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An Appeal to President Xi Jinping from the International Tibetan

 

An Appeal to Vice-President Xi Jinping from the International Tibetan Studies Community

Dear Mr Vice-President,

 

As you will be assuming your new role as President of the People’s Republic of China in March 2013, the scientific community of Tibetologists would like to express to you its deep concern about the state of the Tibetan language in the Tibet Autonomous Region and in the Tibetan autonomous prefectures in neighboring provinces.

We know that many schools have been established in Tibetan areas over the last several decades, and we are delighted at that development. We also appreciate the benefits that schoolchildren can have from being educated in their own language.

However, over the last several years, the authorities have been trying to institute new measures that eliminate or severely restrict the use of Tibetan as the language of instruction in Tibetan-speaking areas, such as the replacement of Tibetan by Chinese as the medium of education (announced in Qinghai in 2010) and the replacement of textbooks written in Tibetan by Chinese textbooks —as was seen in Rebkong (Chin: Tongren) in March 2012. These developments have taken place despite the fact that worldwide research on this topic as well as official Chinese statistics have shown that students perform better when they are studying scientific subjects in their own language.

This policy has already been active in the Tibet Autonomous Region for several years and has led to well-known results: students destined for senior positions in the public or private sectors now have only a superficial knowledge of their own language and civilization.

The Tibetan people of Qinghai have repeatedly, through peaceful demonstrations by citizens, and through petitions and letters, expressed their opposition to the new language policy, which is officially designated the ''Qinghai Province Mid- and Long-Term Plan for Educational Reform and Development (2010-2020)." They have made known their strong desire to preserve their language as the medium of instruction and communication in their schools, which does not mean in any sense that they are not willing to learn Chinese. They generally acknowledge the economic and cultural significance of the Chinese language.  Such requests are consistent with the Chinese Constitution which specifies in Article 4 that all nationalities have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages and to preserve or reform their own folkways and customs. Moreover, according to the decree of 2002, in the Tibet Autonomous Region, the Tibetan language has the status of an official language in China, though that status does not always seem to be reflected in practice.

Dozens of Tibetans of all ages, men and women, religious and lay, have committed acts of self-immolation over the last few years. Several of them have shouted slogans demanding respect for the language and culture of Tibet.

As specialists in the areas of Tibetan language, culture and religion, we would like to share with you, through this letter, our own concerns about the various measures that jeopardize the continuing viability of this civilization, a civilization that is one of the treasures of humanity and for which the Chinese government has clearly stated its responsibility. We would like to remind you that in China the Tibetan language is, after Chinese, one of oldest continually-used languages, and has also contributed to the understanding and reconstruction of the ancient Sino-Tibetan family, a family that, like Indo-European, contains many hundreds of languages.

 

Our work has led us to pursue our professional and intellectual lives within the structures of universities and institution of higher education. We know the value of Tibet’s civilization and we regret that the Tibetan language, which is its fundamental support, is seemingly marginalized and devalued in the TAR and in various other Tibetan autonomous administrative units at the same time that it is increasingly being taught and studied in universities around the world. The responses of the authorities to the demands of Tibetans who are naturally worried about the disappearance of their culture have not assuaged their deep concerns about the situation.

 

This is why, at the time when new leadership is taking control of the country, we address you collectively with the hope that you will be sympathetic to the aspirations of Tibetan citizens of China; that you will work with them to find peaceful solutions to this crisis that will allow for the promotion and development of Tibet’s language and culture. There is no reason why the Tibetan language and culture cannot coexist peacefully with the Chinese language and culture through the application of the principles expressed in the successive constitutions of the People’s Republic of China, which is constituted as a multicultural state.


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