Mandarin lessons in Xinjiang ‘help fight terrorism’

I’ve heard a lot of taglines to promote language learning, but “Fight Terrorism: Learn Chinese” is up there with the best of them.

Teaching Mandarin to students in the remote Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region was helping the fight against terrorism, chairman of the autonomous region Nur Bekri said.

“Terrorists from neighboring countries mainly target Uygurs that are relatively isolated from mainstream society as they cannot speak Mandarin. They are then tricked into terrorist activities,” Bekri said.

The remote Chinese region has a population of just over 20 million, with the majority being minority groups including Uygur and Khazak, who do not speak Mandarin natively.  Bilingual education has been encouraged since 2002, and Mandarin is taught in pre-schools and kindergartens so children will be more able to cope with being schooled in a second language later on.

But foreign media have criticized the policy, in which Mandarin is used as the language of instruction and minority languages are taught as a subject.

Bekri said there had been demand for Mandarin language lessons from ethnic minority students who wanted to be able to communicate with other Chinese.

He made it clear that these students had not been compelled to learn the language, but that they saw it as a desirable skill.

“The students have benefited from mastering Mandarin. We are making our best effort to create opportunities and an environment for them to learn the language,” Bekri said.

“We don’t need to force them.”

Students and parents of students interviewed for the article recognise the importance of learning such an influential language, and don’t see it diminishing their own cultures.  In one case, a man thought that it would help his people promote their culture.

I think as long as this is a case of promoting bilingualism for its merits, and not a major language and culture stamping out smaller ones, it’s all for the good.

Full article from China Daily.