The demonstrations by Tibetan students in Rebkong area of Amdo (Eastern Region of Tibet renamed as so-called Qinghai Province comprising mostly Amdo, but some territories of Kham Tibet’s third region) has according to reports from Phayul erupted in other parts of the region, as students oppose the use of Chinese as means of instruction in Tibetan schools. It is of course a hugely serious issue, one that corrodes a central element of Tibetan culture, it also raises some interesting questions, as relating to Tibet’s cause for national freedom. Perhaps the first point is to consider is that language rights exist, can be granted or achieved under the jurisdiction of a dominant power. For example like Basque in Spain or Welsh in the UK, where the major authority facilitates the schooling of those languages. However, those cases involve liberal democratic nations which respect basic human rights, as we know communist China is a very different case! It remains generally true however in that the ‘minority group’ are reliant upon the dominant power to support and fund the teaching of a language, however there are political strings attached. In accepting such assistance, and working within the laws applied by that major power, a ‘minority’ provide an acknowledgement which endorses and legitimises the authority of the dominant state. This should be of acute interest and concern to Tibetans.
Those outside occupied Tibet, who understandably have reacted to events in Rebkong, and seek to encourage moderation in communist China’s policy to use Chinese as the main language medium in Tibetan schools, need to recognize that such action acknowledges China’s legal assertions regarding so-called ‘national minority rights’, and the cynical legislation of its laws on regional and national ‘autonomy’. In effect by campaigning for such ‘rights’ people are tacitly conceding the more important and central issue of Tibetan national identity and national freedom, through an albeit tangential recognition, of communist China’s political authority over Tibetans. In this case as it relates to education.
The issue is no longer about national identity and political rights, as relating to Tibet’s nationhood, but becomes a subject of culture and human rights, the responsibility of which, in terms of international political agreement, ultimately rests with the authority of the dominant power. Naturally there is a desire to maintain and preserve language, since it is such a vital heartbeat of a people’s culture, yet in this situation, from exile, to press for such ‘rights’ plays into China’s hands, by investing a form of credibility in their bogus claims as the legitimate authority in occupied Tibet. The argument would by necessity be framed with reference to Chinese laws on so-called minority rights, since within UN and international law such individual rights fall under the dominion of the dominant state. This is an unhelpful concession to Tibet’s cause of freedom.
There will be some across the United States who maybe considering lobbying their local state government or contacting Congress, before drafting any concerns at the attack upon Tibetan language you should be aware that politicians are largely interested only in a ‘solution’ to the subject of Tibet, as expressed by the proposals made by His Holiness. In short they are not supportive of Tibet’s national struggle, seeing Tibet as an issue of cultural survival, to be resolved within China’s national and regional laws, with Tibetans yet another Chinese minority. Now this particular case of championing Tibetan language rights would probably gain much support from Senators and Congressmen, since it falls precisely within their area of selective understanding and concern, for them it is about culture and not an issue of Tibet’s right to independence.
So, where do we go from here in relation to advocating for the survival of Tibet’s language? Well it is important to understand that as a human and cultural rights, are based upon the western liberal concepts of equality, universality and freedom of the individual, a group having no collective rights per se. Within that context such rights fall under the terms and resolution of various United Nations statutes, which focus upon such individual rights and extend a number commitments and assurances in terms of upholding such basic freedoms. Unfortunately the over arching reality is that the United Nations long ago agreed as sacred the territorial integrity of individual states, thus making it the responsibility of nations to establish, respect and maintain such rights. Clearly, in the case of communist China there has been over sixty years where such freedoms have been violently denied, and in the case of occupied Tibet its culture, including language, has been under assault as part of China’s program of expansion and assimilation.
Thus the individualist freedoms, enshrined and asserted within United Nations resolutions, as applying to so-called minority groups (which it considers Tibetans as) have not been enjoyed or protected. This lamentable reality poses fundamental questions. In light of the decades of failure realized by the noble assurances framed by international agreements on such rights, what circumstances are required to guarantee and maintain Tibet’s language? Can Tibetan culture be genuinely permitted the freedom to flourish under communist China’s rule, when the overwhelming evidence on the ground, testifies that China seeks to transform utterly Tibet into a Chinese region through various colonialist measures, including the deliberate erosion of its language?
Any effort to secure political support for the courageous actions of the Tibetans students in NAME is of course a welcome and positive act, yet in determining such a course we should remember that Tibetan cause being waged inside occupied Tibet is not simply a demand for language rights, but a struggle for national liberation. The realization of which alone can provide conditions where such rights and freedoms can be fully enjoyed to the benefit of Tibet’s culture and national identity.So if any of you are considering approaching your local Senator or Congressman, instead of requesting them to support the teaching of Tibetan under Chinese occupation, educate them that only Tibet’s independence can secure the conditions under which Tibetan students can enjoy the freedom to learn and speak their language.