Clampdown in Tibetan Schools

Security is tightened around high school and college campuses following protests over language policy.


Screen grab from a video of Tibetan student protesters in Chabcha, Oct. 20, 2010.

HONG KONG—Authorities in Tibetan regions of western China's Qinghai province have tightened security around high school and college campuses in the wake of demonstrations in support of Tibetan-language education.

Several hundred students and teachers from high schools in Chentsa (in Chinese, Jianzha) county, in Qinghai's Malho (in Chinese, Huangnan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, took to the streets on Oct. 24 in support of the continued use of Tibetan language in local schools, reports said.

And in Rebkong (in Chinese, Tongren) county, security personnel prevented reporters from entering schools on Monday, as police and plainclothes security officials were on guard outside minority middle schools and high schools in the town.

Local residents and officials appeared nervous about fielding any press enquiries amid the protests by Tibetan students who fear the authorities are bent on adopting a Chinese-language-only curriculum..

An employee who answered the phone at the Jianzha No. 2 Nationalities Middle School declined to comment on Monday.

And an official who answered the phone at the Qinghai provincial government in Ziling (in Chinese, Xining) city directed enquiries to the provincial Party committee.

However, an official who answered the phone at the provincial Party committee said they were unfamiliar with the situation.

"I don't know about this," the official said.

Tibetan students protesting against China's education policies brought their campaign to the nation's capital following large demonstrations in their hometowns, with some 400 of them holding demonstrations at the Beijing National Minorities University on Oct.22.

A Tibetan source in Chabcha (in Chinese, Gonghe) county in the Tsolho (in Chinese, Hainan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, where demonstrations were also held last week, had said that a new government document stated that "all the subjects like science, maths ... will be taught in Mandarin."

Elders send appeal letter

Language protests have spread throughout Qinghai province. Credit: RFA
Meanwhile, a group of elderly, retired, and respected Tibetans associated with education matters in Qinghai sent a letter to the provincial Department of Education Oct.24 calling for an independent panel of education experts to study the issue of language policy.

"We would like to appeal to make sure that the issue of Tibetan language may not be used as a political tool to undermine the harmonious relationship among the nationalities and compromise the security of China," they said in the nine-page letter, given by a Tibetan source.

"The illegal practice of imparting education to Tibetan students by using only Chinese language should be stopped,” said the group based in Ziling.

They also called for a "deep, healthy relation between Chinese and Tibetans" and sought respect for and implementation of "the charter of autonomy for minorities and constitution of China."

"The protection and progress of the Tibetan language is conducive for the harmonious sustenance of many other languages," the group said.

Copies of the appeal letter, written in Mandarin, were sent to various branches of the provincial and central governments and the National People’s Congress, the country's top legislative body.

Earlier, a group of 300 teachers in Qinghai had sent a letter to the authorities appealing to stop any implementation of an only-Mandarin Chinese language policy.

According to the rights group Free Tibet, news of the proposed language changes is spreading across the Tibetan region via text message.

"Tibetan students are protesting for their mother-tongue in the Tibetan areas in Qinghai and others," the text reads, according to the group.

Chinese authorities have already dispatched large numbers of security personnel to Tsolho and Rebkong, after the demonstrations spread there on Friday.

Tibetans fear their culture, language, and national identity in regions ruled by China will be further eroded by any new language policy.

Worries Tibetan language relegated to "second class"

Beijing-based Tibetan writer Woeser said she had heard that hundreds of Tibetan students had once more taken to the streets in Qinghai at the weekend.

"I know about [Saturday's] protest," Woeser said. "It's not that they are against being taught Mandarin; Mandarin is the main language now. But they are against Tibetan being relegated to second-class status," she said.

"Perhaps fewer and fewer people in future will speak Tibetan," she said, "so the students want to come out in support of Tibetan, and of more rights for the Tibetan language."

She said the campaign in support of the Tibetan language was similar to that mounted in the southern province of Guangdong in support of Cantonese.

"It would be unfair of the government to take reprisals against any students because of their involvement in these demonstrations," Woeser said.

Authorities have moved to calm tensions in the wake of the protests, promising to preserve Tibetan as a language on the school curriculum.

Wang Yubo, head of the Qinghai education department, said on Friday that the plan aimed to boost both Chinese and the native languages of minorities.

"The plan is aimed at strengthening whatever is weaker and the purpose is not to use one language to weaken another," Wang was quoted as saying in official media reports.

Officials say the new measures aim to help ensure that students from ethnic minorities have a good command of both Chinese and their own languages by designating Chinese as the language of instruction, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The area where the protests took place in Qinghai was the scene of violent anti-Chinese protests in March 2008 that started in Tibet's capital Lhasa and spread to nearby regions with large Tibetan populations.

Beijing has run a high-profile "patriotic education" campaign among Tibetans since unrest spread across Tibetan regions from Lhasa in March 2008, requiring local people to denounce Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, whom the government rejects as a "splittist."

Reported by Fang Yuan for RFA's Mandarin service and Chakmo Tso for RFA's Tibetan service. Translated by Luisetta Mudie and Karma Dorjee and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.