Tibetan school year begins with classes taught only in Chinese

Critics say the policy will weaken Tibetan students' connection to their national language and culture.
By Sangyal Kunchok
2022.03.09
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Tibetan school year begins with classes taught only in Chinese Tibetan students attend a Chinese language class in a school in Qinghai in an undated photo.
Photo from Tibet

Tibetan children returning to their schools after winter break are now entering classes taught only in Chinese, as authorities push forward with policies that critics say are aimed at weakening students’ connection to their native language and culture.

Teachers are also being given workshops on how to start teaching children in the Chinese language, a Tibetan source living in the region told RFA this week.

“The intention behind these changes is to brainwash the students,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“For example, in Tibet’s capital Lhasa, all the subjects in schools are now being taught in Chinese. I once asked the students in some of these schools what they thought about this, and most of them replied that they preferred being taught in Tibetan,” he said.

Textbooks have now all been translated into Chinese in the Golog (in Chinese, Guoluo) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of northwestern China’s Qinghai province, the source said.  “And except for classes on the Tibetan language itself, all other subjects like math, science and the fine arts are all being taught in Chinese.”

Some of these texts had already been translated by the beginning of the last academic year, another source from Tibet said in a written message received by RFA. “But now the emphasis on teaching in Chinese has increased in all Tibetan schools, and the political ideology of Chinese president Xi Jinping is now a key theme for instruction.”

Chinese authorities are suppressing public discussion of these changes in order to prevent protests by parents and others concerned at their impact on younger Tibetans’ connection to their national culture and identity, the source added.

Monasteries in Qinghai have already been banned from teaching language classes to young Tibetans during their holidays from school, and authorities in the province and in neighboring Sichuan have also closed down private schools offering instruction in Tibetan, forcing students into government-run schools where they are taught exclusively in Chinese, sources say.

“These changes and new policies began to be introduced in Tibetan schools a long time ago, but the Chinese government is now being highly secretive about them,” said Pema Gyal, a researcher at London-based Tibet Watch.

“The Chinese Communist Party has enforced various political reeducation campaigns and other education drives in Tibet, but none of these accomplished what they were intended to, so now they are going to try brainwashing Tibetans from a very young age,” he said.

Government efforts to supplant local language education with teaching in Chinese have raised anger not only among Tibetans, but also in the Turkic-language-speaking Uyghur community of Xinjiang and in northern China’s Inner Mongolia.

Plans to end the use of the Mongolian language in ethnic Mongolian schools sparked weeks of class boycotts, street protests and a region-wide crackdown by riot squads and state security police in the fall of 2020, in a process described by ethnic Mongolians as “cultural genocide.”

Formerly an independent nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force 70 years ago.

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

Reported by RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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