China’s Search for National Identity and Cultural Genocide

          Several countries including the US, UK, Canada and the Netherlands have accused China of committing genocide defined by international convention as the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethical or religious group”.  The forcible interning of Uyghurs of Xinjiang in the so called “re-education camps” and policies like “shoot-to-kill” those who dissent or escape along with forced sterilization of Uyghus women to suppress the population and separate children from the family all tantamount to genocide.  The leading human rights groups Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have accused China of crimes against humanity. 

          China’s search for a “national identity” to place China in the global geopolitical space as a “unified modern nation state “similar to other global powers, takes ugly shape as the Chinese communist regime forcefully tries to “main streamize” the ethnic minorities by robbing them off their cultural and religious identities and in the process violating their freedom and human rights.  The main victims of the policies of Chinese government have been the Muslim minorities of Xinjiang and Tibetans residing in Tibet, which China occupied illegally and without the consent of Tibetans in 1950s.

          China is following the policy of sinicization in Tibet also, which is an agenda in eradicating Tibetans own unique identity and culture.  In a recent “All China Religious Circles” conference” in Lhasa on May 13, which was also attended by TAR Chairman Yan Sinhal, the need for impelling Tibet’s long-term peace and stability and cohesive consensus on high quality development was emphasized along with sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism.  Aggressive promotion of Mandarin from primary level of schooling of children from minority ethnic groups is part of this agenda contrary to China’s purported “Bilingual Language Policy”.  Many Tibetans feel China’s policy is obtrusive and violative of their fundamental rights.

          Since the Chinese occupation in the 1950s and especially after the forced exile of his Holiness the Dalai Lama along with thousands of his followers, there has been continued assault by the Chinese authorities on the rights of the Tibetan people to practice their own religion, language, tradition and culture.  The Chinese authorities, in their continuous bid to homogenize and sincize other than Chinese origin ethnicities, are using both subtle as well as harsh measures to realise their goals.  Making the Chinese Mandarin as the medium of instruction in the Chinese schools in Tibet from primary level onwards is part of this sinicization mission, which primarily aims to portray China as a “modern nation” united by “cultural oneness”.  But it causes irreparable damage to unique ethnic identities.

          A series of recent posts in Weibo, as well as Chinese media, including newspaper articles have reported that the Tibetan children are being imparted education from Primary level in Mandarin medium as part of the Chinese government’s agenda of aggressive promotion of the language from the early stages. 

          In their strategy to promote Mandarin among the Tibetans, the Chinese authorities are not sparing even the pastoral people and herdsman engaged primarily in animal husbandry.  The Chinese officials are training these people on the pretext of enabling them to market their products outside Tibet.  Many of these herdsmen send their children to primary schools where they have to learn Mandarin.  To this end, a programme called “Little Hands holding Big Hands and speaking Mandarin Together” and “Pomegranate Seed Project” has been started in Gulu Town, Naggu city.  These programmes have been subtly veiled under the so called “Rural Revitalisation Plan” of the Chinese government.

          Other Chinese government initiatives also aimed at “aculturization” of Tibetan ethnic population.  One such project called “Tibetan and Han-one family” under the No. 4 Bureau of China Railway has been started in Renbu County, Shigatse city, Tibet.  Although it is an infrastructure project, this Bureau has set “Help organisation”, which among other things provides funds to students with a weak economic background.  The Halp organisation also teaches various skills to local farmers and herdsmen through a sub-plan named “teachers leading the students” etc.  Although it is not explicitly mentioned, it is most likely that under these projects the medium of training and teaching would be Mandarin.

          Wang Yifel, in an article in Tibet Daily in February, 2022, titled “Learning the common language of the country and casting a strong sense of community of Chinese Nation” pointed out that government of China is stressing on expanding the teaching team to encompass Mandarin knowing school students, farmers and herdsmen along with first secretary, village – based work team, rural revitalization specialists and college volunteers etc.

          There have been umpteen instances in which the Chinese authorities ran projects in the name of education with an underlying agenda of promoting Mandarin among other tribes and ethnicities.  The students of Monga tribe near Arunachal border are imparted Mandarin language training through a project named “Hope Project” since 2018 as part of the curriculum, teachers mainly drawn from Border Defence Force. 

          Such plans to catch the Tibetan Children young, teaching them Mandarin along with their parents are part of large design and game plan of China to sinicize the Tibetan culture.

          The imposition of Mandarin language is seen as part of efforts for cultural homogenisation in China and erasing the uniqueness and variety of Tibetan identity and culture.  The Tibetan language is spoken in a variety of dialects in all parts of the Tibetan-inhabited areas which covers about half a million square miles.  Historically Tibet was divided into three cultural provinces called u-Tsang, Kham and Amdo.  Each of these three provinces has developed its own distinct dialect of Tibetan.  Most widely spoken is the Lhasa dialect, also called standard Tibetan which is spoken in Central Tibet and also in exile by Tibetans.  The aggressive pursuit of expanding Mandarin as a medium of education and economic exchanges is being perceived by Tibetans as an assault on their culture and identity.

          The process of sinicization is going on unabated for quite some time and also getting into religious domain.  The element of coercion involved in sinicization could be very well gauged from the statement by Su Kang, former Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman: ‘Reincarnation of living Buddhas, including the Dalai Lama, must comply with Chinese laws and regulations and follow religious rituals and historical conventions.’