China’s ban on Tibetan language classes has come full circle after a new policy bars children from taking even informal lessons outside of school.
The rundown: The ban was reportedly issued in October in the northwestern province of Qinghai, which was historically part of Tibet’s Amdo region, the birthplace of the 14th Dalai Lama. In recent years, the province has seen a growth in Tibetans and a decline in Han Chinese populations, according to census data.
- “No individual or organization is allowed to hold informal classes or workshops to teach the Tibetan language during the winter holidays when the schools are closed,” a Tibetan living in Qinghai told Radio Free Asia. “This is an attempt to wipe out the Tibetan language.”
- Violators of the ban will face “serious legal consequences and punishment,” the source said. This leaves the Tibetan language being taught only in government-run schools, which have begun the work to teach all other subjects in Chinese.
Promoting the “common national language”: In September, China released its National Program for Child Development, which left out a previous pledge to “respect and protect the rights of children of ethnic minorities to be educated in their own language,” as per VOA News. Authorities reportedly changed the wording to “promoting the common national language,” leaving ethnic minority children with no choice but to learn in Chinese instead of their native language.
- The policy begins as early as kindergarten, according to a decree sent earlier in July. By requiring Mandarin as the medium of instruction in kindergarten schools, authorities expect to see “a community for the Chinese nation from an early age.”
- China’s actions go against UNESCO’s decades-long policy on encouraging mother tongue instruction among ethnic schoolchildren. Critics believe they are similar to forced assimilation strategies employed by other countries in their histories, such as the USSR, the U.K. and the U.S.
- “The plan is designed to weaken the child’s grasp of one’s mother tongue in the first few years,” Tenzin Sangmo, a researcher with the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), told Phayul. “Although studies have shown that children are capable of picking up more than one language in early years and much rest in the hands of parents, we must remember that the imposition of compulsory Mandarin education in this context would serve as a conduit for sinicization lessons and cultural values that come with the introduction of a language.”
The big picture: China’s language policies are consistent with President Xi Jinping’s efforts to unite “all the sons and daughters of the Chinese nation.” In a 2017 speech, he vowed to “unite the Chinese people of all ethnic groups and lead them to a decisive victory in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and in the drive to secure the success of socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era.”
- Tibetan parents, locals and rights activists have all expressed concerns over the policies, but the Chinese government remains firm. In August, a teenager was reportedly arrested after petitioning to have the Tibetan language prioritized in school, Phayul reported.
- Alongside Tibet, similar linguistic erasures are being reported in Xinjiang, home of the Uyghur population, and Inner Mongolia. Last year, a boycott that protested the replacement of Mongolian with Mandarin textbooks saw the arrest of more than 5,000 people, VOA News noted.
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