Chinese authorities in Sichuan province have closed a school linked to the promotion and teaching of the Tibetan language, detaining two of the school’s teachers and warning Tibetans living in the area not to attempt to reopen the facility, according to an exile source.
The school, which was established in 1987 in the Rongpo Tsa township with approval from Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) county authorities, was closed on April 2, a monk living in South India said, citing contacts in the region.
“The school’s efforts toward preserving Tibetan language and culture had annoyed the local authorities,” the source said, adding that two of the school’s teachers—Nyendak, 51, and Yama Tsering, 36—had been detained by the police.
“Family members of the detained teachers have not been allowed to contact them or to provide supplies of food or medicine,” he said.
Three other teachers were away when the school was closed and have been warned not to return, and parents have now been instructed to send their school-age children to government-run schools where classes are taught in Chinese, the source said.
China has jailed scores of Tibetan writers, artists, singers, and educators for asserting Tibetan national identity since widespread protests swept Tibet and the Tibetan-populated Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Qinghai, and Gansu in 2008.
On March 14, about 4,000 Tibetan students took to the streets in China’s northwestern Qinghai province to protest a proposed change in the language of instruction in local schools.
Emphasis on Chinese
Speaking in an interview, Columbia University Tibet scholar Robbie Barnett said that while Chinese education policy calls for bilingual teaching in the country’s ethnic areas, “the Chinese government has for some years been extremely concerned about the lack of a standard national language in China.”
“So they have been pushing a national policy that hugely reemphasizes the primacy of Chinese.”
Though language protests in Tibetan areas have been treated in the past as local issues resulting from a “misunderstanding” of government policy, “it is only a matter of time, really, before these issues will be treated in a much more serious way,” Barnett said.
“We’re in a climate now where that’s actually extremely likely, that almost everything will be treated as a political challenge [caused by] outside instigation.”
Tennessee-based Tibetan writer and blogger Jamyang Norbu added that language is closely linked to identity in the Tibetan regions of China’s western provinces—areas that have seen spreading protests including at least 33 self-immolations by Tibetans challenging rule by Beijing.
China’s leaders view Tibet as a potential source of further instability that must be “dealt with,” Norbu said.
“There is a real feeling that the Tibetan identity must be completely eradicated, that the Tibetans must become Chinese. There are so many Chinese settlers now inside Tibet.”
“This is how the [Chinese Communist] Party feels it can keep control—by homogenizing everything,” Norbu said.
Reported by Pema Ngoedup for RFA’s Tibetan service. Translations by Tseten Namgyal. Written in English with additional reporting by Richard Finney.