Why is China so terrified of Tibetan language classes? – Students for a Free Tibet
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Why is China so terrified of Tibetan language classes?

March 4, 2019

Jokhang Temple in Tibet. Photo: Pixabay
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Original article: La Croix International
Author: Sang Jieja

Notice warns that monks, monasteries offering free lessons to children during winter break will be punished

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) recently banned Tibetan monasteries from offering Tibetan language classes, prompting international human rights organizations to request that Beijing lift the unreasonable ban.

On Dec. 25, the United Front Work Department (UFWD) of the Nangqian County Party Committee in Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, in China’s southwestern Qinghai province, issued an urgent notice to all party committees, local governments and monastery management committees in townships and villages across the county.

It noted the winter vacation was approaching for primary and secondary schools and cautioned that illegal Tibetan language classes in monasteries were on the rise.

To curb this, townships were instructed to strengthen their sense of urgency, improve the way monasteries are organized and roll out measures to rectify the situation.

Monasteries in the region have also been ordered to hang up portraits of party heroes like Mao Zedong or face punishment.

The management committees were told to conduct a thorough review, shut down any Tibetan classes and severely punish monks who had ignored the state’s guidance on education.

Those responsible for organizing the classes must be expelled from the monastery and their religious certificates confiscated, the notice stated. It demanded warnings be pasted in public places to discourage others from following suit.

Meanwhile, any students who attended the unlawful language classes are required to undergo “ideological education” along with their parents.

Rights organizations are much concerned about this notice. Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement in New York on Jan. 21 demanding the Chinese authorities immediately rescind the ban.

“China’s ban on the establishment of Tibetan language classes in monasteries is a violation of many basic human rights from education to cultural life,” said Sophie Richardson, HRW’s China director.

“Preventing Tibetan children from contacting monks and monasteries will only fuel Tibetan fears that China aims increasingly to restrict Tibetan culture and religion.

Fabricated charges

However, what I really want to ask is: Who was actually offended by the Tibetan language classes being offered by monasteries? Moreover, what regulations did they violate?

In fact, since last year, the CCP has not only prohibited Tibetan cadres (including those already retired) from participating in religious activities but also strictly prohibited Tibetan children from kindergarten to middle school, together with their parents, from participating in religious activities.

Later, the party started to ban students from attending free tutorial classes on the Tibetan language, “in accordance with the law”.

But the CCP does not stipulate that it is illegal to hold a language tutoring class, let alone one that is free of charge and only available on holidays.

Of course, as long as the CCP’s centralized government wants to suppress Tibetans and monasteries, it can — and it can always find a way to fabricate charges against whomever it wishes to condemn.

For a long time now, the CCP has tried to define Tibetan culture and religion as a threat to national security. Amid this attempted suppression, the fact that monasteries have been trying to swim against the tide by offering free Tibetan classes seems to have stung.

The urgent notice from Nangqian was issued by a local chapter of the UFWD.

This working organ has assumed a more central role in the last few years, especially after the party incorporated the National Ethnic Affairs Commission and the State Bureau of Religious Affairs into its fold.

President Xi Jinping has also repeatedly heaped praise on the UFWD and stressed its importance to China’s rejuvenation.

As a department, it specializes in spying, bribery and fraud. More recently, it seems to have adopted a much stricter line after taking responsibility for ethnic and religious affairs. The ban on Tibetan lessons is one of many extreme manifestations of its power.

In Tibet, especially in Yushu Autonomous Prefecture, Tibetan literacy rates among schoolchildren and government officials are appallingly low. This is largely because schools rarely offer courses in Tibetan language anymore; those that do only offer it as an elective course.

This is reflected in the abysmal translation of the notice from Chinese to Tibetan: it is full of typos, confused expressions, bad grammar and wrong sentence structure.

But it is common nowadays to see such poorly written Tibetan language documents churned out by party officials. In fact, the UFWD cadres urgently need to upgrade their Tibetan language skills instead of banning classes; if not, the CCP will surely lose face for being unable to even pen a letter in the local language while raising a crop of useless people.

Faced with this mounting crisis regarding the fate of their mother tongue, monasteries in the region took it upon themselves to organize the language classes during the school winter break.

In doing so, they have been helping to preserve their language while keeping children occupied with healthy pursuits during their vacation. It is little surprise, then, that most parents applauded the move.

Yet the CCP views this as a threat to its hegemonic power — something that must be stopped.

It sent a thinly veiled warning by sentencing Tibetan language and culture advocate Tashi Wangchuk to five years in prison just for petitioning the government at various levels to protect Tibet’s language and culture. He was charged with “inciting separatism.”

There are several reasons why the CCP is so bent on suppressing these language classes.

Chiefly, it aims to cover up the government malpractice that has been going on in terms of education in Tibet. However, it also wishes to diminish the influence of monasteries and prevent a new generation of Tibetans from mastering their language and connecting to their traditional culture.

The goal is to pave the way for the “China Dream” of eliminating Tibetan ethnicity altogether in the interests of a unified nation under the full control of the CCP.

* Sang Jieja is a Tibetan writer, commentator and a former Chinese spokesman for the exiled Tibetan government. He is now studying in Spain.