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Students protest in Tibet over language proposals PDF Print E-mail
[15 November 2010] In response to plans by the Qinghai provincial government to implement a curriculum taught primarily in the Chinese language, thousands of Tibetan high school and college students have been peacefully demonstrating across the region. The protests have involved thousands of students and have spread to neighbouring Gansu Province and even reached Beijing.

Page Index
1. Main story - Thousands of students protest in Tibet
2. Chronology of protests
3. Video footage
4. Additional language-related protests
5. China's response
6. The reforms proposed by the Qinghai government
7. The Dalai Lama's statement
8. Links to media reports, images and analysis

Thousands of students protest in Tibet
Rebkong student protestThe protests began on 19 October in Rongwo town, Rebkong (Chinese: Tongren) County, with hundreds of students from six schools taking to the streets and chanting Equality of People, Freedom of Language (pictured right, courtesy RFA). In the following days the protests spread to neighbouring Tibetan areas, including Tsolho (Ch: Hainan) and Golog (Ch: Guolo) Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures (TAPs), with thousands of students marching to town centres and local government buildings across the province, chanting slogans such as Expand the Use of the Tibetan Language and Equality Among Nationalities.

Security was tightened across the Qinghai region, with police and security personnel stationed at schools in an attempt to prohibit further demonstrations. The only known arrests occurred on 22 October, when 20 students in Chabcha (Ch: Gonghe) County, Golog TAP were arrested following a protest involving thousands of students. It is not known what happened to the students following their arrest.

Beijing student protestThe protests also reached Beijing on 22 October, with over 400 Tibetan students from Minzu University of China (formerly the Central University of Nationalities) holding a demonstration on campus
(pictured right, RFA). The students carried a banner, saying "Protect the languages of minorities and the progress of China's education."

All of these protests come at a time of intense repression by the Chinese authorites and are indicative of the strength of feeling among Tibetans about the marginalisation and erosion of their language, which lies at the heart of Tibetan identity and culture.
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Chronology of protests
Rebkong student protest19 October: Protests begin in Rongwo town, Rebkong (Ch: Tongren) County, with hundreds of students from six schools participating. The students hold up chalkboard signs Equality of People, Freedom of Language (pictured right, RFA) and chant the same slogan. One eyewitness claims 4,000 students took part. Local officials warn the students that if the protests continue the ringleaders will be expelled from school.

19 & 21 October: Protests reported in Chentsa (Ch: Jianzha) County, Malho TAP.

Chabcha student protest22 October: Thousands of students protest in Chabcha (Ch: Gonghe) County, Golog TAP (pictured right, According to Tibetan news service Phayul, 20 students are arrested following the protest.

22 October: Tibetan students in Gepasumdo (Ch: Tongde) County stage a protest. Up to 600 students march to local government headquarters, chanting slogans and carrying a large banner saying "The Tibetan language will not disappear!" According to reports the students were from Tongde High School, a combined middle school and high school. Many of the school's 2,000 students were prevented from taking part in the protest.

22 October: 400 Tibetan students at Minzu University of China (formerly the Central University of Nationalities) in Beijing hold a demonstration on campus. The students carried a banner, saying "Protect the languages of minorities and the progress of China's education."

24 October: Teachers and school staff join thousands of students in Chentsa (Ch: Jianzha) County, Malho TAP on a protest march, which follows earlier protests in the area.

26 & 27 October: The protests spread to Gansu Province, with thousands of students supporting the movement started by their Qinghai colleagues. According to the Voice of Tibet radio service, the Gansu protests were initiated by students from a Tibetan school in Tsayi, Sangchu County, Labrang TAP.
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Video footage of protests
Click here to view Radio Free Asia's video reports of Rebkong & Chabcha protests (with commentary in English).

Raw footage of Rebkong protests, 19 October (9m47s) from RFA (no commentary)

Raw footage of Chabcha protests, 22 October (2m11s) from RFA (no commentary)

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Additional language-related protests
8 November: Two other protests over language issues have been reported, though both are believed to be unrelated to the student protests. On 8 November, more than 700 monks and nuns, mostly from Sershul monastery, Zachu, Sichuan Province, attempted to march to the local government headquarters demanding "equality" and freedom of language. An online Tibetan blog reported the protest, saying the marchers were stopped by security forces. The protest was in response to the local government demanding an end to a voluntary fine system which was imposed by monks at Sershul monastery on people who spoke a mixture of Tibetan and Chinese. A second protest regarding the Chinese government's policies on the Tibetan language, involved about 300 monks and nuns from the two monasteries of Bum Nyingde and some lay people, who accused the Chinese government of undermining the Tibetan language.
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China's response to the protests

A "large number of security personnel" were dispatched to the Qinghai region and stationed at a number of schools, according to various media sources. Police and security were said to have prevented some protests and disbanded others.

Chinese officials attempted to diffuse the situation, saying that changes in language policies are not attempts to wipe out the Tibetan language. In an open letter to all Qinghai teachers and students, the provincial government said the goal of their new policy is to bridge the education gap between China's various ethnic groups and promote development in ethnic minority areas. Wang Yubo, the Qinghai Province Education Department Director, said changes would not be forced in areas where "conditions are not ripe," according to Xinhua, the official state news agengy on 23 October. However, he did not elaborate on how officials would make that determination.
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The reforms proposed by the Qinghai government
The protests were sparked by a report on 12 October by the Qinghai provincial government which launched plans for educational reform whereby Chinese would replace Tibetan as the primary language in which students would be taught. The report said "the nation's common language must become the language of instruction." The report followed remarks in September by Qiang Wei, Qinghai Province's Communist Party Secretary, who said, "China's common language will become the main language in primary schools by 2015. Local languages will be secondary."

In response to the plans, a petition signed by 300 teachers and students from across Qinghai province was submitted to the provincial government on 15 October. The petition supported a genuine bilingual education policy, in which the teaching of the Chinese language is strengthened, but subjects continue to be taught through the Tibetan language medium. The petition cited Article 4 of the Chinese constitution which says, All ethnic groups have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages and to preserve or reform their own folkways and customs. The petition also said, "If both the spoken and written language of a people die, then it is as if the entire population of that people has died and the people have been decimated."

The promotion of the standard Chinese language has been strengthened across China in recent years. The central "Law on the Common National Language" passed in 2000, stated that "local governments and other relevant organs at all levels must adopt measures to popularise putonghua (the Chinese language) and to promote standard Han characters." In East Turkestan (Ch: Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region) Chinese is already well advanced from the kindergarten-level onwards, to the detriment of the Uighur native language.
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The Dalai Lama's statement on protests
On his arrival in Japan on 6 November the Dalai Lama was asked about the student demonstrations on the Tibetan language issue. The Dalai Lama said that the Tibetan language is a very rich language which can go along with the ancient Sanskrit language. "Tibetan translations of Buddhist literature are considered very authentic. Chinese authority has imposed the Chinese language as medium of instruction in Tibetan schools which caused the demonstrations. Politically we are not seeking separation. Tibetan language, Buddhist philosophy, science and religion is very rich. We love our language and we are proud of our language," His Holiness said.
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Media reports
RFA: Students Protest Language Change (19 Oct)
AP (in the Guardian): Language protests spread among Tibetan students (21 Oct)
High Peaks Pure Earth: Tibetan Students in Beijing Protest for Tibetan Language (22 Oct)
NY Times: Tibetans in China Protest Proposed Curbs on Their Language (22 Oct)
AP (in the Guardian):Security tightened at schools in western China (24 Oct)
Phayul: 20 Tibetan students detained, protests over language continue in Tibet (25 Oct)
BBC: Education reforms anger Tibetans (27 Oct)
Phayul: Protest over language spreads to neigbouring Gansu province (27 Oct)
Phayul: Tibetans protest in Zachukha over spoken language (9 Nov)

More images of student protests
via Students for a Free Tibet flickr page

Analysis of protests
HIgh Peaks Pure Earth: When Tibetan Students Fight for the Tibetan Language by Woeser (19 Nov)
Huffington Post:
Language, Identity & Revolution in Tibet by Jamyang Norbu (12 Nov)
Phayul: Freedom of Tongue, by Bhuchung D Sonam (8 Nov) - includes a historical analysis of Chinese government's education policies in TIbet.
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