I was unpleasantly reminded of the Soweto uprising of 1976 in South Africa by a recent article discussing China's crackdown on the Mongol language and culture.
Chinese authorities are searching for protesters in Inner Mongolia after a new policy aimed at pushing Mandarin-language education across the region sparked widespread unrest among the country’s ethnic Mongols, with many angered by what they saw as a move to erase their culture.
Thousands of students in Inner Mongolia have taken to the streets during the past week to rally against the government’s three-year plan to push Mandarin-language education across the northern region and phase out local history, literature and ethnic textbooks in favor of national coursebooks, according to rights group Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center.
Parents are also refusing to send their children to school in defiance of the new policy, said the New York-based human-rights center in a report earlier this week, while unverified videos of demonstrators protesting outside schools have circulated on Chinese social media.
Under President Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party has intensified efforts to promote Mandarin and push the country’s ethnic minorities to adopt a uniform Chinese identity.
There's more at the link, although the article may disappear behind a paywall.
What's the connection between China in 2020, and South Africa in 1976? It's all about language and culture.
The Soweto uprising was a series of demonstrations and protests led by black school children in South Africa that began on the morning of 16 June 1976.
Students from numerous Sowetan schools began to protest in the streets of Soweto in response to the introduction of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in local schools. It is estimated that 20,000 students took part in the protests. They were met with fierce police brutality and many were shot and killed. The number of people killed in the uprising is usually given as 176, but estimates of up to 700 have been made.
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For the state the uprising marked the most fundamental challenge yet to apartheid and the economic (see below) and political instability it caused was heightened by the strengthening international boycott. It was a further 14 years before Nelson Mandela was released, but at no point was the state able to restore the relative peace and social stability of the early 1970s as black resistance grew.
Again, more at the link.
The Chinese government doubtless thinks that because Han Chinese are the biggest ethnic and cultural group in the country (about 92% of the population), it can use them to dominate and suppress all others. The trouble is, one is dealing with numbers so great as to dwarf the imagination. The Mongol cultural group in China may be only about 5.8 million strong, but if even 1% of that number becomes sufficiently radicalized to fight back, that's tens of thousands of potential insurgents. Add to that the other minority ethnic groups in China, all of which are under similar repression by Han Chinese language and culture (see, for example, the Uighur concentration camps), and one has the potential for real disruption.
It's instructive to compare what happened to two other nations when their central governments tried to impose their respective visions of ethnicity and the state. In South Africa, the apartheid government tried to forcibly divide the nation along the lines of tribal groups, establishing so-called "Bantustans" for the larger tribes and seeking to force their members to be citizens of their "homeland" rather than the nation as a whole. This policy met with massive resistance; and when apartheid collapsed, the result was that everyone who had been "forced apart" demanded to come together into a central, unified nation. That was actually a pretty bad choice, from an ethnic perspective: South Africa to this day has eleven official languages, making for huge bureaucratic headaches to manage translation between them and running the country with due allowance for all of them. Nevertheless, that was the result. Remember Newton's third law of motion? "Every action has an equal and opposite reaction." In political terms, push people apart hard enough for long enough, and they'll rush back together as soon as the pressure is removed.
In the former Soviet Union, the opposite problem was seen. Moscow implemented centralized rule over all the nations that made up the Union. The Russian language was imposed on all other ethnicities; administration was centralized in Moscow, and regional governments were forced to hew to the Moscow line; and any political leaders who wanted to get anywhere in their own states were forced to conduct themselves like "Russians in miniature" in order to get Moscow's permission to run things locally. Deviation was met with at best suspicion, at worst imprisonment or death. Thus, when the Soviet Union collapsed, the "equal and opposite reaction" in political terms was that most of the minor nations that had been forced into the Union demanded their independence. They almost all went their own way, so that we have today the many "Stans" of central Asia, Ukraine, Byelorussia, and many other former Soviet states that regard Moscow with suspicion and don't want to risk losing their "independence" - such as it is - to a resurgent Russia.
In South Africa, pressure to separate eventually forced a stronger, greater union. In the Soviet Union, pressure to unite eventually forced the breakaway of those who did not want to be forcibly united. Equal and opposite reactions, in both cases. Will the same thing happen in China? I guess the Chinese government and Communist Party think they have sufficient centralized power, and sufficient Han Chinese ethnic dominance, that they can ride roughshod over all objections. Trouble is, that ignores the lessons of history. Even the greatest Chinese imperial dynasties eventually collapsed. If history is any indication, sooner or later the same will happen to the current Communist Party dynasty there.
Will ethnic oppression hasten that day? My experience in South Africa leads me to believe that it will. We'll have to wait and see . . .