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New Controls on Tibetan Language Study in Qinghai’s Pema County

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Kunsang Tenzin  |  Radio Free Asia

A poster in Kanlho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture reads “No to mixed language!” (courtesy of an RFA listener)
A poster in Kanlho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture reads “No to mixed language!” (courtesy of an RFA listener)

Tightened security measures in a Tibetan-populated county of northwestern China’s Qinghai province are discouraging local efforts to promote the study of the Tibetan language, with many area residents taking classes in secret due to fear of arrest, sources said.

A heightened Chinese police presence starting at the beginning of the year, and described by one source as “intrusive,” has now shut down public workshops in Pema (in Chinese, Banma) county in the Golog (Guoluo) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, a local source told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

“In the restrictive climate this year, many of our annual Tibetan language workshops could not be held, and in some townships the Tibetan language studies programs are running in secret,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

For the last seven years, the Save the Language Association—a voluntary initiative among local Tibetans—has organized a month-long intensive Tibetan language studies program for students of all ages, but set up to coincide with winter vacation in area schools.

Recent public statements by Chinese officials have led many to believe that such study groups could be deemed “illegal associations” if they are discovered, though, leading to fears of detention or arrest, the source said.

Movements restricted

The movements of Tibetans in Pema county are also now being severely restricted, and families who own photos of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama are afraid to take them out in public to be reframed, he said.

“Monasteries in the area now need special permits from local authorities if they want to hold mass prayer gatherings or conduct other public religious activities,” he added.

Two years ago, Chinese authorities in Pema county demanded that area monasteries and residents pledge loyalty to the ruling Chinese Communist Party and began to impose strict controls on the registration of monks and on information flows out of the region, sources said in earlier reports.

Language rights have become a particular focus for Tibetan efforts to reassert national identity in recent years, with Chinese authorities frequently closing language classes taught outside the state-controlled education system and Tibetan students protesting against the use of textbooks written in Chinese.

In May 2014, authorities in Qinghai’s Golog (Guoluo) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture moved to close a school catering to Tibetan nomad children, saying that its operation had interfered with government plans to move the nomads off their pastoral lands, sources said.

And in April, officials blocked a move to hold a traditional Tibetan language competition in a Tibetan-populated county in neighboring Sichuan, citing concerns over the “political implications” of the event.

Copyright © 1998-2016, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036

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