Tashi Wangchuk, a campaigner of Tibetan language from Gyêgu, the Kham Province of Tibet (now the Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture), was released from prison after serving his sentence on January 28.
Since 2015, Tibetan public high schools in Qinghai, Gansu and other provinces have stopped using Tibetan to teach and only treated it as a language course, and some schools do not even teach Tibetan at all. The Jiegu Subdistrict Office in Yushu City, where Tashi Wangchuk is from, even ordered the prohibition of local monasteries and private schools from teaching Tibetan to the public.
From May to September of the same year, Tashi Wangchuk visited Beijing with the attempt to submit a letter of complaint to the central government to report on such a situation, but he failed. Instead, he accepted an interview with a reporter from the New York Times, and it brought hostility and retaliation from the local government.
Lin Qilei , the defense attorney for Tashi Wangchuk, once pointed out to the media, “the prosecution played Tashi Wangchuk’s interview of more than nine minutes at court, saying that every sentence he said in the interview was problematic.”
Taking off the fig leave of the autonomy of ethnic areas
In the report by New York Times titled “A Tibetan’s Journey for Justice” that Tashi Wangchu helped filmed, he said, “in our entire Tibetan region, from primary and middle schools to high school, there’s only one Tibetan language course among many courses. This is devastating. It’s destroying our ethnic culture. If one ethnic group wants to eliminate another, first they need to eliminate its spoken and written language.”
Tashi Wangchu believes that the local government of Tibet violates the relevant commitments in the “Law of the People’s Republic of China on Regional Ethnic Autonomy” without providing sufficient conditions to ensure the environment for local Tibetans to learn and use their mother language. Its practice deviates from the ethnic policy of the country.
An ordinary Tibetan could not contact foreign media without the authority’s instruction. This was not accepted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It violated the “taboo” of the authorities and eventually led to a sentence of five-year imprisonment. Tashi Wangchu has always insisted on his innocence, and the authorities also deprived his relatives of the right to visit him while he was serving his sentence.
After five years of imprisonment, Tashi Wangchu’s sentence ended on January 28, but he will be facing an even worse environment for the Tibetan language, an even more desperate situation.
The Committee of Legislative Affairs of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress announced that local legislation requiring minority schools to teach in minority languages is “unconstitutional.”
The Director of the Committee, Shen Chun-yao, delivered a report to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on the review of their work in 2020, saying that there are local regulations that require schools of all levels and types of ethnic minorities to use the spoken and written language of their own ethnic group, or the spoken and written language commonly used by the group. If there is no local regulation requiring or promoting the education of ethnic languages, the proportion of Mandarin in the education of ethnic minorities should further increase.
Article 4 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China stipulates that “all nationalities (ethnic groups) have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages.” Article 10 of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Regional Ethnic Autonomy stipulates that “the autonomous organization of all national autonomous areas guarantee local ethnic groups have the freedom to use and develop their own languages.”
Shen Chunyao believes that local laws and regulations require ethnic schools to offer language courses unique to ethnic minorities. They are inconsistent with the Constitution, inconsistent with the major decisions and strategies of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, inconsistent with the country’s direction of major reforms, and do not comply with the provisions of the Constitution that “Mandarin should be promoted.” He demanded that all relevant departments should “right the wrong and take measures.”
Shen Chunyao’s remarks sent out a signal of the interpretation of the constitution by the CCP authorities. The authorities want to throw away the last fig leaf of “regional ethnic autonomy,” and annihilate minority languages and cultures undisguised.
Since the President of China, Xi Jinping, took office, “sinicization” and “molding a strong consciousness of a Chinese ethnic community” are among the pillars of CCP’s agenda in Tibet, including the promotion of Mandarin. This is an undisguised policy of ethnic assimilation.
The United Nations Educational and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) once listed Mongolian as one of the most endangered spoken and written languages in the world. At that time, many Tibetans in China shared the news and asked, “what’s next.” In fact, everyone knew it well, but they couldn’t say anything. They were afraid of being accused of “inciting the secession of the country” without noticing and ending up in jail like Tashi Wangchu.
*Tenzin Phenthok, Researcher at Tibet Policy Institute in Dharamsala, India. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Tibet Policy Institute. The article was republished in Apply Daily on 31 January 2021.
Click here for Chinese version