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In March, coinciding with the 60th anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising, the Chinese government released a so-called white paper, a self-congratulatory document titled “Democratic Reform in Tibet – Sixty Years On.” In the document, the government compared the socio-economic and political conditions of independent Tibet and the present situation under Chinese colonial rule.

White papers published by the Communist Party of China are aimed at drawing international attention to the imposed development works that are carried out by the Chinese government in Tibet. Not a single country in this world does what the Chinese government is doing, which is primarily to seek approval from the international community for their version of development in Tibet. Why does the Chinese government consistently blow its own trumpet with regard to development in Tibet, if it truly considers Tibet part of its territory like any other part of China? This vividly implies the Chinese government’s insecurity when it comes to the question of legitimacy of its political control over Tibet in the eyes of the world. The latest white paper on Tibet deals with many issues in an obstinate effort to legitimize Chinese occupation of Tibet and the subsequent oppression during the last 60 years.

One chapter titled “Solid Development in Education” highlights the numerical data of schools and students in Tibet. However, the ground reality is quite different from the purported propaganda of the Chinese government pertaining to the status of education in Tibet. Preservation and promotion of the Tibetan language is discouraged, and often cultural initiatives are criminalized without evidence by linking them with political activism.

In April, Chinese authorities detained a Tibetan student over an essay he wrote for his civil-service exam lamenting a declining number of government job opportunities for Tibetans in Tibet. This went viral on social media, according to sources. The Tibet Education Bureau in China forcefully arrested him.

Sonam, the author of the essay, focused on the declining job opportunities in the government sectors for young Tibetan graduates. He was trained in Tibetan language (holding a master’s degree in the subject) but he had to write the essay for the civil-service exam in Chinese. This is concrete evidence of the denial of freedom to use the Tibetan language and the status of job opportunities for Tibetan graduates under the Chinese education system in Tibet.

In 2015, a Tibetan-language advocate, Tashi Wangchuk, was imprisoned for five years for speaking against the Chinese government’s denial of the so-called minority-language rights (in this case Tibetan) under the Chinese constitution. Many young Tibetans have self-immolated in Tibet demanding the right to preserve their language.

The latest white paper, while comparing Tibet before and after occupation, fails to mention the destruction of thousands of monasteries and other learning centers that were the repositories of invaluable Tibetan classical texts

The latest white paper, while comparing Tibet before and after occupation, fails to mention the destruction of thousands of monasteries and other learning centers that were the repositories of invaluable Tibetan classical texts. Tibet had one of the highest number of publications of texts in the world before Chinese forces destroyed them during the occupation and Cultural Revolution.

Lhasa, the capital, is the location of the three biggest monasteries in Tibet. These monasteries produced hundreds of thousands of scholars. Sera had 5,500 monks, Drepung had 7,700 and Gaden had 3,300. Today, these great monasteries have only a few hundred monks. The Chinese government is imposing severe restrictions on the recruitment of new monks in the monasteries all over Tibet.

The white paper blindly mentions that in old Tibet education was a privilege of the aristocracy. In fact, monks who were enrolled in the thousands of monasteries across Tibet were lay Tibetans and not from the aristocratic families. According to a traditional Tibetan saying, “If a mother’s son has potential, there is no ownership of the Gaden throne.” Beijing always reiterates the lack of modern schools in old Tibet.

Such a statement may ring true, keeping in view of the limited number of modern schools in old Tibet, but it is not entirely accurate. In fact, Gyantse English School was established in 1924. A similar English school was established in Lhasa in 1944. There were a number of other schools in Lhasa before 1950.

Last, the Chinese government has used many strategies to legitimize its occupation of Tibet. The propaganda of economic development and modernization of Tibetan society are such maneuvers, to mention but a few.

China’s education policy in Tibet is intended to Sinicize Tibetans gradually. Protection of Tibetan language and culture is not only about those living in Tibet. Proper access to the rich and profound Buddhist philosophy and epistemology is possible only through the Tibetan language.

If Beijing continues to adopt the same policy toward Tibetan culture and language for many more years, it will exacerbate Tibetan resistance against the Chinese government and its leaders. Before it is too late, the government should think about protecting Tibetan language and culture so that the world can treasure them for the benefit of millions of people.

This article appeared previously at Bitter Winter, a magazine focusing on religious liberty and human rights in China. Read it here.

Karma Tenzin has an MPhil in political science from Madras Christian College in India. He served as a political-science teacher for five years at TCV (Tibetan Children’s Village) Gopalpur and as assistant headmaster for one year. Currently, he is working on education policy at the Tibet Policy Institute. He focuses on minority language rights and bilingual education in Tibet.

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