The Chinese government has long issued laws and statements declaring its respect for minority languages, including regulations requiring all public signs in minority areas to be bilingual. But the latest evidence from the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) indicates that the Chinese authorities have a real view of minority languages: they come in second. Literally.
In the TAR, since at least the beginning of the reform era in the 1980s, Tibetan has always been placed above Chinese on all public signs, notices and banners.
But a team of researchers consulted by Human Rights Watch compiled dozens of photographs from Chinese state media over the past year that all show one major change: With the exception of older banners, Chinese is now still at- above Tibetan.
The decision to subordinate Tibetan to Chinese in official signage has not been publicly announced, but is now uniform across the TAR, even in remote villages, a clear indication that this is an imposed requirement. by the state. The change conveys to the Tibetan public what the government has not openly said.
The provisions relating to the use of the language are regarded by minority peoples in China as essential guarantees of their distinct identity. The restrictions placed on them tend to be imposed quietly and gradually, as Human Rights Watch has reported about policies promoting Chinese teaching in Tibetan primary schools, which are carefully but falsely portrayed as promoting bilingualism. In some cases, these policies have sparked protests, as happened with the teaching of Mongolian in Inner Mongolia in September 2020.
The change in the order of languages on public signs has been evident since August 30, 2020. It was the day after a meeting called the 7th Tibet Labor Forum, during which Chinese leader Xi Jinping announced his new policy for Tibet. These emphasized the ethnic mix and patriotic education policies that serve Beijing’s interests at the expense of Tibetan identity in Tibetan schools.
These policies are now gradually being rolled out. This is, for example, a new campaign in the villages and monasteries of the TAR to teach Tibetans to speak the common national language in order to raise the quality of the population and forge the consciousness of the Chinese national community. Tibetan is still spoken and used, but new regulations placing Tibetan below Chinese on public signs make it clear that threats to the language and therefore the identity of Tibetans are increasing.
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