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Genghis Khan turning in his grave as China targets Inner Mongolia

Updated October 17, 2020 23:23 IST
Genghis Khan Mongol
A steel statue of Mongolian warrior Genghis Khan in Tsonjin Boldog, Mongolia

The exhibition ‘Son of heaven and the steppes — Genghis Khan and the birth of the Mongol empire’ was to get inaugurated at the museum of the Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne in the French city of Nantes Saturday.

It had taken many years of hard work from the authorities at the Nantes History Museum to finally bring the exhibition project to France in partnership with Edinburgh-based organizers Nomad Exhibitions and the Inner Mongolia Museum in Hohhot, the capital of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in northern China.

“This blockbuster exhibition is the most comprehensive introduction to Genghis Khan and the Mongol empire ever presented internationally. Through a fascinating collection of treasures, the exhibition travels through the extraordinary achievements and legacy of the Great Mongol Khans, exploring how Genghis and his successors united the warring tribes of the steppes and went on to control a vast empire which, at its height, stretched from the Pacific Ocean to central Europe,” Nomad said about the exhibition.

However, earlier this week, to the shock and disbelief of the art lovers, the museum announced that the exhibition has been postponed until 2024 as the Chinese Cultural Affairs Bureau came up with a sudden set of demands, including the change in exhibition’s title and removal of words “Genghis Khan,” “empire” and “Mongol.”

Bertrand Guillet, Director of the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany, Nantes History Museum, explained it in detail, underlining that the postponement was “due to the hardening of the Chinese government’s stance this summer against the Mongolian minority.”

“Initially, this hardening had the effect on our project of an injunction from the central Chinese authorities to remove from the exhibition elements of vocabulary—the words ‘Genghis Khan’, ‘Empire’ and ‘Mongol’. Then in a second step, at the end of the summer, an announcement of modification of the content of the exhibition accompanied by a request for control of all our productions—texts, maps, catalog, communication—were made. The proposed new synopsis, written by the Beijing heritage office, applied as a censorship to the initial project, includes elements of biased rewriting aimed at making Mongolian history and culture completely disappear for the benefit of a new national story,” said Guillet in a statement.

The museum said that it took the decision to stop the production in the name of the “human, scientific and ethical values” that the institution always batted for.

In a country where the Foreign Ministry comments about South Korean boy band Bangtan Boys, as it was highlighted by IndiaNarrative.com last week, the name of a 13th century warrior and founder of the Mongol empire has also been included in the long list of words which have offended the Xi Jinping regime.

Perhaps while the world has focused on Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet, the plight of Mongolian minority in China has still not been highlighted as much as it should really have been.

The first step, just like it has been witnessed in Xinjiang and Tibet, is by dealing a death blow to the ethnic minority schools in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. The Chinese government had on August 31 earlier this year, announced its new policy of replacing Mongolian with Mandarin Chinese as the language of instruction in Inner Mongolia schools. While a similar strategy has been implemented in Xinjiang and Tibet since 2017, the government announced usage of a “unified Chinese” textbook in six provinces and autonomous regions including Inner Mongolia starting this fall. Quoting general secretary Xi several times, the announcement  made it clear that the “teaching materials reflect the will of the party and the country.”

Inner Mongolia
Foreign language is a tool, own language is soul (Image courtesy: Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center)

Many fear that under the garb of using the national common language for teaching, the authoritarian regime will relegate Mongolian language and ultimately wipe it off completely. International media has reported widespread school boycotts and various protests breaking out throughout Inner Mongolia with the Chinese authorities detaining many Mongolian activists.

“As in Xinjiang and Tibet, the Chinese authorities appear to be putting political imperatives ahead of educational ones. While Mongolian students are being told they’ll still have some classes in Mongolian, their concerns about it being phased out are entirely warranted,” says Sophie Richardson, the China director at Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organization headquartered in New York City, which conducts research and advocacy on human rights.

Anyone who campaigns for mother-tongue education or criticizes the ethnic minority language policies, is detained just like it happened with the Tibetan language rights activist Tashi Wangchuk in 2018 who was sentenced to five years in prison for “inciting separatism.”

Maybe, just maybe, after what happened at Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne on the right bank of Loire River, the world would—after Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet—also start focusing now on the human rights abuses taking place in Inner Mongolia. Thanks to Genghis Khan!

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