2. The Power of Chinese Linguistic Imperialism and Its Challenge to Multicultural Education
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Introduction: Linguistic Trends and Protests China is a multilingual society and has practiced multilingual teaching for many years; this is likely to continue. The fifty-five recognized minorities in the PRC use more than 120 different languages (Sun 2004). The expansion of Chinese state power and the power of the market into all corners of China, however, has resulted in a dramatic spread of Putonghua across China, which has slowly diluted the prominence of minority languages. There now seems to be a tendency towards the strengthening of Putonghua,2 as indicated by a number of factors:the decline in the use of minority languages (for example, Tibetan was the most commonly used language in Tibet through the 1980s, but now it is second to Putonghua in many communities); the increasing use of Putonghua as an official teaching language in minority areas; the use of Putonghua in official meetings involving minorities; and the lack of incentives for those Han Chinese who work in minority areas to study minority languages (See Evans 2010; Feng 2009; Lin 1997). In 1992, the PRC Ministry of Education issued the Method for Practicing HSK [Chinese proficiency test] in National Minorities Schools to standardize the test for non-Chinese speakers, and in 1997 the Education Commission issued another official document on trial implementation of the HSK in national minority schools (cf. Bilik, this volume). This trend has been met with a series of protests from a variety of sources, including language groups that are tied to ethnic and religious minority communities on China’s periphery and urban, middle-class Han in some of China’s most developed cities. In July 2010 a political advisory body in Guangzhou sparked 2 The Power of Chinese Linguistic Imperialism and Its Challenge to Multicultural Education He Baogang1 46 He Baogang a backlash when it suggested greater use of Putonghua instead of Cantonese in the lead-up to the Asian Games. Protests on August 1, 2010, in Hong Kong and Guangzhou attracted more than one thousand participants, who angrily chanted slogans opposing any attempts to dilute the local use of Cantonese (Hui 2010). In October of the same year, more than one thousand Tibetans in Qinghai protested against reports that the government was planning to put into place policies that would limit the use of the Tibetan language in schools by teaching all subjects except for English and Tibetan in Putonghua.3 The European Parliament has supported Tibetans in defending the status of their language. It adopted a resolution in support of a language policy in which all subjects can be taught in the Tibetan language and condemned the Chinese government for its use of Putonghua as the main medium of instruction in Tibet.4 Uyghur resistance to monolingual education has been particularly strong.5 Often scholars and commentators look at European linguistic practices and theory for inspiration and as a benchmark when evaluating Chinese linguistic policy. Within Europe, states have developed policies to promote teaching in the mother tongue with the aim of increasing student attendance and classroom participation . In this framework, concerns about language justice override concerns about the economic utility of the language of classroom instruction; education in one’s mother tongue is seen as a human right. In this view, linguistic diversity is similar to biodiversity—some languages are endangered and require protection if they are not to become extinct. The preservation of linguistic diversity is seen as an indicator of social justice (Skutnabb-Kangas et al. 2009; Mohanty 2009; Perez 2009). In Europe, generally speaking, the issue of linguistic preservation is not primarily tied to claims for political independence, although perhaps the Basque case is an exception. In contrast, China’s language practices and policies have been shaped by the dominance of the Han script (Hanzi 漢字) and the state’s desire to create and maintain Great Unity (da yitong 大一同) built on linguistic imperialism. In China, the principle of Great Unity is the first priority and language policy follows this principle. Linguistic justice is a secondary consideration when compared to the goal of national unity and development. For example, Ma Rong, a professor at Peking University, remarked that the death of a minority language might be a good thing, as it contributes to social stability.6 The Power of Chinese Linguistic Imperialism and Its Challenge 47 In this chapter, I employ a historical approach with a focus on the Chinesebased experience. A long-term historical perspective makes it possible to trace the history of the Chinese linguistic world...