Ever since reading Blaine Kaltman’s Under the Heel of the Dragon, my views about language in education have been challenged. In my city of 200,000 there is only one Uyghur-language high school and judging from the rumors I’ve heard recently they may soon switch to Mandarin.
Why is that? Or rather, why is that important?
Here’s a quick rundown of the situation at hand in Xinjiang: the Uyghur people, a minority group who make up about half the population in Xinjiang, speak their own language which comes from a completely different family than Mandarin, the official Chinese language.
It is rare to hear an elderly Uyghur speak Mandarin without a heavy accent. Even a majority of the next generation in their 30’s and 40’s have difficulty communicating sometimes.
This isn’t a huge problem most of the time since Han and Uyghur don’t often intermingle, but when employment is at stake, language is usually the deal-breaker.
Han business people don’t want to hire employees who can’t speak Mandarin well.
Uyghur job-seekers may not have had the luxury of a great education, or at the least one taught in Mandarin.
The Chinese government has been put into a tricky position where they need to encourage Uyghur to maintain their local language while providing the best opportunity to for Uyghur to succeed – which means a Mandarin education. Regardless of your personal feelings for the CCP and how they’ve handled the situation so far, one has to concede that the solution isn’t easy.
What I want to discuss is not how much you love or despise the Chinese government. I want to talk about whose responsibility it is to maintain Uyghur language and culture.
- Should classes in predominantly Uyghur cities be taught in the Uyghur or Mandarin language? Do you think the government should be directing policy on this issue?
- Is affirmative action (or “positive discrimination”) a practical policy in this situation?
- Do you think the Uyghur language will still be active a century from now?