Tibetans in Chengdu Call for Bilingual Education for Their Children

Emphasis on Mandarin Chinese in Sichuan's provincial capital forces children back to their villages if they want to study Tibetan.

A poster in China calls for study of the Tibetan language in a file photo.

Tibetan children living in the capital of southwest China’s Sichuan province are being denied the right to an education in their own language, and facilities should be created as soon as possible to provide instruction in both Tibetan and Chinese, a prominent Tibetan educator living in Chengdu says.

Writing in a memo submitted to a January meeting of the regional Chinese People’s Consultative Congress (CPCC), CPCC regional committee member and professor at Sichuan Teachers University Dolkar Kyi said that about 2,000 Tibetan children of school age now live in Chengdu.

“[However], no school in Chengdu at present teaches in the Tibetan language, and all Tibetan children are taught in Chinese as the sole medium of instruction,” said Kyi, whose proposal was later posted to the internet on Jan. 11 and circulated widely on social-media blogs and chat rooms.

“For now, Tibetan parents who want to educate their children in the Tibetan language have no option but to send them back to their hometowns,” she said.

Tibetan families living in Chengdu have tried for years without success to set up courses for their children taught in their native language, Kyi said, adding that China’s constitution guarantees protections for “the equal treatment of [minority] nationalities, and for equality among languages.”

“As other minority nationalities such as the [Chinese Muslim] Hui have been accorded this right to bilingual education, it is also hoped that Tibetans may gain the same rights from China’s central government,” she said.

A central destination

Speaking to RFA’s Tibetan Service, a Tibetan businessman living in Chengdu said the city has now become a central destination for commerce, tourism, medical care, and business for residents of Tibetan prefectures in Sichuan, with an estimated 100,000 Tibetans now living in Chengdu.

“But there is no school teaching in the Tibetan language in Chengdu,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Most Tibetan children here speak only in Chinese, and this has forced concerned parents to send their children back to their native areas to learn their own language,” he said.

Writers, singers, and artists promoting Tibetan national identity and culture have frequently been detained by Chinese authorities, with many handed long jail terms, following region-wide protests against Chinese rule that swept Tibetan areas of China in 2008.

Language rights have become a particular focus for Tibetan efforts to assert national identity in recent years, with informally organized language courses typically deemed “illegal associations” and teachers subject to detention and arrest, sources say.

Reported by Guru Choegyi for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.