Tibetan village leaders told to ‘Speak in Chinese’

Meanwhile, programs are being set up online to push learning in Chinese in Tibetan schools.
By Sangyal Kunchok and Yangdon
A classroom in Tibet's regional capital Lhasa is shown in a file photo.

Chinese officials in rural areas of Tibet are forcing village leaders to speak in Chinese, as authorities move forward with campaigns aimed at restricting the use by Tibetans of their native language, RFA has learned.

Workshops launched at the end of last year now order local administrators to conduct business only in Chinese, telling them they must support language policies mandated by Beijing and lead the Tibetan public “by example,” according to a source living in Tibet.

“A 10-day workshop was held for local leaders in Kongpo in central-eastern Tibet to promote Chinese, both written and spoken, as their main language of communication,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

Six workshops have now already been held in Kongpo’s Gyamda (in Chinese, Gongbujiangda) county, with others conducted in many other regions of Tibet, the source said, adding, “And Tibetan village employees are being required to speak and communicate in Chinese at all times.”

Speaking to RFA, Tibetan researchers living in exile called the move a further push by China to weaken the Tibetan people’s ties to their national culture and identity.

Pema Gyal, a researcher at London-based Tibet Watch, said that recent years have seen China’s government impose the use of Mandarin Chinese in Tibetan schools and religious institutions. “But now these policies are being enforced on all Tibetans.”

“This is an attempt to Sinicize Tibet’s language and culture,” Gyal said.

China’s programs mandating the use of the Chinese language in Tibet’s cities have already taken hold, added Nyiwoe, a researcher at the Dharamsala, India-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.

“So now they are going to implement these policies in the villages and rural areas,” he said.

A new program supported by China’s 5G network has meanwhile been launched to “improve” education in Tibet by the use of Mandarin Chinese in online teaching, research, and communications between schools, according to a Chinese state media report on April 8.

“This program using the 5G network is aimed at expediting and expanding the already harsh ongoing policies of the Chinese government to Sinicize the Tibetan language inside Tibet,” commented Kunga Tashi, an analyst of Tibetan and Chinese affairs now living in New York.

Teaching opportunities

Despite Chinese government policies restricting Tibetan children from learning their own language, many parents in Tibet are now creating teaching opportunities outside the schools, a Tibetan living in Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa said.

“We now have small childcare centers in Lhasa where the children are taught the Tibetan language and Tibetan dances and songs, and where they are encouraged to wear Tibetan clothing,” RFA’s source said, also declining to be named.

“No specific subjects are taught in Tibetan, though, because the Chinese government has imposed very tight restrictions on teaching in Tibetan. At least teaching these children Tibetan songs and dances will help to preserve our culture and language,” he added.

Also speaking to RFA, another Lhasa resident said he has been teaching his child to read and write in Tibetan and also to recite Tibetan prayers. “He can recite his prayers very well now, and he also has very good Tibetan handwriting.”

“I would like to take this opportunity to ask all Tibetans living in exile to preserve our language and to always speak in Tibetan with your children. Without our own language, we will have no identity,” he added.

Chinese Communist Party 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 more than 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.

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


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