Inner Mongolia: Three Words in the Wake of a Broken Strike

For a few weeks in September, Inner Mongolia was in the news. In response to a new school policy, on paper fairly technical, Mongols in Inner Mongolia erupted in a social media storm, defending their mother tongue. The social media storm evolved into a student-teacher strike that rocked the region. The Inner Mongolian authorities had been trying to ease the policy in quietly, even covertly, and at first reacted with confusion and hesitation. Pushed into action by Beijing, they quickly rallied and moved into action, coaxing and corralling the students, teachers, and parents into line. Within a few weeks, at the cost of numerous arrests, firings, and up to eight suicides by Mongols caught between the demands of the power vertical and their sense of community responsibility, the strike was broken and the policy forced through. All is back to normal, at least on the surface. But the arguments that spilled out online remain with the questions the definition: what happened? And what did it mean? This talk will attempt to understand the rhetoric in terms of three contested terms.

About the speaker

Christopher P. Atwood (PhD 1994, Indiana University) is a professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania, where he teaches the history of Mongolia and the Inner Asian borderlands of China. He is the author of Young Mongols and Vigilantes in Inner Mongolia’s Interregnum Decades (2002), and Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire (2004).

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