Tibetan language rights advocate Tashi Wangchuk in a Weibo post on 18 January revealed that the day before, he was summoned and interrogated for almost three hours at the Kyegudo (Ch: Yushu) city police station in Yushu County, Qinghai Province, in the Tibetan province of Kham.
During the interrogation, Tashi had said that it was his inherent responsibility as a Tibetan to protect the Tibetan language, expressing his concern over the possible fate of the Tibetan language in a few years citing the UN estimate of one indigenous language dying every two weeks.
Tashi was released on 28 January 2021 after serving five years in prison for his attempt to file a lawsuit against local Chinese officials for their failure to protect and promote Tibetan language and culture as guaranteed in the Chinese Constitution and Regional National Autonomy Law. Following the release of the New York Times documentary in November 2015 on his journey as language rights advocate, he was detained and later convicted for “inciting separatism”.
Upon his release from prison, he was prohibited from meeting his lawyers and subjected to five years of deprivation of political rights. Deprivation of political rights include deprivation of freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession, and of demonstration during the entire duration of the supplementary punishment.
Mother of All Rights
Nine months after his release, Tashi opened a personal Weibo account with a profile bio that reads ‘Freedom of expression is the mother of all rights’.
In his online posts, he questioned the closure of Tibetan language websites by sharing screenshots of inaccessible websites. Some of his posts enlisted the rights enshrined in the Chinese constitution.
On 11 January, Tashi visited the Education Bureau of Yushu City to call for the use of the Tibetan language as the medium of instruction in all schools in Yushu.
On 12 January, Tashi attempted to visit the offices of the Yushu city mayor and Party secretary to call on the officials to make practical use of Tibetan language in administration but was blocked by other officials.
Letter to Chinese government
On 15 and 17 January, he posted on his personal Weibo account an appeal letter addressed to the leaders and officials in Tibetan areas.
Appeal letter submitted to leaders at all levels in Tibetan areas
Respected leaders and officials,
how are you all?
First of all, I sincerely thank the Party and the central government for its efforts and support in truly implementing the National Regional Autonomy Law formulated to guarantee the right to protect and develop the written and spoken languages in our country.
Secondly, I thank the cadres serving in Tibetan areas for their sincere dedication to meet the actual needs of Tibetans and for respecting and understanding the need to use and study Tibetan language in Tibetan areas.
General Secretary Xi Jinping pointed out at the National Commendation Conference on Ethnic Unity and Progress that “ethnic equality is one of the fundamental founding principles of the country that led to the establishment of the system of regional autonomy. All ethnic groups are equal before the law, and the law should be used to protect ethnic unity”.
General Secretary Xi Jinping added, “We must put the people in the highest position in our hearts and must do everything for the people. Always accept the criticism and suggestion of the people, always think about the welfare of the people, and always seek ways to enrich the people, so that our party will always win the trust and support of the people. We should ensure that our cause can always draw from an inexhaustible source of strength.”
To further strengthen the national unity of our country, firstly, we need to ensure that the legal rights of all ethnic minorities are fully guaranteed, and that the “National Regional Autonomy Law of the People’s Republic of China” is practically implemented in ethnic autonomous areas. Leaders, cadres, and ordinary people must all be equal before the law. Those who use their official power to harm ethnic unity for personal gains must be thoroughly investigated for violation of laws.
Secondly, to protect the written and spoken languages of ethnic minorities, efforts must be made to use the language in all internal and external administrative work and school education. In addition, leaders in the ethnic minority areas should “worry about the worries of the masses”.
Cultivating patriotic feelings requires the dedication of Tibetan government officials, so that Tibetans are grateful to the country and the government.
However, in places like Yushu, when I sought to approach the responsible local leaders to appeal for the wider use of Tibetan language in government offices and promotion of Tibetan language education in schools, officials of the Political and Legal Committee, police and Public procuratorate prevented me from meeting relevant leaders and denied the opportunity to submit public grievances.
They told me, “You should concern yourself with what you can control, and not with what you cannot.”
Some leaders even asked if I would be speaking about the plight of the Tibetan language in the future. They seem to believe that discussing the current status of the Tibetan language is an illegal and criminal act.
How did they come to hold such a view?
This is very damaging to the Tibetan language.
Some leaders and cadres are abusing their power and violating the provisions of the Regional National Autonomy Law by banning the use of Tibetan language in teaching subjects such as mathematics, science, and geography.
This is intended to eradicate the Tibetan language.
There is also news of some school deducting 0.5 point if a student spoke Tibetan. Such information [occurring] in schools in Tibetan areas is censored and treated as secrets to be guarded from outsiders.
The principal of a school I met with defended such secrecy. He said that outsiders couldn’t ask about what went in the school as the school was founded by the government. He said to me, “Outsiders are not allowed to ask about such information about the school.” Then I asked, “Is there any information that the school does not allow outsiders to know about?” The principal replied, “Yes, what’s wrong?”
Some leaders currently working in Tibetan areas have started conducting recruitment tests for civil servants in Chinese language by misleading the masses with [assurances of] economic benefits that would ensue from the replacement of the Tibetan language. They seem to think they are doing the right thing.
The deeds of the above leaders not only harm the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, it is greatly hurting the sentiments of Tibetans.
More importantly, it is causing great harm to the ethnic unity of the Chinese nation.
Therefore, on behalf of the Tibetan people, I urge government leaders and responsible officials working in Tibetan areas to strengthen the use of the Tibetan language in all government works, business affairs and civil servant recruitment tests.
I also request for the use of Tibetan language in teaching subjects like mathematics and science in schools in Tibetan areas to protect spoken and written Tibetan.
In addition, recruitment tests for civil servants and business personnel must be conducted in Tibetan language because an indigenous language disappears every two weeks. Disappearance of a language entails the disappearance of history, culture and intellectual heritage associated with the language.
I would like to thank the leaders of the Tibetan people.
In conclusion, I pray for everyone’s good health.
15 January 2022.
Prioritize Tibetan Language
Earlier this month, in a Weibo post titled, ‘How can we protect the Tibetan language?’ Tashi called for the use of Tibetan language in recruitment tests and in administration and communication work besides prioritizing Tibetan language teaching in schools.
He urged the local Chinese officials to adhere to the provisions of domestic Chinese laws and regulations granting minority nationalities the right to preserve and promote their language.
As Chinese authorities accelerate its forced cultural assimilation, Mandarin Chinese is being promoted vigorously in Tibet, with farmers and nomads being the latest targets.
In the last few years, many Tibetan scholars and cultural leaders including Gō Sherab Gyatso have been imprisoned on trumped-up charges without due legal process.
In January 2021, a member of the standing committee of the 13th National People’s Congress claimed that the provision in the Regional National Autonomy Law for teaching of minority languages goes against the Chinese constitution, the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Standard Spoken and Written Chinese Language and Chinese education law.
The private schools in Tibet teaching Tibetan traditional curriculum are being closed while the imposition of Chinese as the medium of instruction for all subjects except Tibetan language class has been expanded considerably.
The ‘Double Reduction’ policy, implemented in July 2021, bans all private after-school tutoring making it increasingly difficult to conduct Tibetan cultural education and language classes during summer and winter school breaks.
The ‘Children Homophony Plan’ that came into effect in September 2021 expanded the imposition of Mandarin teaching to preschool education, making Mandarin Chinese an integral part of early childhood experience.
China must bring the provisions of its own laws into practice, uphold its international obligations and halt the state-sanctioned activities designed to subsume Tibetan identity.
Tashi Wangchuk is a law-abiding citizen exercising the rights enshrined in Chinese laws. He should have never been imprisoned in the first place. To interrogate and intimidate him, less than a year after his release from imprisonment, for peacefully advocating for language and cultural rights is a grave violation of his human rights. Chinese authorities must fulfill its obligations as a UN member state and as a signatory to numerous core international human rights treaties to respect and fulfill the rights and freedoms entitled to all human beings including the Tibetans.