UHRP: Resisting Chinese Linguistic Imperialism: Abduweli Ayup and the Movement for Uyghur Mother Tongue-Based Education

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) has published a new special report: Resisting Chinese Linguistic Imperialism: Abduweli Ayup and the Movement for Uyghur Mother Tongue-Based Education. The report focuses on the Chinese government’s deliberate campaign to marginalize the Uyghur language in the Uyghur homeland. Motivated by a combination of geopolitical ambition and policies to eradicate the ethnic identity of the Uyghur people, the Chinese authorities are removing the relevance of Uyghur from the education system and public life.

The report includes a section on the struggles of Uyghur scholar and linguist Abduweli Ayup to protect the Uyghur language from state erasure through grassroots initiatives. The account of Abduweli’s life, including his unjust imprisonment for his efforts, illustrate the extent to which Chinese officials will go to ensure a Uyghur-led definition of identity and language is unable to flourish in the Uyghur homeland. Upon publication of the report, Abdulweli Ayup said in a statement:

This special report will be of interest to academics, human rights activists, and ethnic minority communities of East Turkestan, who are concerned with language maintenance and resisting Chinese linguistic imperialism. By piecing together evidence from a variety of sources, UHRP has demonstrated how the CCP’s [Chinese Communist Party] campaign to achieve Mandarin language assimilation includes a shift from tolerance to the prohibition of minority languages indigenous to East Turkestan. This report also contains my authorized biography to date, where readers can learn about my experience in setting up schools that provided mother tongue-based multilingual education. Although scholars support this mode of education, which builds upon the linguistic repertoire and cultural knowledge of students, the CCP terminated my schools because they conflicted with the Chinese government’s imperative to eradicate markers of ethnic minority identity.

I hope that ethnic minority communities in East Turkestan actualize the recommendations made in this report, to form a strong family language policy, so that Uyghur and other non-Mandarin indigenous languages are maintained. The CCP is making every effort to erase our culture. This report serves as documentation of this effort and provides guidance on resisting the Chinese government’s attempt at linguicide.

Chinese officials have portrayed the Uyghur language as incompatible with modernity. Following a pattern of broader development policy that has promoted the adoption of Han civilization as central to modernization, China has moved to diminish the status of the Uyghur language in society.

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