Against the backdrop of the increasing disparities in urban and rural areas in China nowadays, this qualitative study explores trilingual education in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (IMAR), with a focus on the Mongolian language programme. Through a field trip to five primary and secondary schools, interviews and class observation reveal that students are highly motivated in conducting their primary and lower secondary schooling through Mongolian, due to the high utilitarian value associated with Mongolian. Preferential policies make it possible to maximise the chance of academic advancement, career prospects and possible social upward mobility for learners of Mongolian. However, the dominant positions of Mandarin as the national common language and English as a lingua franca in schools with admirable academic quality restrict the ability to convert the linguistic capital of Mongolian into other forms of capital outside of Inner Mongolia. The study reveals that the problems and difficulties of Mongolian language education in compact ethnic minority regions tend to be the same as those faced by other Chinese rural schools. The marginalisation of a minority language is examined in relation to fast-paced urbanisation; changes would require institutional support to enhance the symbolic value of the ethnic minority language.