Improvisation and hope in the face of assimilation: Mongolian identities in a changing China
China’s ideological transformation from a multi-ethnic nation to a unified Chinese state essentially consisting of one people speaking one language (Mandarin Chinese) has led to a significant shift in ethnic policies in the last few years. The arrival of assimilationist ethnic policies across frontier regions has begun to pose a serious threat to the maintenance of minority languages, cultures and identities, including those of Mongols in Inner Mongolia – an ethnic minority region in northern China. Against such backdrop, this project investigates the Mongolian linguistic and cultural activities organized by Mongol intelligentsia groups, including Mongolian speech contests, online poem recitation activities, weekly discussions at Mongolian book clubs, and cultural immersion tours in pastoral regions. It draws on traditional ethnographic methods and digital ethnography to shed light on the construction and performance of Mongolian ethnolinguistic and cultural identities. It also aims to understand how minority intellectuals negotiate the broader national discourses and policies. The project contributes to our understanding of indigenous knowledge production process and identity performance in the context of Chinese nation building as well as the shifting state-minority and centre-periphery relations. Further, it brings sociolinguistic and linguistic anthropological scholarship into a fruitful conversation with Chinese minority studies.