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China bans book on early history of the Mongols

Communist Party disapproves of the book for allegedly not keeping up with the party's version of history and narratives
Protesters hold banners and wave the Mongolian flag during a protest in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, against Chinese policies in the neighboring Chinese province of Inner Mongolia on Oct. 1, 2020

Protesters hold banners and wave the Mongolian flag during a protest in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, against Chinese policies in the neighboring Chinese province of Inner Mongolia on Oct. 1, 2020. (Photo:AFP)

Published: September 06, 2023 06:36 AM GMT
Updated: September 06, 2023 09:50 AM GMT

A state-aligned association in China has banned a book on the early history of the Mongols, allegedly for not adhering to the narratives and policies propagated by the communist regime, which experts termed as “a concerted attack” on Mongolian identity.

The Inner Mongolian branch of the Books and Periodicals Distribution Association ordered the removal of the book titled: "A General History of the Mongols" by scholars in the Mongolian Studies department of the Inner Mongolia Institute of Education, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on Sept. 3.

The Aug. 25 order was issued citing “historical nihilism,” the report said, citing Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing Sing Tao Daily newspaper.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses the phrase “historical nihilism” to describe research, discussions, or viewpoints deemed to contradict an official state version of history in a manner perceived to question or challenge the legitimacy of the party.

Inner Mongolia in northern China is an autonomous region bordered by Mongolia and Russia. The region has an estimated population of 23 million. The majority are Han Chinese while ethnic Mongols are the largest minority group with about 20 percent.

Taiwan-based strategic analyst, Shih Chien-yu, told RFA that the book ban was a “general message” to a lot of Mongolian cadres in the Central Committee of the CCP.

The CCP has “a lot of Mongolian intellectuals and officials, while most of the ethnic minority intellectuals in the various central colleges and university-level schools for nationalities are Mongolian," Shih said.

"The main reason for banning the book is to warn them that they should [not] believe they still have any clout within the regime," Shih said.

Shih pointed out that the book ban was a clear message telling Mongolians to not “put up any resistance behind our [Chinese government’s] backs because we [the Chinese government] can take away your power at any time."

Reportedly, the book was earlier approved for circulation within China and was lauded as a work that connects Mongolian and Chinese history.

According to a Baidupedia entry, the book helped in "connecting the history of Mongolia from ancient times to the medieval period, making the history of Mongolia more complete.”

The book’s approach “can help the world better understand China's five thousand years of glorious history, strengthen the unity of the Chinese nation, and make Chinese culture and history more prosperous," the government-censor-approved entry said.

The book ban came after President Xi Jinping called for renewed efforts to boost a sense of Chinese national identity during a recent visit to the Xinjiang region, the home of the ethnic Uyghur minority.

Xi vowed to double down on China’s hardline policies toward the 11 million mostly Muslim Uyghurs, warning that "hard-won social stability" would remain the top priority, along with making everyone speak Mandarin rather than their own languages.

Analysts say his warnings apply to other regions.

"Forging a strong sense of community for the Chinese nation is a focus of .. all work in areas with large ethnic minority populations," Xi said in comments paraphrased by state media reports. 

Yang Haiying, a professor at Shizuoka University in Japan feels that the ban was unnecessary as the book is already nationalistic in tone and describes the Mongols as part of the Chinese nation.

"A lot of Mongolian scholars and Mongolians in general don't like this book because it describes the Mongols as a people of China," Yang said.

The dislike among Mongols towards the book is because they “have never considered themselves to be Chinese people," Yang said.

Yang pointed out that the ban comes as part of the authorities' increasing concern about the growing sense of Mongolian identity among the ethnic Mongols living in China.

“Nonetheless, the book is now considered to contribute to a pan-Mongolian identity because it didn't go far enough in making the Mongols appear to be historically part of the Chinese nation,” Yang said.

Pro-government individuals on the Chinese social media platform Weibo have backed the book ban and lashed out against the contents of the book.

"Criticizing the pan-Mongolian nationalist trend is conducive to #cultivating the consciousness of the Chinese national community," RFA reported a Weibo user as writing.

The Chinese regime has banned books and harassed and jailed historians and authors for not toeing the party line and criticizing the government.

In 2018, Chinese authorities detained Lhamjab A. Borjigin, a prominent Mongolian historian who gathered testimony of a historical genocide campaign by the CCP, RFA reported.

He was prosecuted on charges of separatism and was handed a one-year suspended jail term for "separatism" and "sabotaging national unity," and later released under ongoing surveillance.

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