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China bans Tibetan language in schools in Sichuan province

Step could lead to eventual extinction of Tibetan in the region, activists fear.

Students are seen in a classroom at the Lhasa Nagqu Second Senior High School in Lhasa, in China's Tibet Autonomous Region, June 1, 2021, during a government-organized media. [Hector Retamal/AFP]


Pelbar for RFA Tibetan

October 10, 2023


China has banned the teaching and use of the Tibetan language at elementary and middle schools in two Tibetan-populated regions in southwestern China, sources inside the country said, requiring all instruction to be in Mandarin.


The move could lead to the extinction of the language in the regions – and could endanger its viability across the country, Tibetan activists fear.


The Chinese government ordered the ban in government-run schools in Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province, starting with the fall semester that began in September, a Tibetan source said.


Middle school students currently enrolled can finish the next two years of studies in Tibetan, but starting in 2025, all classes will be held in Mandarin, the person said.


Previously, state-run schools in the region taught Tibetan language classes to students, and subjects including mathematics, science, physics, geography, history and social studies were conducted in Tibetan. Mandarin was also taught as a language course.


But now, the Chinese government has expedited the teaching of all school subjects in Mandarin in schools in the 12 counties comprising Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in what it said was an effort to raise education standards, teachers and parents of students said.


‘Soft atrocity’

The ban is part of Beijing’s wider “Sinicization” program that has also restricted the language and culture of Uyghurs and other minorities in China – despite protections in China’s Constitution that permit minority groups to use their own language in their own regions.


Another Tibetan source called the step a “soft atrocity.”


“On the pretext of the government’s program, China is trying to completely wipe out the Tibetan language,” said the person who, like others in this report, declined to be identified out of concern for their safety.


“China’s use of soft atrocities, instead of forcible measures, is leading to the complete annihilation of Tibetan society and education, with no scope for revival,” the source said.


Radio Free Asia could not reach the education departments of Ngaba and Kardze for comment.


Reversal

Tibetan is widely spoken not just in the Tibetan Autonomous Region in the far western part of China, but also in neighboring parts of the country with large Tibetan populations. For example, about 90 percent of Karze prefecture’s 1 million inhabitants are Tibetan.


The ban reverses previous moves to promote the Tibetan language in the region.


Under the Karze Area Tibetan Language Regulation adopted in 2015, special emphasis was put on the formation of a Tibetan language task force in the Tibet Autonomous Region, with the promotion of Tibetan-language teaching in schools considered important.


The news came as a surprise to many.


Teachers and parents were not officially informed about this major change in policy, but simply told verbally to implement it at the start of a new academic year, the sources said.


After banning Tibetan instruction at the Chak-sam-kha Middle School, Tibetan language teachers were told to move to other areas where the government allows Tibetan to be used as the medium of instruction, the sources said.


School administrators did not inform students’ parents about the change in the language of instruction from Tibetan to Mandarin in various subjects, and they held a meeting with teachers who were suddenly instructed to teach their subjects in Mandarin, the sources said.


Middle schools in Zoege county, also part of the Tibetan traditional region of Amdo, are widely known for their high standard of Tibetan-language teaching but had to switch to Mandarin as the main language of instruction this year, said a Tibetan source from inside Tibet.


All teachers at Zoege country middle schools have to implement the measure, the source said.


Resentment by the public and educators over a plan in 2020 to change the language of instruction to


Mandarin from Tibetan in elementary and middle schools in Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture boiled over into a large protest, and the plan was put on hold.


Translated by Rigdhen Dolma for RFA Tibetan. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.


© 2023 Radio Free Asia


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