Assimilationist China removes Tibetan, Uyghur from two online language and learning apps

Representational image.

(, Nov03’21) – After making Mandarin the only medium of instruction for children of all ages across the country, including even for preschoolers, under an Aug 2 directive from the ministry of education, language learning app Talkmate and the online video streaming site Bilibili have removed Tibetan and Uyghur languages from their platforms, citing Chinese government policy, reported Nov 2. The moves are clearly part of President Xi Jinping’s call for sweeping Sinicization of the ethnic minority regions across the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

The latest move reflects the shift of the Communist Party of China (CPC) toward a more assimilationist stance on linguistic and ethnic diversity, the report noted.

The report said that on Oct 29, Talkmate’s Weibo account announced that Tibetan and Uyghur courses were indefinitely removed due to “government policies.” By Nov 1, the post itself was no longer available, it added.

Ironically, Talkmate prides itself on having been “selected by UNESCO to become the only application platform of World Atlas of Languages to promote […] multilingualism and linguistic diversity worldwide.” Its partnership, which dates back to 2016, was stated to have been updated ahead of the 2019 Year of Indigenous Languages.

“UNESCO, together with Talkmate, is committed to safeguard the world´s diverse linguistic, cultural and documentary heritage,” a UNESCO news brief on the partnership was quoted as having described Talkmate’s commitments and goals.

On Bilibili too, users were no longer able on Nov 1 to comment on videos using Tibetan or Uyghur script, while languages such as Hebrew, Russian, Thai, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese were permitted, the report said.

When one user tried to use Tibetan or Uyghur, the resulting error message read “评论内容包含敏感信息” (“Comment content contains sensitive information”), which commonly refers to politically-sensitive content, the report said.

The report noted that in Jan 2021, Shen Chunyao, head of the National People’s Congress’ Legislative Affairs Commission, stated that the use of minority languages in classrooms was “incompatible with the Chinese Constitution,” despite article four of the constitution guaranteeing all ethnic groups the “freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages.”

And in September, the National Ethnic Affairs Commission’s childhood development policy draft omitted that guarantee of language freedom and replaced it with the phrase “promoting the common national language.”

Assimilationist policy changes regarding minority languages demonstrate the arrival of “second-generation ethnic policies,” which promote ethnic unity over diversity and are being formally rolled out on a nationwide level, the report noted. 

In Xinjiang, the CPC campaign against the “three evils of terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism” conflates linguistic and cultural expression with national security threats.

In the network of mass internment camps reportedly housing over one million Uyghurs, detainees are forced to undergo intensive Mandarin language classes. Authorities have targeted and detained numerous Uyghur writers, translators, poets, and intellectuals in these camps, where some have subsequently died, the report said.

In Tibet, public signs and banners have officially imposed Chinese characters above Tibetan script, reversing a norm dating back to the 1980s. In 2015, Tibetan language-rights activist Tashi Wangchuk was arrested on charges of separatism, allegedly tortured during his two-year pre-trial detention, and remains under official surveillance since his release in Feb 2021, the report noted.


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