Tibetan students campaign to defend Tibetan language in schools, Tibet and China, 2010

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Time Period:  
19 October
26 October
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
Rebkong, Chabcha, Mangra, Machen, Tsigorthang, Chentsa, Trika, Themchen, Amdo (Chinese: Qinghai) province
Location Description: 
mostly "minority" high schools in multiple cities throughout the Amdo (Chinese: Qinghai) region of Tibet.
To preserve the use of Tibetan language in schools with primarily Tibetan students, and to promote integration of Chinese language to classrooms in a gradual manner that did not impede upon Tibetan language use.

On September 30, 2010, an article in People’s Daily, a Communist Party magazine in China, quoted Qiang Wei, Qinghai Province’s party secretary as saying that “mandating Chinese language was crucial” in all schools throughout the province. The majority (around 70%) of the students and teachers that lived in the Qinghai Province was ethnically Tibetan, and many considered themselves Tibetans living in China rather than Chinese citizens. However, the national majority, Han Chinese people, exercised the most authority in the region. High schools and university entrance exams already used Mandarin exclusively, but these measures would eliminate the Tibetan language classes in schools.

On October 19, 2010, in Rebkong County, Malho, Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Tibetan students aged 14 to 20 started protests against the reforms, which would make Mandarin the default language both in textbooks and in classrooms. Students from the National Senior Middle School of Rebkong County, in school uniforms, filled the streets beginning at 7 AM and shouted slogans like “Equality of ethnicities, freedom of language” (translations vary) and demanded “greater equality and expanded use of Tibetan language”. They marched through the streets and were joined by students from the National Middle School of Rebkong, Teachers’ School of Malho, Medical School of Malho, Rebkong Yifu Middle School and the Boarding School of Rebkong County. Buddhist monks are reported to have joined protests as well. Other slogans included “Return the authority of the Tibetan language.” Police vehicles surrounded the protestors, but took no further action. The protestors gathered at the People’s Government Building in Rebkong. Outside sources estimated that 1,000 to 7,000 students took part in the protest. The students ended the protest in the early afternoon after talking to some government officials. That evening, the Governor and the Director General of the Education Department visited one of the schools whose students had taken part in protests. They assured students that no changes in the language policy would occur if they remained in office, but also stated that if the protests continued, the “ringleaders” would be expelled.

The next day, these students were reported to be back in classes, but about 2,000 students in Chabcha County, Tsolho, protested in the streets from 6-10 AM, again in school uniforms, demanding the following: 1. Return the authority of the Tibetan language, 2. Equality Among Nationalities, 3. Expand the use of Tibetan language. The students, aged 11 to 18, carried banners in Tibetan and Chinese that read “Equality Among Nationalities” and “Expand the Use of the Tibetan Language”. Protests also took place in the towns of Chenza, Tsigorthang Khrigha, and Drakar.

Students in the surrounding area began to protest in the following days. On October 21, around 3,000 students from Teachers Training College, Town Middle School, and County Middle School in Golok protested, demanding “Equality of People, Freedom of Language”. 700 students protested again in Rebkong from the Gedun Choephel Middle School.

At noon on October 22, around 400 Tibetan students in Beijing at Minzu (the Chinese word for “nationality”) University of China protested against the language reforms. The students used the slogan “Preserve National Language and Expand National Education”. The International Campaign for Tibet issued a statement outlining the details of the protests and making formal recommendations to the world’s governments for action, including engagement with representatives of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s leader-in-exile at that time, whom the Chinese government denied had any authority. Also on this day, four members of the United Nations Human Rights Council (United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to education, United Nations Independent Expert in the field of cultural rights, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and the United Nations Independent Expert on minority issues) issued a “joint urgent appeal” to China, stating that the policies would have a “negative impact on those of Tibetan origin and the preservation and promotion of the Tibetan language generally.” Chinese authorities denied the detainment of protesting students and stated that all grievances had been addressed.

On October 23, twenty students from the Tibetan Middle School in Chabcha were arrested after attempting to escape from security forces. The next day, several hundred high school students and teachers from Chentsa, Malho County took to the streets to protest and voice support for the continued use of Tibetan in classrooms. The same day, a group of Tibetan former Chinese government officials and educationalists from Qinghai sent an extensively detailed petition to the provincial education department that argued against the language reforms. The letter pointed out that the laws that officials were using to support the reforms had explicit provisions against eliminating minority languages and that enacting the reforms would be “in serious contempt of the authority of the nation’s laws.” (The text of the letter is available here: http://www.savetibet.org/media-center/ict-news-reports/retired-chinese-g....)

On October 26, approximately 300 students staged a protest in Themchen Tsongon, and students at a Tibetan school in Tsayi, Sangchu County, Labrang voiced support for the student protest. A report released by International Campaign for Tibet dated October 26 cited reports from Tibetans in the area that students in Chabcha were possibly detained in their schools, that security was tighter in areas where protests occurred, and that students involved in some of the protests were being investigated by authorities.

On October 26, more than 300 Tibetan high school and middle school teachers in Qinghai sent a formal letter to the Qinghai authorities stating that “in order to raise the quality of teaching and education and to amply reveal a person’s intelligence, we should use a language of instruction most easily understood by the students”. The letter had been written after a government-mandated conference from October 11-16. In the letter, the teachers listed reasons for maintaining Tibetan language as the teaching language and encouraged the gradual introduction of Chinese into classrooms in a manner more suitable to the needs of the students. It was signed by all the teachers and some Tibetan students. (The letter is available at http://www.savetibet.org/media-center/ict-news-reports/tibetan-teachers-....)

Supporters of the Tibetan students’ protests staged solidarity protests and actions throughout the world through organizations such as Students for a Free Tibet, beginning shortly after the protests began and continuing until December.

China issued a statement on November 18, 2010 assuring the world that Qinghai authorities had met with citizens to “publicize the State’s minority education policy, listening extensively to the views and opinions of teachers, principals and students” and claiming that “Today the matter has been resolved satisfactorily, and the situation in the schools has quickly returned to normal.” The statement did not mention the letter from the Tibetan teachers or the increased number of troops in areas where the protests had taken place.

The students stopped protesting after October 26 because they were told by school administrators that more Tibetan language instruction would take place in schools. A few days after the protests ended, the Qinghai director of education stated that “in places where conditions are not ripe, the authorities won't forcefully push the reforms.” However, in interviews, students reported that Mandarin continued to be the primary language in classrooms and that Tibetan language usage had not increased. Therefore, the researcher believes that the goals of the student protestors were not reached.

The researcher notes that similar protests occurred again in March 2012.

Research Notes
"Language Rights." Students for a Free Tibet.org. Students for a Free Tibet, n.d. Web. 14 October 2012. <https://www.studentsforafreetibet.org/campaigns/human-rights-1/language-rights>.

Lasseter, Tom. "Language opens another rift between Tibetans, Chinese." McClatchydc.com. McClatchy Newspapers, 9 November 2010. Web. 14 October 2012. <http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2010/11/09/103446/language-opens-another-rift-between.html>.

"Protests by students against downgrading of Tibetan language spread to Beijing." International Campaign for Tibet. International Campaign for Tibet, 22 October 2010. Web. 14 October 2012. <http://www.savetibet.org/media-center/ict-news-reports/protests-students-against-downgrading-tibetan-language-spread-beijing>.

"Protests for Language Rights by Tibetans Students in Tibet." Radio Free Asia. Video. Youtube.com, 1 December 2010. Web. 14 December 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77HXZb5bWkM&feature=relmfu>.

"Protesting Rebkong students threatened with expulsion." FreeTibet.org. Free Tibet, 20 October 2010. Web. 14 October 2012. http://www.freetibet.org/news-media/pr/protesting-rebkong-students-threatened-expulsion#.UIHY6VGt21d.

"Retired Chinese government officials submit daring petition urging education reforms to be scrapped in Tibet." International Campaign for Tibet. International Campaign for Tibet, 11 January 2011. Web. 14 October 2012. <http://www.savetibet.org/media-center/ict-news-reports/retired-chinese-government-officials-submit-daring-petition-urging-education-reforms-be-sc>.

"Thousands of students protest." FreeTibet.org. Free Tibet, 19 October 2010. Web. 14 October 2012. http://www.freetibet.org/news-media/pr/thousands-students-protest#.UIHZAVGt21e.

"Tibet : Student Protests Spread." Dossier Tibet. Dossier Tibet, 21 October 2010. Web. 14 October 2012. <http://www.dossiertibet.it/node/10884>.

"Tibetan Language: UN Human Rights Experts’ Urgent Intervention with China

." International Campaign for Tibet. International Campaign for Tibet, 25 May 2011. Web. 14 October 2012. <http://www.savetibet.org/media-center/ict-news-reports/tibetan-language-un-human-rights-experts%E2%80%99-urgent-intervention-china%E2%80%A8%E2%80%A8>.

"Tibetan students in China protest over language policy." BBC News Asia-Pacific. The BBC, 20 October 2010. Web. 14 October 2012. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-11581189>.

"Tibetan students protest." Damchoe Sanpai. Youtube.com. Video. 24 0ctober 2010. Web. 14 October 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ae4teTJvDHQ&feature=related>.

"Tibetan teachers write petition in support of Tibetan language; fears for students after detentions." International Campaign for Tibet. International Campaign for Tibet, 26 October 2010. Web. 14 October 2012. <http://www.savetibet.org/media-center/ict-news-reports/tibetan-teachers-write-petition-support-tibetan-language-fears-students-after-detentions>.

Wong, Edward. "Tibetans in China Protest Proposed Curbs on Their Language." New York Times on the Web 22 October 2010. 14 October 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/23/world/asia/23china.html?_r=4&hp&>.

"Worldwide Solidarity Actions for Tibetan Students in Tibet." Students for a Free Tibet Blog. Students for a Free Tibet.org, 26 October 2010. Web. 14 October 2012. <http://blog.studentsforafreetibet.org/2010/10/worldwide-solidarity/>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Lekey Leidecker, 14/10/2012