China will “unswervingly” stick to the promotion of Mandarin for ethnic minorities, the government said on Tuesday of a policy that has ignited sporadic protests, and will also step up protection for threatened tongues on the verge of extinction.
Language politics have long been tricky in China, especially in restive minority areas like Tibet and Xinjiang where non-Chinese languages are widely spoken and have official support including being taught in school.
The pushing of bilingual education in Tibetan regions has set off protests in recent years, though many parents also want their children to learn Mandarin to improve their job prospects.
The government has pushed Mandarin for decades to give a common means of communication in a country where thousands of Chinese dialects and many dozen non-Chinese languages like Tibetan and Uighur are spoken.
In a lengthy policy document mapping out development goals for ethnic minority regions over the next five years, the central government said it would promote teaching in Mandarin.
“Fully promote and spread the national common language and script,” the government said, referring also to the use of the simplified Chinese script officially used in China.
“Raise the ability and level of ethnic minority students to grasp and use the national common language and script.”
Focus must be put on areas with limited Chinese abilities, it added, without naming any locations.
Help to save minority languages
The government also pledged help for threatened tongues.
“Increase efforts to protect ethnic minority languages in imminent danger,” it said.
The United Nations estimates more than 100 languages in China are at risk of dying out, including Manchu, mother tongue of the country's last emperor, as Mandarin takes over.