Tibetan Monasteries in Nangchen Banned From Teaching Language to Young Tibetans

2019-01-30
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A map showing the location of Nangchen county in Qinghai's Yulshul Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.
A map showing the location of Nangchen county in Qinghai's Yulshul Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.
RFA

Chinese authorities in a Tibetan-populated county of Qinghai are banning monasteries from teaching language classes to young Tibetans during their holidays from school, fearing that promotion of their native language will strengthen their resistance to domination by Beijing, Tibetan sources say.

The order,  issued on Dec. 25 by the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department and the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee of Nangchen county, forbids informal classes taught by Tibetan monks or other unapproved groups, a source living in the area told RFA’s Tibetan Service this week.

“The Chinese government does not want to see young Tibetans being taught Tibetan language and Tibetan culture. Officials appear to fear that this will be a roadblock to realizing their goal of sinicizing Tibetan culture and identity,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Informal Tibetan language classes or lectures on Tibetan Buddhism by monasteries or other groups are now completely banned,” the source said.

The government order, a copy of which was obtained by RFA, threatens severe consequences for monasteries caught violating the ban, and urges local officials and Party cadres responsible for managing area monasteries to guard against what it calls ideological infiltration by forces disloyal to China.

Monasteries that now ignore the government ban and “follow their own wishes” by providing classes to Tibetan children risk placement on disapproved lists, followed by the removal of resident monks’ official identification as “religious professionals,” the document warns.

National identity, culture

Speaking to RFA, Karma Tenzin—a researcher on China’s education policy at the Dharamsala, India-based Tibet Policy Institute—called the new restrictions an attempt to separate young Tibetans from their national identity and to strengthen their loyalty to the Chinese state.

“[China’s leaders] are aware that the more Tibetan youth are immersed in their own language, culture, and religion, the more distant they will become from the Chinese government,” Tenzin said.

“Actually, if the government truly cared for the youth and were more responsible, they would appreciate the monasteries’ role in providing an education that the government itself is failing to provide,” he said.

Chinese authorities have already reduced the size of Tibetan monasteries by limiting the numbers of monks who may enroll there, Tenzin said, calling the issuing of government IDs an effort to “easily manage and regulate them.”

“Never before in Tibetan history have there been cases of Tibetan monks needing official identification to prove that they are monks,” Tenzin said.

In a statement on Jan. 30, Sophie Richardson—China director for the international rights group Human Rights Watch—slammed the new ban in Nangchen, saying it “violates a long list of basic rights, from education to cultural life.”

“Preventing Tibetan children from contact with monks and monasteries will only fuel Tibetan fears that China aims increasingly to restrict Tibetan culture and religion,” Richardson said.

Restrictive policies

The new restrictions in Nangchen follow similar policy moves in other Tibetan areas of China, with Chinese authorities in Tibet’s Lhoka Tsethang city recently ordering Tibetan students not to enroll in workshops or other outside activities during their winter breaks from classes, sources told RFA in earlier reports.

Meanwhile, authorities in Tibet’s Chamdo city ordered Tibetan students and their parents in May 2018 to avoid religious gatherings and festivals during the Buddhist holy month of Saga Dawa, threatening them with unspecified punishments if they were caught ignoring the ban.

And Chinese officials in Sichuan have forced Buddhist monks aged 15 and under to leave their monasteries, placing them instead in government-run schools where they must learn to “serve society,” Tibetan sources say.

Authorities in Tibetan-populated areas of China have long sought to restrict the size and influence of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, traditionally a focus of Tibetan cultural and national identity, sources in the region say.

Reported by Lobsang Gelek for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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