www.TibetanReivew.net, Feb 28’08
Despite claiming that Tibetans make up over 90 percent of Tibet Autonomous Region’s population – with farmers and herders making up over 80 percent of it – China is imposing the learning and use of Mandarin Chinese there while neglecting official use of the Tibetan language, alleged London-based Free Tibet Campaign (FTC) Feb 20. China maintained, however, that it was giving equal importance to Chinese and Tibetan, which, even if true, does not sound like giving Tibetan language the degree of importance its deserves.
Schools are forcing Tibetan children to learn China’s national language, Mandarin, at a younger and younger age and are failing to support use of Tibetan in official fields, said the FTC in a brief report released on the occasion of International Mother Language Day. The effect is the dilution of Tibet’s unique culture, it said. “(T)he one-language policy in Tibet goes beyond education; it is part of a more general assault on Tibetan culture and identity,” the group said.
The group sees the trend as a deliberate policy to transform Tibet into a region resembling just another Chinese province. “The growing prevalence of the Chinese language in all spheres of Tibetan public life automatically advantages Chinese settlers over Tibetans …” it said. “Certainly there are few lucrative job prospects for Tibetans who have not been educated in Chinese,” it quoted Tsering Dorje, formerly a Tibetan schoolteacher in Amdo (Qinghai) but now living in India, as saying. “Nor is it possible for a student educated in Tibetan to acquire professional qualifications at college or university.”
The report raises the more fundamental question as to in what sense the region could really be called autonomous. Other so-called autonomous regions and minority prefectures and counties face similar threats.
China maintained that the importance it was giving to the Tibetan language in Tibet was self-evident. “Tibetan and mandarin have been given equal importance in Tibet and Tibetan is widely studied, used and promoted,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs quoted Foreign Ministry Spokesman Liu Jianchao as saying Feb 21 at a regular press conference. He has dismissed the FTC’s allegations as untrue, contending, “we in China will describe it as calling white black and I don’t believe they could fool those who know the situation there.” He has claimed that many of the journalists he was addressing who had been to Tibet knew it.
The local government of Tibet Autonomous Region has claimed that Tibetan was, in fact, being given more importance. Laws “clearly state that in the Tibet Autonomous Region, Tibetan and Chinese are both important, and that Tibetan should be taken as the most important”, Reuters Feb 23 quoted it as saying in a faxed statement. . “The education system in the Tibet Autonomous Region pushes bilingual education, but puts Tibetan first,” it was reported to have added.
But FTC’s Matt Whitticase has dismissed these claims. “In theory, there are laws to protect the Tibetan language. … But they are not worth the paper they are written on,” Reuters quoted him as saying.