Petition Labels Reforms Illegal

Tibetan educators and former officials say proposed education changes flout China’s Language Law.

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languageprotests305.jpg Tibetan students protest on the streets of Rebkong in Qinghai province, Oct. 21, 2010.
EyePress News

Several prominent Tibetans in China’s western Qinghai province have submitted a petition to education officials challenging the legality of language reforms in Tibetan schools, according to a Tibetan rights group.

The petition, submitted by retired Chinese government officials and former educators, says enacting the proposed education reforms, which standardize Mandarin Chinese as the language of teaching in all schools in the Tibetan region, would be in “serious contempt of the nation’s laws,” the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) said in a statement.

The Oct. 24, 2010 dated document suggests that head of the Qinghai Education Department Wang Yubo omitted a key statute when he invoked China’s Language Law to propose the reforms at a work meeting in October last year.

Wang cited an article from the law that provides “[Chinese] and the standardized Chinese characters shall be used as the basic language in education and teaching in schools and other institutions of education.”

But the petition says he failed to fully cite the article, which continues “except where otherwise provided for by law,” or to refer to numerous other instances elsewhere in Chinese law that “otherwise provide” for the use of nationality languages as the basis of education.

The petitioners, who signed the document anonymously, conclude that unless the National People’s Congress revises the Autonomy Law, an administrative office, such as a provincial-level government office, would lack the authority to propose such reforms and would be acting in contravention of the law.

Copies of the petition were sent to the provincial education department in the Qinghai capital Xining, the Ministry of Education in Beijing, key Chinese Communist Party offices at the national and provincial level, and offices in the six Tibetan autonomous prefectures in Qinghai province.

The petition demanded a response from the government within 60 days of its receipt, which would mean that if the petition had been submitted on the day it was dated, authorities would have a deadline of Jan. 14 to answer the claims.


The petitioners urged the government to improve relations between China’s ethnic groups by following Article 49 of the Regional Nationality Law on Autonomy, which calls on “agencies of an ethnic autonomous area [to] … encourage cadres of the various nationalities to learn each other’s spoken and written languages.”

“Cadres of Han nationality will learn the spoken and written languages of the local minority nationalities,” the article continues.

“While learning and using the spoken and written languages of their own nationalities, cadres of minority nationalities should also learn the spoken and written Chinese language commonly used throughout the country,” it concludes.

The petitioners write that protecting the use and development of the Tibetan language is not simply an issue affecting the regional population.

“Currently, there is as much concern for linguistic and cultural diversity in the world as there is for biodiversity. It has become a global concern.”

They go on to inform China’s authorities that their stance on the preservation of the Tibetan language is not one “that has to be overcome,” but instead should be viewed as “an important political duty,” which would win the affection of the people.

The petitioners call on the government to make use of NGOs in carrying out surveys, research, and discussions on the issue of bilingual education in an effort to “avoid allowing the Tibetan language and script to become a factor that impacts upon nationality relations and state security.”

Language protests

Language protests spread throughout Qinghai province in October, 2010. Credit: RFA
The petition is dated less than a week after thousands of students held protests around the Tibetan region of Amdo, which encompasses large parts of Qinghai province, against the proposed language reforms.

Tibetan students at the Nationalities University in Beijing held similar protests in solidarity with those in the Amdo region, which began on Oct. 19 in the Qinghai town of Rebkong (in Chinese, Tongren), where authorities had held the work meeting to outline education reforms over the next ten years.

Several hundred teachers had submitted a separate petition in October, according to ICT, expressing their concerns about the impact of the reforms on Tibetan students’ overall learning, and referring to detailed studies that directly refuted the claimed benefits of the proposed reforms.

Exiled Tibetans have said the protests are a sign of long-running dissatisfaction over the suppression of Tibetan cultural and religious freedoms by Beijing.

The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed national uprising against Chinese rule, has accused Beijing of perpetrating "cultural genocide" in Tibet.

Beijing has run a high-profile "patriotic education" campaign among Tibetans, requiring local people to denounce the Dalai Lama, whom the government rejects as a "splittist."

Written by Joshua Lipes.


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