Mongolian books face ban as part of China’s ‘cultural genocide’

Mongolian books face ban as part of China’s ‘cultural genocide’

A disturbing campaign to erase ethnic identity

by Suswati Basu
1 comment

In a troubling episode indicative of China’s strict censorship rules, the world was recently reminded of the country’s relentless efforts to suppress voices that diverge from the official party line. Mongolian literature, long treasured for its rich cultural heritage, has become the latest casualty in Beijing’s campaign to assert control over ethnic Mongolians’ identity. Chinese authorities banned “A General History of the Mongols,” a significant work on the history of the Mongol people, invoking the term “historical nihilism” to justify their actions.

Historical nihilism and Inner Mongolia

Historical nihilism, a nebulous concept in Chinese politics, essentially denotes a version of history that contradicts the sanctioned narrative of the Chinese Communist Party. The ban on this book, which has been in circulation for nearly two decades, represents a concerted effort by Beijing to exert dominance over Inner Mongolia, a semi-autonomous region within China.

Read: Book bans and literary censorship: how US is following in footsteps of Russia

In September, directives were issued to remove “A General History of the Mongols” from shelves by scholars affiliated with the Mongolian Studies department at the Inner Mongolia Institute of Education, as reported by the pro-Beijing Sing Tao Daily newspaper. This ban is just one facet of a broader initiative by Chinese authorities in Inner Mongolia that extends to what is taught in classrooms, prompting concerns among advocates and experts about the preservation of Mongolian culture, books and language.

China imposed a ban on Mongolian language usage in schools and books

According to a directive from the Inner Mongolian branch of the government-backed Books and Periodicals Distribution Association on August 25th, members were instructed to cease the distribution of the book. The directive also urged adherence to the “correct [Chinese Communist] Party historical perspective” and unwavering opposition to historical nihilism.

Xi Jinping’s strategy for a national identity

This wave of cultural suppression in Inner Mongolia is part of a larger strategy spearheaded by President Xi Jinping to foster a unified national identity across diverse ethnic regions in China. President Xi’s recent visit to Xinjiang in the northwest region underscored his commitment to imposing hardline policies, particularly regarding language, on the predominantly Muslim Uyghur population. The intention is clear: to prioritise social stability and the promotion of Mandarin over regional languages, a move that appears to extend to other minority regions as well.

SMHRIC statement at UNPFII 22nd Session, where issue of Mongolian language, culture and books facing ban was raised by director Enghebatu Togochog.

International concerns and repression

The Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC), based in New York, has voiced concerns about these developments. In response to the changes in education, a Mongolian resident named Mandaa lamented to SMHRIC, “No class is taught in Mongolian for Mongolian students anymore.” Another parent in a WeChat discussion group accused the Chinese Ministry of Education of spreading misinformation and brainwashing Mongolians, revealing that all subjects are now being taught exclusively in Chinese.

Enghebatu Togochog, director of the SMHRIC, stressed the gravity of the situation, stating, “China is a genocide machine that is committing multiple genocides on multiple fronts in front of the eyes of the international community. Uyghurs are subjected to physical genocide while Mongolians and Tibetans are subjected to cultural genocide. The goals of these genocides are the same: wipe out our nations and peoples and create a homogenous Chinese society.”

Mongolian books ban by China
Director of Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center Enghebatu Togochog called the books ban a “cultural genocide” on Twitter/X.

Extrajudicial arrest of Mongolian writer

These disturbing developments are not isolated incidents. According to SMHRIC, on May 3rd, Chinese authorities arrested prominent Southern Mongolian writer Lhamjab Borjigin in Mongolia, an independent country. Following his arrest, Borjigin was swiftly deported back to China, where he faced threats and harassment directed at his family members.

“My family members told me that an army of police and security personnel are visiting my family and pressuring them to bring me back.”

Lhamjab Borjigin, CITED BY ‘The Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center

Borjigin had previously informed SMHRIC that Chinese authorities were intimidating his family members in Southern Mongolia, pressuring them to facilitate his return. In an audio message, he revealed the troubling extent of these efforts, saying, “They are claiming to come to Mongolia with my daughter and bring me back.”

Transnational repression and erasure

In response to the arrest, Talita Pessoa, program director at PEN America’s PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Center, condemned the action, stating, “We are deeply concerned about the increasingly aggressive measures the Chinese government has taken against writers and advocates for the Mongolian language and cultural expression, amid its policies to forcibly assimilate minorities into the majority Han Chinese culture and language.” She highlighted how these measures infringe upon fundamental rights protected by both Chinese and international law, including freedom of opinion, cultural expression, and education.

“It also represents a failure by the international community and democratic countries to protect the rights of writers, artists, journalists, and other dissidents in exile against transnational repression.”

Talita Pessoa, PEN/BARBEY Freedom To WRite Center PRogram Director

Pessoa further emphasised the gravity of Borjigin’s arrest, especially considering his advanced age, remarking, “The arrest on Mongolian soil and immediate deportation of Borjigin back to China, at 80 years old, is especially egregious and illustrates the Chinese government’s repeated commitment to silence, harass, and threaten dissident voices beyond its national borders.” She also noted that this incident underscores a failure on the part of the international community and democratic countries to protect the rights of writers, artists, journalists, and other dissidents in exile against transnational repression.

She also called upon Chinese authorities to take immediate action, stating, “We call on Chinese authorities to immediately release Borjigin – and all those unjustly detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and culture; and on the international community to forcefully defend against acts of transnational repression, protecting the rights of those who come to their countries seeking refuge from repressive governments.” This statement underscores the urgent need for global solidarity in safeguarding the rights of individuals facing persecution for their beliefs and expressions.

Consequently, as China continues to tighten its grip on ethnic minorities and their cultural expressions, the world watches with growing concern, questioning the fate of these diverse and ancient traditions in the face of an unrelenting campaign of cultural suppression.

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