Tibetan Language Promotion Event Blocked by China

tibet-mother-tongue-poster-feb-2013-crop.jpg A poster in China calls for study of the Tibetan language in a file photo.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener

Chinese authorities have at the last minute blocked a move to hold a traditional Tibetan language competition in a Tibetan-populated county in Sichuan province, citing concerns over the “political implications” of the event, sources said.

The competition calling for participants to speak “pure” Tibetan unmixed with Chinese was scheduled for Feb. 21 in conjunction with International Mother Language Day, and was to have been held in Muge Norwa town in Zungchu (in Chinese, Songpan) county, an area resident told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

“The event was announced, and preparations had been made,” the resident said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“However, the relevant Chinese department in the area called [event organizers] Drime and Lodroe Gyaltsen and ordered them to cancel the competition, saying the event had ‘political implications.’”

“They also said that the Tibetan language contains words that can be used to express opposition to Chinese rule,” he said.

“So they were ordered to cancel the event and were warned they would face serious consequences if they didn’t comply.”

National, cultural identity

International Mother Language Day, established by UNESCO in 1999, has been observed worldwide each year since February 2000 to celebrate linguistic and cultural diversity.

“Though others around the world have the right to mark this day, we in Tibet have no right to do so,” another Tibetan resident of Zungchu told RFA, calling the cultural restrictions faced by Tibetans "extremely sad.”

In an apparent attempt to tighten controls in Muge Norwa town, a work team of Chinese government officials assigned in 2008 to monitor the local Muge Tashi Khorlo monastery has now been established as “a permanent station,” a third area resident said.

“They are closely watching Tibetan activities in the area,” he said.

Language rights have become a particular focus for Tibetan efforts to reassert national identity in recent years, with Chinese authorities frequently closing language classes taught outside the state-controlled education system and Tibetan students protesting against the use of textbooks written in Chinese.

Last year, flyers posted in advance of International Mother Language Day in the Kanlho (Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of China's Gansu province urged readers to "defend their mother tongue and give up impure mixed speech forever."

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 Lumbum Tashi for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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