Tibetan student language protests spread

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 October, 2010, 12:00am


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Tibetan student protests in the northwestern province of Qinghai over a new education policy that they claim marginalises their language have spread to two more prefectures.

The protests, which started in Rebkong county (Tongren in Chinese) in the Malho Tibetan autonomous prefecture (Huangnan) on Tuesday, have spread to Chabcha county and the Golo Tibetan autonomous prefecture, the London-based Free Tibet said in a statement.

A teacher at the Golog Tibetan Middle School in Dawu, the administrative centre of the Golog prefecture, told the South China Morning Post he had seen hundreds of students demonstrating on Thursday.

The protests were sparked by a new requirement that all subjects except the Tibetan language and English be taught in Putonghua and all textbooks be printed in Chinese, he said.

'As more than 90 per cent of our students are Tibetan, the reform will definitely cause a serious linguistic barrier ... That's why many students and their parents all strongly oppose it,' the teacher said.

Teachers as well as students found it difficult to adjust to the new policy as most teachers in the region could not speak fluent Putonghua, he said.

The new policy apparently only applies to Qinghai. It is not known whether other provinces will follow suit.

A Tibetan researcher in a government think tank believes the policy is part of a government drive to increase job opportunities.

'Many members of ethnic minorities, such as Tibetan and Uygurs, complained they couldn't find jobs because of their poor Chinese,' Dr Tanzen Lhundup, director of the research office at the government-backed China Tibetology Research Centre, said.

Qiang Wei , Communist Party secretary of Qinghai, vowed last month to make 'bilingual education' a livelihood project in the province, according to the People's Daily. 'In today's world, ethnic Chinese who have no command of Chinese would not find any opportunities in our country, just as people who want to go abroad should learn foreign languages,' he was quoted as saying.

He called for local cadres not to worry about hurting the feelings of local ethnic groups and spare no effort to 'promote bilingual education as a political mission'.

However, the move apparently backfired.

Students from the National Senior Middle School in Rebkong county took to the streets to protest against the new policy on Tuesday.

Free Tibet said students from another school, Tsolho Tibetan Teacher Training School in the county, who had been held back by police and their teachers on Tuesday, joined 2,000 students from three local schools to protest and chant, 'We want freedom for the Tibetan language', outside the prefectural government building on Wednesday. It said hundreds of teenagers from Golog and the Gedun Cheopel Middle School in the town of Shonpongshi staged similar protests on Thursday.

Tibetan students from Minzu University in Beijing also held a two-hour protest on campus yesterday.

The teacher in Golog said the local government had implemented a similar policy many years ago in selected classes for the children of local cadres, but this time the policy had been extended to all classes.

Violent anti-Chinese protests broke out on March 14, 2008 in Lhasa , capital of the Tibet autonomous region , and spread to nearby regions with large Tibetan populations. Beijing-based Tibetan activist Tserang Woeser said the protest indicated that Beijing had not understood the real reasons for the riots two years ago.

'These two large-scale protests took place just two years apart. This time, all the protesters are just teenagers. It's very rare in the world,' Woeser wrote in her blog. 'The status of Tibetans has become lower and lower ... Many of my Tibetan friends, even postgraduates, have failed to find jobs because they choose Tibetan as their main subject.'