Tibetan student protests spread

Thousands of students protest over language curbs in Chinese schools
Tania Branigan
in Beijing


Tibetan student language protests
Tibetan students protest in Rebkong, in north-west China’s Qinghai province, angry at being forced to study in the Chinese language. Photograph: Free Tibet/AFP/Getty Images

Protests by Tibetan school students in western China over plans to restrict the use of their language have spread, according to state media and a campaign group.
Thousands of teenagers took to the streets of Tibetan areas of Qinghai province on Wednesday, the Free Tibet group said. The peaceful marches followed a demonstration by at least 1,000 teenagers in Rebkong, also known as Tongren, the previous day.
In Chabcha county, also known as Gonghe, around 2,000 students from four schools demonstrated, shouting: “We want freedom for Tibetan language”, Free Tibet said. It also said middle school pupils protested in Tsigorthang county, also known as Xinghai.
In Tawo, also known as Dawu, students protested from sunrise. Authorities later stopped people going onto the streets, the group added.

The English-language Global Times newspaper said students had taken to the streets of “several” Tibetan regions in Qinghai, citing a Tongren county spokesman and a Gonghe resident.
Such demonstrations are rare, despite long-running concerns that the Tibetan language is being marginalised by the authorities, although Tibetan areas in provinces such as Qinghai are governed less strictly than the autonomous region.
The protests were sparked by an order that all lessons and textbooks should be in Chinese in primary schools by 2015, with the exception of Tibetan language and English classes.
China says it has a bilingual education system in Tibetan areas and that promoting Mandarin helps young Tibetans to integrate into broader Chinese society and find better jobs.
But many Tibetans complain that their culture is being eroded and fear Tibetan teachers will lose their jobs because of the new rules. The friction reflects wider anger at controls on their culture and religion.
Shao Lei, the manager of a hotel in Gonghe county, told the Global Times that a group of students, most in school uniforms, marched peacefully on Wednesday morning.
“It’s difficult to count the exact number, but there were not thousands of students protesting,” he added.
Xiong Kunxin, a professor of ethnic policy studies at Minzu University of China, told the paper that promoting standard Chinese would help people integrate into mainstream society.
“Some local people might have misunderstood the goodwill,” he added.
He said that local authorities should conduct more research and listen to residents’ opinions before implementing language policies.


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