High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser written on March 20, 2012 for the Tibetan service of Radio Free Asia and posted on her blog on April 4, 2012.
In this post, Woeser re-visits the topic of language rights a year and a half after mass protests in defence of Tibetan language broke out in Amdo, carried out mainly by students. This was a situation that Woeser in a way had already written about a few months prior to the protests in August 2010 by comparing Tibet to the situation faced by Cantonese in Guangdong.
Finally, to see photos of the solidarity action taken by Tibetan students in Beijing, see this link to our blogpost put together at the time.
The first two pictures show the newly introduced Chinese teaching materials in Tibetan and minority schools of Qinghai and Gansu Provinces. Picture 3 shows how thousands of Tibetan middle school pupils took to the streets on March 14 to defend Tibetan education and demand other privileges in Tsekhok County, Malho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province.
Abolishing Tibetan Language Education for the
Sake of “Maintaining Stability”
I remember very clearly when on October 19, 2010, in Rebkong, Amdo, several thousand primary and secondary students walked out of their schools holding up a small blackboard on which they had written “We need Tibetan language classes”. Subsequently, all across Amdo, from Qinghai to Gansu Province, countless students initiated actions to protect their mother tongue. Even in Beijing’s Minzu University of China, Tibetan students raised their voices in support of this.
I remember very clearly how in the same year, over 300 Tibetan teachers jointly composed a letter to the Provincial government of Qinghai Province, requesting support for Tibetan students to be taught in their mother tongue and establish Tibetan as the main language of instruction rather than implementing the measures of “Mandarin as the first and Tibetan as the second language and opening pre-schools in Mandarin”. Some retired cadres and senior teachers also filed a report reflecting similar opinions and submitted it to the higher authorities such as the United Front Work Department of the CCP Central Committee and the Ministry of Education.
I also remember clearly how subsequently the Party Secretary of Qinghai Province declared that “Bilingual Education” reform should be gradually implemented according to local conditions, thereby placating local people. The good and honest Tibetan people believed that the Secretary’s words were genuine and important and not just a delaying tactic.
But after less than a year and a half, the sharp knife lingering above Tibetan language education was dropped. In March this year, at the beginning of the new school term, students in Tibetan schools of Qinghai and Gansu Provinces found out that their Tibetan language textbooks had suddenly disappeared and turned into Mandarin textbooks. In other words, the previous bilingual education has turned into only Mandarin education; what kind of consequences will this have?
On March 3, the third grade student, Tsering Kyi, from a middle school in Machu, Amdo, self-immolated and sacrificed herself in protest against these education policies. Since March 14, thousands of students and teachers from middle schools and teacher training colleges from Rebkong, Tsekhok, Kangtsa, Gepa Sumdo and other places in Amdo took to the streets, loudly demanding “ethnic equality”, “language equality” and “local autonomy”.
A Tibetan teacher working in Amdo writes on Weibo: “…even if Tibetan teaching materials are replaced, related research materials and teachers’ qualifications need to be in accordance with those changes; education is never just about drilling and pressuring students, and neither is it an arena to export political will; as long as students are not yet familiar with and have not mastered Mandarin vocabulary, grammar and sentence structure conversion, it is an extremely difficult task to suddenly, in the new term, make them understand and digest many new words in Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry; rather than spending time and energy on this, one should use their mother tongue and script to familiarise them with the new classes and thus increase teaching efficiency. This is common sense and a basic rule in education and teaching and has nothing to do with any ethnic consciousness; it is totally unrelated to those grand identity questions, nobody, no nationality should politicise their mother tongue, it is the natural heritage of humans’ cultural ecology. Natural phenomena like this should not be used as an ideological vehicle. But there are still some departments and leaders that push these matters on to an ideological level of confrontation to deal with them. Why are they letting these kids demonstrate for their “mother tongue” year by year? Maintaining stability is always about the general situation but it, of course, also includes the stability of the people, if we cannot even stabilise the minds of our children, well, what can we possibly contribute towards the undertaking of making the Tibetan region more stable?”
Actually, it is not that these government officials don’t understand this logic. The reason why they repeatedly brandish their knives against Tibetan language education is by no means only about fostering cultural unification, it is about moulding all the tongues that speak different languages to make them only speak Mandarin, it is that simple. From the central points included in the education reform in Qinghai Province we can see that this is already regarded as a “major political task” for the future of the Tibetan region, and it clearly shows that the ultimate result of the authorities’ assessment of the 2008 protests is to completely eliminate education in Tibetan language and script, for the stability of Tibet.
Anyway, today, we don’t live in an era in which, as it was the case a few hundred years ago, the Spanish colonialists invaded the territory of the Maya people and totally eliminated their language and script. And anyway, today, we don’t live in an era of the Cultural Revolution several decades ago, when all Tibetan language education was abolished throughout Tibetan areas, to the extent that people like myself lost their mother tongue. But today, the 19-year-old female middle school student, Tsering Kyi, let her life go up in flames to protect her mother tongue and these flames will never stop burning.
March 20, 2012