Thursday 20 January 2011

Petition questions legality of Chinese-language policy for Tibetans

(, Jan14, 2011)  A number of prominent Tibetans, including retired Chinese government officials and educationists, in Qinghai province have submitted a petition on Oct 24, 2010, calling for the scrapping of proposed education reforms which they have argued contravene Chinese laws and are detrimental to their stated beneficial aims. The reforms seek to make Chinese the only language of teaching in Tibetan schools in the province, with Tibetan being taught as just a language subject.

The petition, which was in Chinese language, has been circulating on the Internet. The petition was submitted to the Ministry of Education in Beijing, as well as key Chinese Communist Party offices at the national and provincial levels, the provincial education department in Xining, and offices in the six Tibetan prefectures in Qinghai province.

It was earlier reported, also in Oct’10, that hundreds of Tibetan teachers in the province had also submitted a petition, expressing serious concern over the new policy announced by the head of the Qinghai Education Department, Wang Yubo.

The petitioners in the current case were said to have argued, “Unless the National People’s Congress revises the Autonomy Law, an administrative office, such as a provincial-level government office, has absolutely no authority to exceed the principles and provisions of a basic law by issuing regulations without authority and in contravention of the law,” reported Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) which has translated the petition.

The petitioners were reported to have cited numerous articles from several key pieces of Chinese legislation which ostensibly protect the rights of Tibetans and other non-Chinese people in the PRC to study, use and develop their own language. Enacting the proposal, the petitioners were reported to have argued, would be “in serious contempt of the authority of the nation’s laws.”

ICT said the names of those who had signed the petition were not given in the copy it had seen. The petition is dated less than a week after thousands of Tibetan students staged protests in towns and on school campuses across the Tibetan areas of Qinghai and Gansu Provinces, with a similar protest by Tibetan students also reported at Minzu University in Beijing.

The current petition was reported to have been submitted under the provisions of the Regional Nationality Law on Autonomy (RNLA), which is China’s main legislation for administering Tibetan and other “minority nationality” regions and under the terms of which the central authorities are beholden to reply to the petition within 60 days of its receipt.

The group said the petition was remarkably detailed in its scope and analysis and included three items of recommendations on a way ahead that would ensure “stability” and the protection and development of the Tibetan language. These were: (1) Autonomous agencies of an ethnic autonomous area should persuade and encourage cadres of the various nationalities to learn each other’s spoken and written languages; (2)Do not treat the stance of the petitioners as one “that has to be overcome,” but deal with the issue as “an important political duty, an important people’s-hearts project, and with great efforts and great determination, focus closely on achieving good results,” and (3) relevant civil organizations – other than education and nationality work departments – should carry out in-depth surveys, research, discussions and experience exchanges on the issue of bilingual education, on upholding social stability and the unity of nationalities, and avoid allowing the Tibetan language and script to become a factor that impacts upon nationality relations and state security.

The petitioners have argued, “Currently, there is as much concern for linguistic and cultural diversity in the world as there is for biodiversity – it has become a global concern.”

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