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Language Education Policies in Southwest China

The application of language education policy in southwest China is mainly about the protection and improvement of local minority languages. There are over 120 minority languages in China now, and among all these minority languages, about 20 of them are spoken by less than1000 people, except Hui and Man speak Han Chinese (Sun, 2001). Most of the population in southwest China is composed of minorities, especially in Guizhou, Xinjiang, Yunnan and Tibet. In recent years, the promotion of Mandarin Chinese in this area has not succeeded as compared with other areas, because minority languages are strong. As for helping these often impoverished areas to develop their educational system, the Chinese government creates an aid form called “counterpart aid” through insistent investigations. Counterpart aid is an aid form that is organized by the central government, establishing a stable relationship in relative organizations and schools between developed and underdeveloped regions, to boost the educational development in the latter.. As an important element of this counterpart aid form, in recent years, the Chinese government has started the Inner High School program for minority students. The government holds examinations to select middle school students from different minority areas to send to better high schools in more developed inner China cities with full financial support. Yet the government also shows respect to their local language during the aid. For example, in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the official language is Uyghur- it appears on official bank notes together with Tibetan, Mongolian and Zhuang. Xinjiang Reigion has Uyghur-language-based public schools and Uyghur media, and this language policy is also applied to other minorities in Xinjiang. There are also various social policies that give all minorities privilege over Mandarin.

Another example is Yunnan: a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual province in Southwest China with 25 minority groups with a population over 5000. Each group has their own language except Hui, Man and Shui, the other 22 minorities speak 28 local languages in total. These minorities will also need to learn Mandarin, and even a third language, like English. Minority students in Yunnan will choose different languages in their daily communication.according to many factors that have influence on the choice of language: gender, grade, living milieu, nationality of father, educational background of mother, language learning modes before college and number of friends from one’s own ethnic group. Their native language is frequently used at home, while Mandarin and local dialect are mostly used in public, especially in reading and writing activities. Within this big language circle, Mandarin ranks top for its position, function and prospect, which is also one result of the national emphasis on it in China.

The government is trying to implement bilingual education in Yunnan province, which focuses on both the local language and Mandarin, students have to go classes related to local culture with the instruction in local language and other national or international classes with the instruction in Mandarin. However, Bilingual education in Yunnan is now facing a big problem: the lack of professional bilingual teachers. According to the analysis of Department of Education in Yunnan Province (2005), the number of teachers in elementary schools who are bilingual only orally is 10635, the number of teachers who are bilingual both orally and written is 2301, which only accounts for 5.6% of the total number of elementary school teachers. (See Multiculturalism, Multilingual Education, Mother Tongue Instruction.)

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Adamson, B. & Feng, A.W.(2009). A comparison of trilingual education policies for ethnic minorities in China. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education. 39(3).

Dai, X. J. (2010). Research on the Educational Counterpart Aid Policy in Poverty-stricken Nation Areas--A case study of Meng Hai County in Yunnan province (Master’s thesis, Xinan University). (in Chinese) 民族贫困地区教育对口支援政策研究—以云南省勐海县为例Retrieved from

Sun, H. K. (2001). On the endangered languages in China. Language Teaching and Linguistic Studies. 23(1) 

Wang, Y. X. & Phillion, J. (2009). Minority language policy and practice in China: The need for multicultural education. International Journal of Multicultural Education. 11(1).

Xu, T. X. (2013). Analysis of Regional Language Policy in China (Master’s thesis, Nanjing University). (in Chinese) 中国的区域语言政策分析Retrieved from

Yang, Y. (2013). Research on Ethnic Identity and Language Attitudes of Minority College Students in Yunnan (Doctoral dissertation, Shanghai International Studies University). (in Chinese) 云南少数民族大学生民族认同与语言态度研究Retrieved from

曾满超, 杨崇龙, & 邱林. (2005). 云南少数民族教育: 发展, 挑战和政策. 云南教育 (视界综合版)1(2). pp.2-3

云南省教育厅 (2005) 《云南省少数民族双语教学情况调研报告》



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This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as


Zhu, Z. (2013). Language Education Policies in Southwest China. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date). 

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