Hotel in China Bans Spoken Tibetan, Backs Off After Outcry

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A poster in Kanlho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture reads “No to mixed language!”
A poster in Kanlho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture reads “No to mixed language!”
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener

A hotel  in northwestern China’s Qinghai province has rescinded a rule that Tibetan staff may speak only Chinese while at work, backing down and apologizing after the local Tibetan community launched a storm of protest online, Tibetan sources say.

The Shang Yon hotel in Rebgong (in Chinese, Tongren) county in the Malho (Huangnan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture had initially forbidden Tibetan workers from speaking their own language on the job, threatening a fine of 500 yuan (U.S. $76 approx.) for noncompliance, according to social media accounts.

But the rule, issued on Jan. 7, was quickly reversed when local authorities ordered the hotel temporarily closed after area Tibetans furiously complained in social media postings at this intrusion on their rights, sources on the popular social media platform WeChat said.

On Friday, 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, sources said.

Call for equal rights

In an unusual move, support for the Shang Yon workers was also voiced online by members of China’s Han majority, with one netizen saying “Tibetans should have the right to speak their own language, and this right should be protected.”

“Whoever promoted this policy of using only Chinese should be held accountable for violating human rights and damaging ethnic unity,” the netizen, calling himself shanshen pelyun, wrote.

“It is not too much to ask for ethnic groups to have equal rights and the freedom to use their own languages,” agreed  Liu Benqi, a Han Chinese living in Qinghai.

“I don’t support the policy of promoting Mandarin Chinese [in ethnic minority areas],” he said.

Eroding traditions

Tibetans have long complained about eroding religious, cultural, and linguistic traditions in Tibetan-populated regions of China, and language rights have become a particular focus for Tibetan efforts to reassert national identity in recent years, 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 RFA’s Tibetan Service and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated by Rigdhen Dolma and Feng Xiaoming. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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