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China bars Tibetan kids from private classes, religious activities

The move from the communist regime seeks to weaken Tibetan language, culture and identity, critics say
 Tibetan children burn incense during a festival at Gomar Gompa (Monastery) in Repkong, Tibet in this file photo. China has reportedly banned Tibetan children from taking part in private classes and religious activities during their winter break from schools.

Tibetan children burn incense during a festival at Gomar Gompa (Monastery) in Repkong, Tibet in this file photo. China has reportedly banned Tibetan children from taking part in private classes and religious activities during their winter break from schools. (Photo: AFP)

Published: January 11, 2024 11:23 AM GMT
Updated: January 11, 2024 11:35 AM GMT

Ethnic Tibetans have expressed alarm over door-to-door inspection by China’s communist authorities to ensure children are not taking private classes and participating in religious activities during their winter break.

The authorities are conducting random inspections in “residential areas and commercial establishments” in Tibet and other Tibetan-populated regions, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on Jan. 9 citing unnamed sources.  

“In addition to random door-to-door investigations, local authorities are also carrying out surveys of the Tibetan children,” a source in China’s southwestern Qinghai province told RFA.

The surveys were aimed “to find out what subjects are being taught to them in their out-of-school courses and where,” the source added.

In a notice issued on Nov. 30, 2023, the Lhasa city Education Department, while announcing the winter break from Dec. 30, 2023, until Feb. 27-29, 2024, had outlined the kind of education parents could give their children.

The notice also highlighted the work that teachers would need to do during the holiday period.

Parents were urged to not engage in the religious education of school children, and they were to “make sure the children are completely free from the influence of religion,” the notice said.

Tibetan children could participate in supplementary classes and workshops taught only by government-authorized individuals and organizations and on subjects approved by the authorities, the notice added.

The notice also emphasized the continued ban on Tibetan children’s participation in religious activities.

Earlier this month, the Chinese Education Department issued a notice reiterating a 2021 ban prohibiting Tibetan children from taking informal Tibetan language classes or workshops during their winter holidays.

The notice also ordered local authorities to intensify their supervision and investigation of supplementary lessons for Tibetan children and to carry out strict disciplinary action against those violating the rule, prompting inspections.

The random inspections during day and night were conducted in Tibet's capital Lhasa, Labrang Monastery in Gansu province, and the Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai province, RFA reported.

Another unnamed source in Xiahe county-based Labrang Monastery, home to the largest number of monks outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region, said that the move was restricting the traditional teaching system.

“In the past, there was a strong tradition of providing supplementary, private tuitions to Tibetan children in the fields of Tibetan grammar, religion, math, and storytelling during their winter break,” the source said.

“Now, only a few Chinese government-authorized organizations and individuals who carry out political re-education programs are allowed to give [lessons] to Tibetan students,” the source added.

Reports say China’s tightening of its grip on these practices is a veiled attack aimed at the ramping up of efforts to impose President Xi Jinping’s plans for the “Sinicization of religion” policy.

Sinicization promoted by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is a profoundly political ideology that aims to impose strict rules on societies and institutions based on the core values of socialism, autonomy, and supporting party leadership.

Another source alleged that the prohibition of the study of the Tibetan language in schools and out-of-school programs has caused Tibetan children to lose touch with their native language and identity.

The situation is “a very alarming and concerning development,” the source said.

In March 2022, the Chinese authorities had pushed to implement policies to supplant Tibetan language education in schools with all classes taught only in Chinese.

Critics had alleged that the move was aimed at weakening the Tibetan children’s connection to their national identity and traditional language and culture.

In 2021, the New Mexico-based Tibet Action Institute released a report alleging that hundreds of thousands of Tibetan children between the ages of 4 and 18 were being separated from their families and forced to live in state-run boarding schools.

Allegedly, the “teachers only speak in Mandarin and conduct all school curriculum in Mandarin, including nursery rhymes and bedtime stories,” in those boarding schools, the report said.

Tibetans returning to Chinese-occupied Tibet alleged that the effects of the forced distancing from the Tibetan language and culture are evident in the way their young relatives who attend boarding schools interact with them, the report stated.

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