Tibetan Private Language Schools Closed Down in Sichuan

School closings further tighten China's restrictions on language rights in Tibetan areas.
2021-06-03
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Tibetan Private Language Schools Closed Down in Sichuan Tibetan children sing at a school in Sichuan's Sershul county in an undated photo.
Photo from Tibet

Authorities in western China’s Sichuan province are closing down private Tibetan schools offering classes taught in the Tibetan language, forcing students to go instead to government-run schools where they will be taught in Chinese, sources in the region say.

The move is being pushed in the name of promoting uniformity in the use of textbooks and instructional materials, the sources say.

There were formerly many private schools in the Dzachukha region of Sichuan where Tibetan language and culture were taught, a source in Sershul (in Chinese, Shiqu) county in the Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture told RFA.

“But from the end of 2020, and without any real justification, these schools were all forced to close down, with the children required to go to government-supervised schools instead,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Parents of the affected children and other local Tibetans are deeply concerned over the imposed requirements, saying that keeping young Tibetans away from their culture and language will have severe negative consequences for the future, the source said.

“And the Tibetan nomadic families who don’t want to send their children to schools supervised by the Chinese government are now being forced to do so,” he added.

The closing of the schools in Sershul violates China’s own laws guaranteeing the right of ethnic minorities to learn their own language, said Karma Tenzin, a researcher at the Dharamsala, India-based Tibet Policy Institute.

“This act of forced closure of schools teaching Tibetan language and culture gives a clear picture of the Chinese government’s attempts to eliminate Tibet’s [national] identity,” Tenzin said.

Township tightly controlled

Also speaking to RFA, a resident of Sershul’s Dza Wonpo township, the scene of frequent Tibetan protests against Chinese rule, said that life in the township remains tightly controlled, with possession of photos of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama considered a serious offense.

“Communicating with the Tibetan exile community has also become very difficult in recent times, and people will end up in prison if the Chinese authorities catch them doing this,” he said.

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet into exile in India in the midst of a failed 1959 national uprising against rule by China, which annexed the formerly independent Himalayan country by force in 1950, and displays by Tibetans of the Dalai Lama’s photo or public celebrations of his birthday have been harshly punished in the past.

Of the 6.2 million Tibetans in China, just under 1.5 million live in historically Tibetan parts of western Sichuan province, according to China’s 2010 census.

Language rights have become a particular focus for Tibetan efforts to assert national identity in recent years, with informally organized language courses in the monasteries and towns typically deemed “illegal associations” and teachers subject to detention and arrest, sources say.

Reported by Sangay Kunchok for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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