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Tibetan students protest official's call for instruction in Chinese

November 10, 2014

Radio Free Asia, November 6, 2014 - Tibetan primary and middle school students in China’s western Sichuan province have staged protests against a possible switch to Mandarin as their language of instruction, calling for strengthened protections for their native Tibetan language.

The Nov. 1 protest in Dzoege (in Chinese, Ruo’ergai) county in the Ngaba (Aba) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture was led by students of the county’s Tibetan Language Middle School, with students from other schools and members of the public joining in, a local source told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

“The students shouted slogans calling for democratic decision-making and for equality in education,” the source said, without citing the number of protesters. One report indicated that scores of students took part but this could not be independently confirmed.

“They protested against the speech of a Chinese official at the conclusion of a special orientation meeting for all schools in Ngaba prefecture in which he said that students with better Chinese language skills have a greater advantage in their final exams,” the source said.

Tan Ke, head of the Ngaba Education Board, had said in his Oct. 29 speech that students who are instructed primarily in Tibetan face difficulties when applying for admission to colleges and have reduced prospects of future success in work, the source said.

“Therefore, he stressed the importance of learning in Chinese, and told the heads of schools [attending the meeting] that encouraging this should be their primary responsibility.”

Especially in promoting development in nomadic areas, core subjects should be taught in Chinese, Tan said, according to the source.

'Out of touch'

The meeting at which Tan spoke was attended by the heads of education boards and of primary and middle schools in seven of Ngaba prefecture’s counties, including Barkham (Ma’erkang), Chuchen (Jinchuan), Zungchu (Songpan), Ngaba (Aba), Dzoege (Ruo’ergai), Trochu (Heishui), and Dzamthang (Rangtang), the source said.

Following the speech, critical comments began immediately to spread through social media, with posts describing his views as “out of touch with reality, and not supported by official Chinese documents,” the source said.

Tibetans have long complained about eroding religious, cultural, and linguistic traditions in Tibetan-populated regions of China, and language rights have become a particular focus for Tibetan efforts to reassert national identity in recent years, sources say.

On Nov. 9, 2012, several thousand students took to the streets in Rebgong (Tongren) county in neighboring Qinghai province’s Malho (Huangnan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture to demand greater rights, including the right to use Tibetan as their language of instruction in the schools.

The students shouted slogans calling for the “equality of nationalities and freedom of languages” and demanding the return of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India, sources told RFA in earlier reports.

Reported by Lhuboom for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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