Language Protests Spread to Beijing

Tibetan students in China's capital take up protests against a Mandarin language education policy.
2010-10-22
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Students at the Beijing National Minorities University protest the Mandarin language education policy, Oct. 22, 2010.
Students at the Beijing National Minorities University protest the Mandarin language education policy, Oct. 22, 2010.
RFA

Tibetan students protesting against China's education policies brought their campaign to the nation's capital, with some 400 of them holding demonstrations at the Beijing National Minorities University.

The protests in Beijing on Oct. 22 came on the heels of demonstrations by thousands of Tibetan high school and college students this week in the remote western province of Qinghai amid fears they will be forced to adopt a Chinese-language-only curriculum. 

Chinese authorities had dispatched large numbers of security personnel to Tsolho (in Chinese, Hainan) and Rebkong (in Chinese, Tongren) in the province, where the demonstrations spread Friday.

One Tibetan student who called in from Beijing to a RFA talk show Friday, said, "We all should support the ... struggle for freedom of the Tibetan language."

"I personally went to a school where the medium of instruction was Mandarin Chinese and was left completely out of touch with the Tibetan language for three years. So the Tibetan language is very important and vital for the survival of the Tibetan race," he said.

Protecting minority languages

The students at the Beijing university carried a banner, saying "Protect the languages of minorities and the progress of China's education."

In the demonstrations, some students expressed the importance of maintaining the Tibetan language as the main medium of instruction in Tibetan schools.

“Language represents the identity of nationalities that is deeply rooted in the flesh and bone of ethnic minorities and cannot be wiped out,” one Tibetan student wrote to an RFA blog.

“You [Chinese authorities] should provide us space to live. [If not] we will struggle for it till our deaths,” another student wrote.

Tibetans fear their culture, language, and national identity in regions ruled by China will be further eroded by any new language policy.

Authorities on Wednesday moved to calm tensions as the protests spread.

A local governor addressed students and assured them that the Tibetan language would remain in the school curriculum even though an official document said the Chinese language would be the main language of instruction.

An official who answered the phone at the Rebkong country education department earlier this week said that all the top-level officials were out dealing with the incident.

Beijing has run a high-profile "patriotic education" campaign among Tibetans since unrest spread across Tibetan regions from Lhasa in March 2008, requiring local people to denounce the Dalai Lama, whom the government rejects as a "splittist."

Qinghai protest spreads

Meanwhile, protests in Qinghai province spread Friday as Tibetan students in Gepasumdo (in Chinese, Tongde) county staged a march, a Tibetan man said.

“It began around 5:00 a.m. when about 500 to 600 students marched toward the Tongde county center,” said the man.

“They shouted ‘Equality for all nationalities!’ and ‘Freedom for all languages!’ and carried a large banner reading ‘The Tibetan language will not disappear!’”

Most were from the Tongde High School, a combined middle school and high school, which has about 2,000 students, the source continued. “Many had tried to take part, but only about 500 to 600 were able to leave the campus and march toward the Tongde headquarters.”

When the students assembled at the county offices at about 8:00 a.m., “a group of teachers and Public Security Bureau officers arrived and surrounded them,” the man said.

“They tried to calm the students by saying that the new policy will not be carried out in the county. Some county officials also appeared and promised that the students’ concerns will be discussed.”

Original reporting by Luboom for RFA's Tibetan service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai and Richard Finney.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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