Have just watched a VIDEO taken it seems inside a school within occupied Tibet, a frightened young Tibetan boy is standing before a video camera, while a ‘teacher’ demands the student repeat Chinese phrases. Clearly anxious and humiliated by the experience (his classmates reveling in his struggle to pronounce such terms) it is as far from enlightened education as possible. Indeed what the film shows is a disturbing glimpse into a deliberate policy of assimilation and cultural assault which aims to eradicate Tibetan national identity.
Language is of course a vital and central element that defines a people and its culture, is it important therefore to promote and secure Tibetan? You betcha! Inside Tibet language, music, and other cultural traditions while facing constant pressures from Chinese colonization are seen as expressions of resistance and a means to defend core values that identify Tibetan culture. In exile it is of course taught within schools run by the Tibetan Administration, while there are various projects ongoing to ensure that Tibetan remains a vibrant and living language.
There is perhaps a real fear stalking the Tibetan community that second and third generation Tibetans, born far from the majority of exiled Tibetans based in India, may lose fluency and understanding in Tibetan language and writing. Such anxieties when experienced alongside reports from Tibet of ongoing cultural erosion naturally add a sense of desperation that urgent action must be taken. So it is that emphasis is rightly given by Tibetan groups and their supporters in exposing how Tibet’s language is being targeted by the Chinese regime as yet another strategy to dilute Tibetan culture to the point of oblivion.
It is deeply worrying, tragic indeed to witness the calculated destruction of what was once described as the ‘last great ancient civilization to survive intact into the 20th Century’. Will such darkly cynical efforts by China’s regime result in the annihilation of Tibetan identity? Will a Tibetan generation in Tibet speaking only Chinese be more servile and compliant? That surely is the hope of China’s tyrannical leadership. However the experience and history of other examples of assimilation and colonization, that sought to destroy a culture through enforced ‘integration’ shows that such an objective may not be realized. Ask the people of the Basque Country or Catalonia, who under Spanish rule ensured their cause endured no matter the efforts to suppress and erode their language and culture. Indeed there is a rough equation that suggests forcibly denying a people’s culture, imposing a foreign language and ‘educating’ children to embrace the new ‘reality’ simply hardens resistance.
Take the case of Ireland, for over 800 years occupied by British forces, colonized and mercilessly exploited, Irish culture violently targeted and suppressed, the Irish language forcibly replaced with English. Was the sense of Irish identity eradicated by such measures? The resistance to rule by England was by the late 19th Century cursed by Ireland’s people mostly in English! The organized guerrilla warfare waged against British troops was often communicated and planned using the very language of the occupier! What do we take from this history, well while not an entirely a perfect analogy (which one ever is) it does demonstrate that a people’s sense of culture and identity, while greatly enriched by having a distinct language, is not forever lost nor solely dependent upon an ability to be fluent in a mother tongue.
China’s authorities are imposing their language upon Tibetan children not realizing that such indoctrination will not prevent them from saying or thinking in Mandarin that ‘Tibet is not China and that China’s regime should fuck off back to Beijing!’