy to normalize Mandarin as the primary language of
communication for the ethnic minority communities of Xinjiang. As part of
this plan, CCP language policy on education has shifted from the tolerance
of ethnic minority languages to their prohibition, concurrent with the
promotion of Mandarin.

The CCP’s most pervasive language policy in the region concerns “bilingual”
education for ethnic minority students. While the name of this policy may
suggest that students maintain their native language while adding another
language, “bilingual” education in Xinjiang subtracts native language
skills en route to Mandarin language assimilation. This mode of education
had expanded, by 2014, to schools serving 2 million primary and secondary
students, including 480,000 preschool students
<http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/945829.shtml>. The Chinese government is
advancing toward their goal to institute “bilingual” education in over 90
percent of ethnic minority primary and secondary schools by 2020

The Chinese government’s homestay program
plays a role in the campaign for Mandarin language assimilation. By 2017,
more than a million Chinese cadres had been implanted in the homes of rural
Xinjiang residents for at least five days every two months. Tasked with
observing Turkic Muslim families, the cadres also report the Mandarin
proficiency levels of Uyghur family members and their general use of
Mandarin. Thus, language skills and practices serve as points of evidence
when deciding who should be recommended for “re-education” at an internment
camp <https://docs.uhrp.org/pdf/MassDetention_of_Uyghurs.pdf>.

In the network of internment camps of Xinjiang, where close to 3 million
Turkic Muslims are being held
internees are required to speak in Mandarin and prohibited from using their
native languages. In a white paper
the Chinese government stated that “trainees” needed to learn Mandarin to
“acquire modern knowledge and information” because “only by mastering
standard Chinese language can they better adapt to contemporary society.”
This argument implies that the minority languages of Xinjiang are deficient
for communication, a politically convenient but scientifically false

Some may argue that the Chinese government is justified in their use of
internment camps to remove the threat of anti-government sentiment. Others
may contend that this act of ethnocide is no different than the U.S.
campaign against Native Americans, the Canadian campaign against First
Nation communities, and the Australian campaign against Aboriginal
communities. Yet, it is difficult to imagine that cultural trauma will
engender positive feelings toward the source of that trauma. And historical
instances of cultural assimilation do not justify their repetition.

The prospect of opposing governments that threaten minority cultures may
seem daunting, but those interested in challenging Chinese linguistic
imperialism can take action by pressuring U.S. politicians to support the
Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019 (House Resolution H.R. 649
Senate Resolution S. 178
This act condemns the “elimination of the Uyghur language as a medium of
instruction in Xinjiang schools and universities.” Interested parties can
also support the UYGHUR Act of 2019 (House Resolution H.R. 1025
<https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/1025/text>), which
has a section dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the Uyghur
language. Citizens worldwide should encourage their governments to use
tools like the Global Magnitsky Act to impose economic sanctions and travel
penalties on Chinese officials responsible for human rights abuses in
northwest China.

The Chinese government is heavily invested in silencing the sound of
Uyghur. Opponents of linguicide in Xinjiang are urged to publicize,
condemn, and resist this violation of human rights.


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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