In a move asserting the dominance of Chinese culture, China’s oldest university for Tibetan and other ethnic minority students has ended classroom instruction in Tibetan, disadvantaging native speakers of the language, students at the school say.
Established in 1958 in Shaanxi province’s Xianyang city as a Tibetan public school, and then re-named in 1965 as the Tibet Minzu University, the school has a current enrollment of over 6,000 students, around half of whom are Tibetans, one student told RFA’s Tibetan Service.
“Eleven areas of specialization are taught at the university, but all these courses are taught only in Chinese, which is a problem for us Tibetan students,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Currently there is only one Tibetan language class offered as a second language, and one scholarship offered for Tibetan studies in the whole school,” the source said.
Subjects taught at Minzu include education, finance, information, engineering, sports, law, management, foreign language, ethnic studies, journalism, and Tibetan medicine, RFA’s source said.
Even classes in traditional Tibetan medicine are now offered only in Mandarin Chinese.
“The Tibetan students specializing in Tibetan medicine are facing a lot of challenges and problems of comprehension because their subjects are now taught in Chinese,” he said.
“Even courses for the study of ethnic nationalities are given in Chinese,” he said.
'No opportunities at all'
Although Tibet Minzu University was established at first as a school for Tibetan students, “there is an acute lack here of use of the Tibetan language,” a second source at the school said, also speaking on condition he not be named.
“And there are no opportunities at all for taking specialized courses in the Tibetan language, which is very sad,” he said.
Tibetan students at the school are now “taking matters into their own hands by setting up a group for the study of Tibetan culture and language,” the source said, adding that the group meets on weekends to talk and organize events.
Writers, singers and artists promoting Tibetan national identity and culture have frequently been detained by Chinese authorities, with many handed long jail terms, following region-wide protests against Chinese rule that swept Tibetan areas of China in 2008.
Language rights have become a particular focus for Tibetan efforts to assert national identity in recent years, with informally organized language courses typically deemed “illegal associations” and teachers subject to detention and arrest, sources say.
In May 2018, a court in China’s Qinghai province sentenced Tibetan shopkeeper and language activist Tashi Wangchuk to five years in prison for “separatism,” prompting an outcry from governments and rights organizations who said the sentence highlighted Beijing’s disregard for its own laws protecting ethnic autonomy.
Reported by Lobsang Gelek for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.