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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Tibetan teachers write petition in support of Tibetan language; fears for students after detentions

October 29, 2010

ICT report
October 26, 2010

Several hundred Tibetan teachers and students in
Qinghai have written a detailed letter to the
authorities, enclosed with this report, setting
out the reasons why the teaching medium should
remain Tibetan rather than Chinese, following
proposed education reforms that sparked protests
last week involving thousands of students.

Protests by Tibetan school and college students
over plans to change the language medium of
instruction spread from several areas of Qinghai
to Beijing last week, involving thousands of
Tibetan students in the Rebkong and Chabcha areas
of Qinghai and several hundred Tibetan students
at Minzu (Chinese: Nationality) University of
China who protested to express their concern
about the downgrading of the Tibetan language.
(ICT report
and video footage by Radio Free Asia

Security has been intensified in the areas where
students protested, with sources in the area
reporting the detention of more than 20 students
from the Tibetan Middle School in Chabcha
(Chinese: Gonghe) on Friday (October 22). Tibetan
sources in exile in contact with others in the
area said that some Tibetan schoolchildren and
students may have been detained inside their
schools in Chabcha, which is in Tsolho (Chinese:
Hainan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai,
the Tibetan area of Amdo. One Tibetan source said
that it was believed the authorities were
carrying out investigations on students who
participated in the peaceful demonstrations,
which are the most significant in Amdo since
protests broke out across Tibet from March 10, 2008.

The protests in Qinghai were caused by new
measures that focus on Chinese as the main
language of instruction with the Tibetan language
to be treated only as a language class, and with
less time allocated to it in the curriculum. This
reflects the Qinghai authorities’ emphasis on
enforcing the importance of the Chinese language
for Tibetans, which strikes at the core of
Tibetan fears over the survival of their identity and culture.

Petition expresses Tibetan concerns on reform of language policy

A petition obtained by ICT and signed by more
than 300 teachers and students from Qinghai
expresses their view that while learning Chinese
is essential for students in Tibet today, the
main language medium for teaching should remain
Tibetan. The letter was written by teachers from
elementary and middle schools from the area, and
also signed by some students, following a
conference held in Rebkong (Chinese: Tongren)
from October 11-16, before the protests.

The letter points out that there is a "difference
between teaching a language and the language of
instruction." It has been widely acknowledged by
scholars and researchers that for a genuine
bilingual education to be successful, the
introduction of the second (non-native) language
-- in this case Chinese -- must be gradual.

In their letter, the Tibetan teachers support a
genuine bilingual language policy, in which the
teaching of the Chinese language is strengthened,
but subjects are taught through the Tibetan
language medium. But the Qinghai authorities are
setting in place what they also characterise as a
"bilingual" policy but which appears to mean in
practicean education imperative which is designed
to transition minority students from education in
their mother tongue to education in Chinese.  New
measures to "forcefully develop ‘bilingual’
pre-school education in the farming and pastoral
areas, strengthen teaching of the Chinese
language in the basic education phase, [and]
basically resolve nationality students’
fundamental ability issues in speaking and
understanding Chinese” were outlined as part of a
ten-year plan for 2010-2020 in Qinghai in June.

The Tibetan teachers write: "An individual’s
wisdom and their ability to analyze problems is
intimately connected to the development of their
language abilities. Therefore, 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, at the same time as
strengthening the teaching of language itself.
Therefore, all [signatories] maintain that it is
scientific to continue using the mother tongue as the language of instruction."

The teachers’ contention about the importance of
teaching in Tibetan is borne out by numerous
studies, even within China. David Germano,
Professor of Tibetan and Buddhist Studies at the
University of Virginia, says: "[Studies] have
shown consistently that Tibetans who train and
test in Chinese medium contexts  persistently
perform worse than when they are able to train
and  test in Tibetan. By using their own mother
tongue for training, education, and testing, they
perform markedly better on standard intelligence
and other tests than they do when they are forced
to use Chinese." Professor Germano points out
that the scenario of Chinese becoming the
professional language and a literary language is
“one that simply consigns Tibetans to oblivion
and to perpetual second class status.”
(Transcript of the full Congressional-Executive
Commission on China roundtable, Teaching and
Learning Tibetan: The Role of the Tibetan
Language in Tibet's Future, is at
Also see blog by Tenzin Dickyi, Special Assistant
to the Dalai Lama’s Representative to the
Americas, in the Huffington Post today, who says:
“Forcing students who grow up speaking Tibetan to
study the concepts of science, social science and
mathematics in a second language is to
disadvantage them from the start: a handicap that
will place certain stumbling blocks in their
educational development.”

"Adhere to the mother tongue as the dominant language"

The full text of the letter by the teachers and
students, written in both Tibetan and Chinese, is
translated below into English by ICT:?

Raising the quality of nationality education
requires adhering to teaching the mother tongue as the dominant language ??

Under the correct leadership of the Qinghai
Province Department of Education, Tongren County
in Huangnan Prefecture arranged and held Tibetan
Language Course Reforms Training from October 11
to 16, 2010 for elementary and middle school
teachers. More than 300 teachers from Tibetan
elementary and middle schools across Qinghai
province attended the training, and the outcomes
of the training were exemplary. However, trainees
engaged in deep discussions during the training,
and consider that there must be thorough changes
to the backward state of Tibetan education,
requiring adherence to teaching of the mother
tongue as the dominant language.  ??

Violating regulations on teaching and study and
not using a scientific medium of instruction are
major factors restricting the quality of teaching
and study at nationality elementary and middle
schools. Our province’s Tibetan students come
from the vast farming and nomadic areas and have
never been in a Chinese-language environment.
Even though they have studied Chinese for several
years by the time of their elementary school
education, they cannot communicate in Chinese. If
our province were to address such a group as this
by adopting Chinese-language tuition, the outcome
would be that the students would not understand
what the teacher is saying, not to mention be
able to actually learn anything. The choice of
language of instruction should depend entirely on
those being taught. The purpose of education is
for teachers and students to convey and receive
knowledge by the most easily understood means
between teachers and students. As far as the
Tibetan students in our province are concerned,
they are not familiar with Chinese and so they
are not able to think about or express their
ideas in Chinese, not to mention being able to
use Chinese to creatively analyze problems.
However, in daily life the Tibetan mother tongue
is the most familiar tool for analyzing problems
and expressing ideas, and therefore it should be
the most effective tool for study in their lives
at school. As an example, with regard to normal
middle-school students, their mother tongue is
Chinese, the language they are most familiar
with, and they take to teaching in the Chinese
language like a fish to water. But what would
happen if the language of instruction we used for
ordinary middle school students was English, with
which they are unfamiliar? Obviously, the quality
of education for the vast majority of ordinary
middle school students would suffer significantly. ??

Using the mother tongue as the language of
instruction for nationality elementary and middle
school students does not imply a weakening of the
Chinese language. Quite the contrary: aside from
teaching classes such as Chinese and English
using the mother tongue, the study of Chinese
should be strengthened, and the study of English
should gradually be strengthened. A Tibetan
scholar put it well: if one wishes to stand up,
one must study one’s mother tongue well; if one
wants to leave one’s home, one must study Chinese
well; if one wants to go out into the world, one
must study English well – there is no point
therefore in belaboring the importance of the
Chinese language and script and the English
language. Relatively speaking, in accordance with
the realities in Tibetan areas it is more
important to study Chinese. At present, there are
many problems with the Chinese language and
script as taught in Tibetan elementary and middle
schools, such as with the teaching methods and
the chosen teaching materials not conforming to
the real conditions of Tibetan students. In many
places in our province, Tibetan students have
studied Chinese for 10 or more years – from
elementary school until upper middle school – but
they are still unable to communicate in Chinese.
In order to thoroughly change this situation, we
must renew our understanding of how we can
effectively teach Chinese to Tibetan students,
and even carry out research into this topic. In
many countries in the west, there has been much
research into methods and materials for teaching
English as a second language. As a result of this
research, there have been positive outcomes in
English teaching in non-English speaking
countries. In recent years, our country has also
adopted these teaching concepts and there have
been great changes in English language teaching
from the teaching methods to the teaching
materials, which has made English language
teaching more practicable, and increased
students’ interest in study. Such progressive
foreign teaching methods should also be used for
Tibetan students studying the Chinese language,
and for teaching the Chinese language and script
as a second language. The relevant education
departments should formulate appropriate measures
to this end, and focusing on the real conditions
of Tibetan students, compile Chinese language and
script materials and train Chinese language
teachers in the new teaching concepts and
practices, thereby making Tibetan students’ study
of the Chinese language more effective and more practical. ??

But we cannot sacrifice the study of other
subjects for the sake of properly studying the
Chinese language and text and the English
language. We should understand the difference
between teaching a language and the language of
instruction. The choice of which language is used
for instruction should be decided entirely upon
which language is not an obstacle to the
student’s studies. An individual’s wisdom and
their ability to analyze problems is intimately
connected to the development of their language
abilities. Therefore, 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, at the same time as strengthening
the teaching of language itself. Therefore, all
trainees maintain that it is scientific to
continue using the mother tongue as the language of instruction. ??

The entire body of trainees at the Qinghai
Province Elementary and Middle School Tibetan
Language Course Reforms Training Class??

October 15, 2010

The names and affiliations of the trainees are as
follows: [names and affiliations withheld]

New plans that sparked protests "maintain focus" on Chinese

The catalyst for the protests in Qinghai and
Beijing was the announcement of new plans
downgrading the Tibetan language and asserting
the importance of Chinese in education. The
current Party Secretary of Qinghai province Qiang
Wei recently outlined the importance of the
Chinese language over Tibetan, stating at a
conference in education in September that:
"Qinghai province has vigorously implemented
state common language [Chinese] teaching in
compulsory education while extending the
‘bilingual’ teaching of minority languages and
scripts, making people of all minority
nationalities grasp and use the Chinese language
and script, thereby achieving ‘intercommunication
between ethnics and Han’ [minhan jiantong].” He
added that strengthening “bilingual” education,
which asserts the importance of the Chinese
language, is “an important political duty.”
(Translation into English by ICT, of People’s
Daily article, ‘Qinghai Province Party Secretary
Qiang Wei: Make “bi-lingual” education a
livelihood project’, September 30,

A translation into English by ICT of an outline
of mid to long-term plans for the reform of
education in Qinghai, enclosed below, reveals a
focus on  "making the state’s common language and
script [Chinese] the language of instruction".

In a new development, the new Qinghai outline
also specifies the support of construction of
"[...] kindergartens for pre-school bilingual
education in nationality areas, actively promote
ethnic and Han joint campuses, and combined
ethnic and Han kindergarten classes." This
indicates that there will be more of an emphasis
on learning through Chinese language even at
kindergarten level. Research shows that it is key
for children to build confidence and mastery of
their own native language in the first three or
four years of primary education, and then
gradual, year by year, introduction to the other
language. Until now, teaching at
kindergarten-level has been largely through the
Tibetan language, although this is increasingly being undermined.

Education through Chinese in the Xinjiang Uyghur
Autonomous Region (East Turkestan) is already
well advanced from kindergarten-level onwards, to
the detriment of the Uyghur native language.
Qinghai’s governor Ms Song Xiuyan was apparently
so impressed with the ‘bilingual’ rollout of the
education policy in Xinjiang that she sent a
delegation to tour the province -- just before
protests and riots  against Chinese policies broke out in July, 2009.

A China Daily report stated that: "Mandarin is
now widely taught in pre-schools and
kindergartens [in the XUAR] to prepare children
for school life in a second language
environment."  In the same article, governor of
the XUAR Nur Bekri even claimed that: "Teaching
Mandarin to students in the remote Xinjiang Uygur
Autonomous Region was helping the fight against
terrorism." He was quoted as saying: "Terrorists
from neighboring countries mainly target Uygurs
that are relatively isolated from mainstream
society as they cannot speak Mandarin. They are
then tricked into terrorist activities.”
(“Mandarin lessons in Xinjiang 'help fight
terrorism',” June 4, 2009,

Amendments to the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law in
2001, aimed at assimilation rather than
protecting ethnic distinctiveness, have created
further pressure on efforts to protect the
Tibetan language. The amended Regional Ethnic
Autonomy Law increased state support for ethnic
minority education but reduced the state’s
commitment to the preservation and use of ethnic
minority language such as Tibetan. A result of
the amendments is that Tibetans must compete
academically with Chinese who enroll in ethnic
minority institutes, and compete with them for
jobs after graduation. Language that authorized
preferential treatment for Tibetans and other
minority nationalities to compete for employment
against the Chinese was also removed in the
amended Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law
(Congressional-Executive Commission on China,
Annual Report, Tibet: Special Focus for 2007,
available at and ICT report,
Tracking the Steel Dragon, at:

The promotion of the standard Chinese language
(putonghua) has been strengthened across the PRC.
The central "Law on the Common National Language"
passed on October 31, 2000, stated "Local
governments and other relevant organs at all
levels must adopt measures to popularize
puntonghua and to promote standard Han characters."

Qinghai Province Mid- to Long-Term Plan Outline
for the Reform and Development of Education

A translation into English of key points by ICT follows below:

Qinghai Province Mid- to Long-Term Plan Outline
for the Reform and Development of Education


11) Nationality Education. Comprehensively
implement the Party’s nationality policies and
the stat’s relevant laws and regulations,
strengthen a step further nationality education
work, and conscientiously resolve the special
difficulties and prominent issues faced by
minority nationalities and educational
undertakings in nationality areas of our
province. Adjust structures, optimize
distribution, improve teaching conditions, raise
the levels of school management, and enhance the
operating efficiency of teaching. Forcefully
promote the reform and development of “bilingual”
education. Maintain the focus on using the
state’s common language and script at the same
time as properly studying nationality languages
and scripts, making the state’s common language
and script the language of instruction, making
minority nationalities basically familiar with
and able to use the state’s common language and
the nationalities’ own languages and scripts.
Support construction kindergartens for pre-school
bilingual education in nationality areas,
actively promote ethnic and Han joint campuses,
and combined ethnic and Han kindergarten classes.
Strive for donor aid provinces and centrally
administered municipalities to construct a batch
of model “bilingual” kindergartens. Encourage
nationality elementary and middle schools and
ordinary elementary and middle schools to
integrate resources and implement ethnic and Han
joint schools, to change the teaching environment
and optimize modes of training. Strengthen
“bilingual” teaching materials, teacher training,
and basic infrastructures. By 2015, elementary
schools will have realized “bilingual” education
based on the state’s common language and script
with the nationality language as the guide, and
the pace of implementing education in the state’s
common language and script for minority
nationality middle school students with be
quickened, with the additional teaching of the
nationalities’ own languages and scripts.
Strengthen nationalities’ preparatory courses. In
accordance with regulated and systematized
thinking, combine our province’s high school
preparatory course materials, and raise the
quality of training for elite minority
nationality personnel. Formulate favorable
policies to encourage and support high-school and
college graduates to assume teaching positions in
nationality areas. Support the development of
distance learning in nationality areas, and
extend the coverage of high-quality education
resources. Broaden off-site education within the
province and beyond, and in Xining run high-level
nationality middle schools and vocational middle
schools, and strive for donor aid provinces and
centrally administered municipalities to provide
nationality and ordinary middle school classes
and nationality vocational middle school classes.
By 2015, the number of students studying outside
of the province will be over 6000; by 2020, the
number of students studying outside of the province will be over 12,000.

Tibetan as the ‘lifeblood' of a nationality

The following blog, written anonymously in
Chinese, appeared on the popular ‘My Potala’ site
-- -- and is translated into
English by ICT below. It is a passionate appeal
for Tibetans to do everything they can to protect
and preserve the Tibetan language.

Professor David Germano from the University of
Virginia echoes the concern of the blogger in a
statement to a roundtable in Washington, DC,
about the importance of the preservation of the
Tibetan language. Giving suggestions on measures
to protect the language, he said: "The general
idea is, of course, to promote the Tibetan
language and culture in the educational system
and to establish a real Tibetan-Chinese bilingual
education, not as it is now, a monolingual
Chinese society, but a real bilingual society. It
also means advertising the [May 2002] Chinese law
[regulations on protecting the Tibetan language,
the first to be instituted for any ‘ethnic’
language in the PRC] and exerting  pressure so
that it is really implemented. […] Promoting
standard spoken Tibetan is extremely important
because there is a high rate of  unemployment and
also an incredible level of illiteracy. It is
important to promote standard spoken Tibetan,
which is the vernacular language […]. It is
possible, for instance, to fund projects that
will publish classical texts in the vernacular
language. […] There are even some very concrete
things we can do from the West. For example, the
creation of literary prizes and awards for
Tibetan writers. The support of artists and
writers who would travel in the countryside and
meet the peasants and organize cultural
festivals. We could also support radio
broadcasting so that they could broadcast the
classics of Tibetan and foreign literature. Pay
teachers in Tibet so they can collect tapes of
traditional music and folk tales that have  not
been recorded. Help to create calligraphy
competitions and spelling competitions. These are
all very concrete steps.  Anything that makes the
Tibetans feel that their language and culture
does have prestige.” (

The blogger warns: "Our nationality’s culture is
rich in content, it has a long and glorious
history, it is imbued with richness and beauty,
it has a distinct and unique style, and it holds
an important position in China’s cultural
treasure-house. However, with the passing of the
times, more and more people cast their own
nationality’s history and culture apart from
their nationality’s soul in order to satisfy immediate interests."

?My Tibetan compatriots, please put out your
hands and together let us rescue our mother tongue -- Tibetan!

Tibetan is known as the world’s second most
concise script because it has 30 letters and four
tones, which is only four more letters than
English, the most concise; but its power to
express is in no way inferior to English. It can
describe all things and declare all thoughts. The
Tibetan script was created by King Songtsen
Gampo’s great minister Thomni Sambotha and is
based on Sanskrit, and although its history is
not as long as that of English or Chinese, it is
as valuable as other nationalities’ languages. ??

A script is the lifeblood of a nationality, it a
fundamental catalyst for a nationality’s culture,
and it records the historical path of a
nationality’s development. In my opinion, a
nationality requires three minimum conditions in
order to be complete: first, its own language;
second, its own script; and third, its own
culture. And we Tibetans have all three, and so
we can be called a proud nationality. Our
nationality’s culture is rich in content, it has
a long and glorious history, it is imbued with
richness and beauty, it has a distinct and unique
style, and it holds an important position in
China’s cultural treasure-house. ???

However, with the passing of the times, more and
more people cast their own nationality’s history
and culture apart from their nationality’s soul
in order to satisfy immediate interests. ??

There are billions of people in the world
studying or using English; there are more than a
billion people in China studying Chinese, and how
does that compare to Tibetan? In the Land of
Snows, the home of Tibetan, how many people are
truly studying and researching the Tibetan
language? In fact, with the wave of "Tibet chic"
abroad, it’s the blue-eyed and blond-haired
foreigners who are studying and researching
Tibetan, and is this not a tragedy for our
Tibetan nationality? When someone among their own
nationality says “There’s too much new stuff to
study in this era, and I simply wont study
something like Tibetan that you work on one day
and don’t use the next at all.” Listen, listen,
listen. Can people such as this still call
themselves a person of that nationality? Even
people of our own nationality speak like this.
They fail to cherish it. So who can we look to
cherish it? Those foreigners? Or… ??

This is what we may see in the future:

"A young Tibetan woman or a young Tibetan man
takes a group of foreigners around the Potala
Palace, and points out the dense text in the
paintings on the wall, saying: "What everyone is
looking at here is the script a language called
Tibetan. Because almost no one is studying it
now, there’s no way of knowing what this painting
contains, and now it just represents the nationality, it is an historic relic."

"A tragedy -- what a tragedy! And do not think
that something so absurd could not happen.
Following current trends, it probably only needs
50 to 100 years -- optimistically perhaps 200
years -- for the odds of something so "absurd"
happening to actually to be very high indeed! ??

I remember when a good friend in my instant
messaging contacts -- a Han girl in Hebei
province -- was extremely curious when she found
out I’m Tibetan. She asked me many questions
about Tibet, and among them were questions about
the Tibetan language. She said she really wanted
to go to Tibetan areas and that she really wanted
to study the Tibetan language, and feel so close
to the blue skies and white clouds that she could
touch them. I was delighted that she thought in
such a way, but thought it was just an impulse. I
happily taught her a few everyday phrases, but
for various reasons I could only teach her using transliterations. ??

When I come across such circumstances as these, I
get enormous feelings in my heart. I’m thinking
if we look at it from a certain angle, this
generation of Tibetans is a generation of sinners
because the glorious and brilliant culture and
history left to us by our forefathers on the roof
of the world might, in the hands of our generation, be ruined.

"My compatriots, I ask you every day to take 10
minutes to study Tibetan texts -- do not be
satisfied with just English and Chinese scripts!

My compatriots, I ask you every week to take one
hour to read Tibetan masterpieces -- do not be
satisfied with just the four great books! [The
"Four Great Books" in Chinese culture are The
Great Learning, The Doctrine of the Mean, The
Analects of Confucius, and Mencius.] ??

My compatriots, I ask you now to put out your
hands and write a letter in Tibetan to your
parents, brothers and sisters or classmates in
the Land of Snows -- do not be satisfied with just texting or the phone! ??

My compatriots, put out your hands and together
we shall make a contribution for the mother
tongue, and even if we are not a generation whose
name resounds for a hundred years, we will never
be a generation whose name goes down in infamy for all time!!! ??

(If you are a Tibetan, I ask you to think seriously about this.)

Press contact:
Kate Saunders
Director of Communications, International Campaign for Tibet
Tel: +44 (0) 7947 138612
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
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