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Chinese Suppression of Tibetan Language Leads to Protests

In the wake of the first Xinjiang Work Conference held  at Beijing from May 17 to 19, 2010, to draft a blueprint for the  Chinese-controlled province’s economic  development until 2020, the Chinese authorities had embarked on a campaign in Xinjiang, which de-emphasised the Uighur ethnic identity of the province and highlighted the Government’s plans for its rapid economic development in order to bring it on par with other Chinese provinces. Following the conference, the “China Daily” of June 4, 2010, quoted Prof. Qiang Shigong, Director of the Research Centre on the Rule of Law at Peking University, as calling for measures to weaken the identity of ethnic groups in policy-making, such as closing ethnic schools to promote more communication between different ethnic groups. He also said the promotion of Mandarin in ethnic regions could benefit local people in the current market economy environment. Following this, the Chinese authorities have initiated a policy of introducing Mandarin as the medium of instruction in the Uighur schools of the province. Under this policy, while Uighur is taught as a second language in the Uighur schools, all teaching in other subjects has to be in Mandarin. This has added to the anti-Han resentment in the Uighur community, which looks upon the new policy as meant to destroy the ethnic identity of the Uighurs and integrate them with the Hans.

2. A similar policy has now been extended to the schools in the so-called Tibetan Autonomous Region and other Tibetan-inhabited areas. While Tibetan continues to be taught as a second language, Mandarin is being made the medium of instruction in other subjects. As in the case of the Uighurs, the objective is to destroy the ethnic identity of the Tibetans and integrate them with the Hans. This has caused considerable resentment in the Tibetan student community. This resentment led to a spontaneous demonstration by about 7,000 Tibetan students in Rebkong [in Chinese, Tongren] in the Malho [in Chinese, Huangnan] prefecture in the Chinese-controlled Qinghai province on October 19, 2010. The demonstrations remained peaceful and there are no reports of any violent incidents.

3.  The student demonstrators, who belonged to six schools in the area, carried banners, written in both Tibetan and Chinese, which said “Equality Among Nationalities” and “Expand the Use of the Tibetan Language.” Monks from the nearby Rebkong Rongpo monastery joined in the demonstration. The demonstrators said that at a recent meeting convened by the Education Department of Qinghai province, the local Communist Party Secretary and Chairman ordered that the language used in textbooks should be changed to Chinese.  Similar protest demonstrations were earlier reported from the Tibetan schools in the Chinese-controlled Gansu province. According to Tibetan exiles, many Tibetan teachers who cannot teach in Mandarin have been sacked and replaced by Han teachers.

4.  This may please be read in continuation of my article of June 3, 2010, titled “China to De-Emphasise Uighur Identity of Xinjiang” at

(Courtesy: South Asia Analysis Group. The writer Mr B Raman,  is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail:

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