Resisting Chinese Linguistic Imperialism: Abduweli Ayup and the Movement for Uyghur Mother Tongue-Based Education

May 16, 2019

For immediate release

May 16, 2019 9:45am EST

Contact: Uyghur Human Rights Project +1 (202) 478 1920

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) has published a new special report: Resisting Chinese Linguistic Imperialism: Abduweli Ayup and the Movement for Uyghur Mother Tongue-Based Education. The report focuses on the Chinese government’s deliberate campaign to marginalize the Uyghur language in the Uyghur homeland. Motivated by a combination of geopolitical ambition and policies to eradicate the ethnic identity of the Uyghur people, the Chinese authorities are removing the relevance of Uyghur from the education system and public life.

The report includes a section on the struggles of Uyghur scholar and linguist Abduweli Ayup to protect the Uyghur language from state erasure through grassroots initiatives. The account of Abduweli’s life, including his unjust imprisonment for his efforts, illustrate the extent to which Chinese officials will go to ensure a Uyghur-led definition of identity and language is unable to flourish in the Uyghur homeland. Upon publication of the report, Abdulweli Ayup said in a statement:

This special report will be of interest to academics, human rights activists, and ethnic minority communities of East Turkestan, who are concerned with language maintenance and resisting Chinese linguistic imperialism. By piecing together evidence from a variety of sources, UHRP has demonstrated how the CCP’s [Chinese Communist Party] campaign to achieve Mandarin language assimilation includes a shift from tolerance to the prohibition of minority languages indigenous to East Turkestan. This report also contains my authorized biography to date, where readers can learn about my experience in setting up schools that provided mother tongue-based multilingual education. Although scholars support this mode of education, which builds upon the linguistic repertoire and cultural knowledge of students, the CCP terminated my schools because they conflicted with the Chinese government’s imperative to eradicate markers of ethnic minority identity.

I hope that ethnic minority communities in East Turkestan actualize the recommendations made in this report, to form a strong family language policy, so that Uyghur and other non-Mandarin indigenous languages are maintained. The CCP is making every effort to erase our culture. This report serves as documentation of this effort and provides guidance on resisting the Chinese government’s attempt at linguicide.

Chinese officials have portrayed the Uyghur language as incompatible with modernity. Following a pattern of broader development policy that has promoted the adoption of Han civilization as central to modernization, China has moved to diminish the status of the Uyghur language in society.

Demonstrating the long-term aim to undermine the Uyghur language, in 2002, former Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) Party Secretary Wang Lequan commented:

“The languages of the minority nationalities have very small capacities and do not contain many of the expressions in modern science and technology, which makes education in these concepts impossible. This is out of step with the 21st Century.”

This UHRP special report includes an extensive set of recommendations for the survival of the Uyghur language in the face of damaging Chinese state policies that places Uyghur people at the center: “When a heritage language is maligned as having low status and value, or stigmatized through association with criminality, the family domain would appear to be the final safe space for intergenerational transmission.”

Acknowledging the efforts of Uyghurs to ensure a future for spoken and written Uyghur, the report author adds: “With the CCP campaign of Chinese linguistic imperialism in East Turkestan, individuals and collectives among the Uyghur diaspora must be celebrated for their efforts to maintain the intergenerational transmission of Uyghur language and culture.”

This research continues UHRP’s reporting on Uyghurs’ linguistic rights following the publication of Uyghur Voices on Education: China’s Assimilative ‘Bilingual Education’ Policy in East Turkestan in 2015 and Uyghur Language Under Attack: The Myth of “Bilingual” Education in the People’s Republic of China in 2007.

Uyghur Human Rights Project report by Henryk Szadziewski. Download the full report in English here.

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