Tibetan man arrested for speaking against China’s language policy

Authorities in northwestern China’s Qinghai province arrested a Tibetan college graduate last year for speaking against Chinese policies mandating the teaching of Chinese language in Tibetan areas, RFA has learned.

Loten, 23, was taken into custody on Dec. 20 in Matoe (in Chinese, Maduo) county in the Golog (Guoluo) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture after objecting on social media to the replacement of Tibetan-language textbooks in local schools, a source living in exile said.

“He said that China’s policy will eventually disconnect young Tibetans from their own language in the future,” RFA’s source said, citing contacts in Matoe and speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

Loten is now being held at an unknown location in Qinghai’s provincial capital Xining, the source said. “His family was only informed of his arrest over the phone and hasn’t been allowed to see him yet. They were told that Loten is now being given political education,” he added.

Beginning on Sept. 21, 2021, the Tibetan language has been sidelined as the medium of instruction in Tibetan schools in Qinghai, with more focus given now to classes in written Chinese language and basic Chinese speaking skills, RFA’s source said.

“Many Tibetan parents are concerned about these changes and the policies being implemented by the Chinese government, but they have no way to do anything about them,” he said.

Qinghai authorities had earlier detained two Tibetan students identified as Gyuldrak and Yangrik, both 19, in Golog’s Darlag (Dari) county in August for opposing plans to use the Chinese language as the only medium of instruction in Tibetan schools, sources told RFA in earlier reports.

The policy had already aroused widespread opposition among Tibetans in neighboring Sichuan, where Tibetan private schools have been closed and children sent to government schools amid parents’ concerns for their children’s connection to their native language and national culture, sources said.

“It has been evident in recent years that the Chinese government has no plans to ease up on its hardline policies and tight control inside Tibet,” said Namgyal Choedup, representative in The Office of Tibet in Washington, D.C., speaking to RFA.

“Tibetans are firm in their conviction to protect their Tibetan identity, but the Chinese government’s Sinicization of the Tibetan language and religion pose threats to the survival of Tibetan Buddhist culture and values in Tibet.”

“We have spoken urgently to the U.S. government and U.S. officials from time to time about these deteriorating situations inside Tibet. The policies implemented inside Tibet by the Chinese government do more harm than benefit in reality for the Tibetans,” Choedup said.

The Chinese language being taught in a primary school in Matoe county in Tibet, in an undated photo provided by a resident of the region.
The Chinese language being taught in a primary school in Matoe county in Tibet, in an undated photo provided by a resident of the region.

Chinese Communist Party efforts to supplant local language education with teaching in Chinese have raised anger not only among Tibetans, but also in the Turkic-language-speaking Uyghur community of Xinjiang and in northern China’s Inner Mongolia.

Plans to end the use of the Mongolian language in ethnic Mongolian schools sparked weeks of class boycotts, street protests, and a region-wide crackdown by riot squads and state security police in the fall of 2020, in a process described by ethnic Mongolians as “cultural genocide.”

Formerly an independent nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force 70 years ago.

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 deemed “illegal associations” and teachers subject to detention and arrest, sources say.

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

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