Authorities Concerned Over Popular Tibetan Language, Religious Classes

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Apprentice Buddhist monks at a Serthar Tibetan Buddhist school in Sichuan province, April 4, 2013.

Authorities in a Tibetan-populated county of China’s Sichuan province are ordering local leaders to monitor and discourage community gatherings held to study Tibetan language and religion, fearing the popular classes may fuel opposition to Chinese rule, according to local sources.

No move has yet been made though to forcibly close the classes, which are being taught by area monks and nuns, sources said.

Chinese officials in Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) county are viewing the program to teach Buddhism and language skills to local Tibetans with suspicion, “and plan to impose restrictions,” an area resident told RFA’s Tibetan Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Taught by monks and nuns led by senior religious teachers of Kardze monastery who had returned to the area after studying in India, “the program has become very popular in the community, and on special auspicious days the lay students have participated in religious debates,” he said.

County officials concerned at the growth in popularity of the classes have now held meetings with local town and village leaders, “warning those present that they should be aware of such large gatherings and should monitor their activities,” RFA’s source said.

“Local leaders were further told to discourage such gatherings if possible, as they might turn unruly and create problems,” he said. “However, the response of local Tibetans to these classes has been very good, and it will be difficult for the authorities to stop them.”

National identity

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.

Earlier in May, authorities in China’s Qinghai province closed an 11-year-old Tibetan private school after jailing a teacher for alleged involvement in political activities, according to sources in the area.

And in April, Chinese authorities blocked a move to hold a traditional Tibetan language competition in a Tibetan-populated county in Sichuan, citing concerns over the “political implications” of the event.

The competition calling for participants to speak “pure” Tibetan unmixed with Chinese was scheduled for Feb. 21 in conjunction with UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day, and was to have been held in a Tibetan town in Zungchu (Songpan) county, sources said.

“[Authorities] had said that the Tibetan language contains words that can be used to express opposition to Chinese rule,” one source said.

Sporadic demonstrations challenging Beijing’s rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the region in 2008, with 131 Tibetans setting themselves ablaze in self-immolation protests calling for Tibetan freedom since February 2009.

Reported by Norbu Damdul for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Writen in English by Richard Finney.


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