The Tibetan and Chinese languages will now be given equal status in Rebgong (in Chinese, Tongren) county in Qinghai’s Malho (Huangnan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture after a storm of protest erupted online following a local hotel’s attempt to prevent Tibetan workers from speaking their native tongue.
In a Jan. 11 notice written in Chinese, county authorities have directed government offices, schools, and state-owned businesses to use both Tibetan and Chinese on official seals, signboards, letterhead, and other forms of communication.
According to the notice, a copy of which was obtained by RFA, the Tibetan language will also be given prominence in some cases, for example when used on a signboard or official letter. The notice also instructs people to print Tibetan and Chinese characters in the same size.
It was not immediately clear whether the new directive is intended also to apply to private businesses or shops.
The government action comes after the Shang Yon hotel in Rebgong on Jan. 7 forbade Tibetan workers from speaking their own language on the job, threatening them with a 500 yuan (U.S. $76 approx.) fine for noncompliance, according to social media accounts.
The rule was quickly reversed when local authorities ordered the hotel temporarily closed after Tibetans furiously complained in social media postings at this intrusion on their rights, sources on the popular social media platform WeChat said.
There was also little support for the hotel’s move among Han Chinese, with many taking to the Internet to back Tibetans in the dispute.
On Jan. 8, the hotel released a public apology to the Tibetan community, saying that its actions had breached cultural privileges guaranteed by China’s policy on so-called minority nationality groups.
While the hotel rescinded its order, the local government order that went into effect on Jan. 13 appears to go further, as it would apply to more than just the hotel.
Tibetans have long complained about eroding religious, cultural, and linguistic traditions in Tibetan-populated regions of China, and language rights have become a focal point as Tibetans struggle to reassert their national identity, sources say.
On Nov. 9, 2012, several thousand students in Rebgong took to the streets to demand greater rights, including the right to use Tibetan instead of Mandarin Chinese as their language of instruction in the schools.
Groups formed to promote the study and speaking of Tibetan have been banned as “illegal associations” in Rebgong, though, due to Chinese concerns that these may pose a threat to Beijing’s rule.
Reported by Guru Choegyi and Lhuboom for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.