Parents walked toward a wall of metal barriers, holding the hands of their first-graders as dozens of police and men in dark clothes watched and scowled in the afternoon light. One by one, mothers and fathers let their children go into an elementary school that seemed more ominous than it did the year before.
A grandfather stood behind a tree with tears in his eyes as students filed through metal detectors, red scarves tied around their necks, and climbed the steps toward their classrooms. “All ethnic groups must embrace tightly like the seeds of a pomegranate,” read a slogan from Chinese President Xi Jinping printed in Mandarin on the wall.
“They are talking about great ethnic unity. Is this what unity looks like?” said the Mongol grandfather, who did not give his name. He and his wife, Ochir Bao, a woman in her 60s, had come to this school — Hohhot National Experimental School, an elementary school in the region’s capital with mostly Mongol students — to watch their grandson go to class against his will.