Language as Resistance Against Chinese Colonization in Southern Mongolia



Language is often a battleground in colonial settings. Southern Mongolia (often referred as “Inner Mongolia”) does not escape from this reality. Deniz Bodi describes the aftermath of massive protests that followed the People’s Republic of China’s decision to impose Mandarin in Mongolian schools as part of a Han-centric assimilationist agenda.

Bodi Funambulist 1
Premonition by Deniz Bodi (2023). Crows are tied to premonition and knowledge in Mongol cosmology. This crow faces a barren land looking back at the viewer, sharing a premonition of a possible future brought on by extraction and colonization. The painting’s muted and neutral tones signify it’s not a future set in stone, can we listen to the wisdom of crow?

In 2020, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) announced a new language policy targeting schools in Chinese-occupied Southern Mongolia. In essence, the policy was meant to change the language of instruction of “core subjects” from Mongolian to Mandarin. This policy was met with mass protests of approximately 300,000 people taking to the streets in opposition to the ongoing assimilationist agenda of the Chinese government. Demonstrations happened across the region, including the province’s capital city Hohhot.

Southern Mongolia is an autonomous region between China and Mongolia also known as “Inner Mongolia”—in this sinocentric referential, “Outer Mongolia” refers to the state of Mongolia. While Chinese occupation of Southern Mongolia involves a lengthy and complex history, the PRC has embarked on a multipronged effort to erase the nationhood and cultural distinctness of Southern Mongolians. Alongside other policies that deliberately dispossessed Mongols from their ancestral lands and pushed them into sedentary agricultural lifestyles (as opposed to traditional nomadic ways), this language policy poses a significant threat to the cultural survival of Mongols in the region.