Schools must “insist on fully popularising the national common language and writing system according to law, and add the education of ethnic language under the bilingual education basic principle”, Radio Free Asia reported citing a late June directive issued by the Education Department in Hotan province (Hetian in Chinese), The Independent reported.
The five-point directive said schools must ban the use of Uighur language in “collective activities, public activities and management work of the education system” and “resolutely correct the flawed method of providing Uighur language training to Chinese language teachers”.
When children go back to school in the Autumn, it said that Mandarin “must be resolutely and fully implemented” for the three years of preschool, and then “promoted” from the first years of elementary and middle school “in order to realize the full coverage of the common language and writing system education.”
It also warned that any school which “plays politics” and refuses to implement the edict will be accused of being “two-faced” and shall be “severely punished”.
The national government in Beijing says it is attempting to introduce a “bilingual system” in the region’s schools to facilitate the dual use of both Mandarin and Uighur, but in practice schools in the region are being forced to be monolingual.
Uighur Muslims accused the regional government of breaking China’s own laws on the respect of ethnic minorities.
Under Articles 10 and 37 of the Chinese constitution, ethnic minorities have a right to preserve their own languages and traditions and students are supposed to be able “where possible [to] use textbooks in their own languages and use these languages as a media of instruction”.
The new policy is designed to “eradicate one of the most ancient Turkic languages in the world,” Ilshat Hassan, the president of the US-based Uighur American Association, said.
“By enforcing this new policy at the preschool level, the Chinese government intends to kill the Uighur language at the cradle.
“It is nothing short of cultural genocide. The international community must not allow China to destroy our beautiful language and culture, which has thrived for several millennia.”
Chinese authorities impose restrictions on Uighur Muslims in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
Rights groups accuse Chinese authorities of heavy-handed rule in Xinjiang, including violent police raids on Uighur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uighur people.
China regularly vows to crack down on what it calls the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism in Xinjiang.
But experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from Uighur separatists, and that domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence that has left hundreds dead since 2012.